Safe, fun and I want one

Is driving for fun all about speed? In many cases it is for me, but by no means all. Take four-wheel driving, I’d be nuts if I thought I could tackle a steep slope by just putting the pedal to the metal. Granted in some cases it is warranted, but driving off-road is just as much fun at low speed, marveling at the ability of the vehicle you are in, and let’s face it, it generally is the vehicle these days and not the driver, amazed that you can chug through thick gloopy mud, waist high water or wafting over soft sand dunes, all at sub 40 km/h.

David Brim, co-founder and CEO of Tomcar Australia

Australia is one of the best places to go off-road simply because there is so much of it. So it got me thinking about cheaper alternatives than potentially damaging the only vehicle the family has. Should I consider a bike say, which is great for me, but useless for any one else in the clan keen for a bit of an adrenalin rush. What about a quad bike? They look great fun and it’s possible I could take at least one other with me.

But then the dangers were starkly pointed out to me. In the States 700 people are killed on one of these things every year. In Australia, there have been 62 quad bike related deaths on Australian farms since 2010, with a total of 15 quad related deaths reported in 2014 alone, along with an additional 86 non‐fatal quad related injury events. According to Dr. Tony Lower from Sydney University’s Australian Centre for Agricultural Health & Safety, rollovers account for 75% of on-farm deaths. 18% of quad bike fatalities involve children under 16 and with over 300,000 ATVs in current use across Australia, you can see how big the issue can get. Most are associated with agricultural use but increasingly it is for recreation.

So not wanting to be one of those statistics, I considered the much more safer looking side-by-sides. Essentially these look much like a quad (or ATV) but come equipped with a roll-bar and a passenger sits next to you, hence the name. They have tough looking suspension set ups and appear the obvious choice. But yet again, they have issues with roll-overs, and perhaps due to the perceived extra safety, drivers are a little too blasé. They are just as narrow as an ATV and are top heavy, so could very well be an accident waiting to happen.

Is there another choice out there? Well for a little more money than a side-by-side, there is the Tomcar. It’s wider, with a lower centre of gravity making it a safer option with less chance of a roll over. It is made of high quality components and designed to withstand even the toughest work out. And it’s built right here in Australia, Victoria to be precise. Bingo.

Tomcar TM5

In fact, it’s a fantastic story. The original Tomcar was, and still is, built in Israel and was designed for military use. They needed to be tough and easily repaired in the field and the concept took off. Though designed for off-road use, Tomcars are rear wheel driven, precisely for the reason I mention above – they have less expensive and fiddly components to fix.

David Brim, CEO of Tomcar Australia, originally from the UK, saw the potential a few years back and negotiated a license to manufacture the cars here in Australia.

Why Australia? I ask on a recent call, recognising David’s London accent? “My mum is from Australia, and though I was brought up in the UK, we always promised to return.”

I’ve seen a few second-hand Tomcars for sale in Canada, but none here. How so? “The original company is Israeli and they still manufacture over there for the Defence industry. The second-hand Tomcars you’ve found are ex-military vehicles made in Israel. Tomcar Australia manufactures here for the Australian, New Zealand and Philippines markets.”

“We’ve sold 200 so far in Australia. They are built to order and, if necessary, can be put together in as little as a week. But ordinarily, from initial order, owners can expect to pick up their vehicle in 4-5 weeks.”

“One of the reasons there is not a second-hand market here is that Tomcar’s are designed to be cheap to fix. For instance, the front tyre rod is designed to snap under pressure, before a far more expensive problem occurs. They cost $45 a piece so many customers drive around with a spare or two, and just replace it if needed. We also offer a service called Tomcar Reloaded. Owners can bring their car back and for $15k we will strip it down and rebuild it, so essentially they receive a new car back. It is very modular with no expensive components.”

Who are buying them? Mostly guys like me, looking for some cheap, safe fun?

“Agriculture is our biggest market,” David continues, “with 5% recreational, another 5% emergency services, the rest is for defence.”

How does the press regarding the dangers of ATV’s affect you?

“It’s terrible the stories you hear. Obviously the industry won’t tell you how dangerous they are, and those who have had one for years will say they are fine, but then you hear of a farmer who has ridden an ATV for 15 years gets killed. Yamaha and others now make side-by-sides these days, but certainly many of our customers have bought a Tomcar instead of an ATV quad bike because of the safety factor.”

You offer 2 engines, a 1 litre petrol and 1.4 diesel variant, which is the most popular?

“Its pretty much 50/50. Both have a 26 litre fuel tank, with an optional extra tank if needed. Some customers will go through a tank a day, others will take them a week, depending on the usage.”

Can you drive a Tomcar on the road? “No they can’t be registered as yet. So only for off-road, private trail use.”

I see some are racing them, how has that been going? “Yes, racing is becoming a growing side of our business. In fact we are planning on a Race series for later this year so watch this space.”

You can get hold of a Tomcar from around $25k for the TM-2 model. The larger TM-4 model is out later this year and will fit a nuclear family. There is also a ute offering called the TM-5 which is a great option for those needing to shift stuff about, and I am tempted. Not sure the wife will let me strap down four kids though.

For more information visit Tomcar’s website:


Mercedes CLS 500 (C218/219)

Mercedes CLS 500 – The best looking Merc?

I have a problem with Mercedes drivers. Well one in particular, the driver ahead of me on the Pacific Highway just south of Griffith, who has purchased a Mercedes CLS 500 but refuses to explore its depths of acceleration. Rather, he prefers to pull out when an overtaking lane arises and sticks at the same speed as the car he is apparently attempting to overtake. The words ‘city’ and ‘wanker’ escape from my lips and I try to cover them up with a cough before my youngest daughter picks them up.

These drivers enrage me. Why in hell do they even bother pulling out if they simply want to keep at the same speed? Equally, why do the drivers of the cars he is trying to pass decide to speed up when the brief two lane carriageway arrives, only then to decelerate when it ends? The lane width is the same and is designed for cars to drive at the speed limit people, not 5 to 10 km/h less, but on the limit.

I have to calm myself by stuffing yet another lolly in my mouth and open the window to get some fresh air.

I’ve never really liked the look of Mercs though. Well except for the Pagoda roof SL. And the 300 SL Gullwing. And the 300 SL Roadster.  And the 500 SL. So, at risk of sounding all Python-esque, apart from the SL’s then, they always seemed to be rather boring looking, old man type cars.  Square jawed, wonderfully made they have been but for overweight businessmen.

Mercedes cls500

Then in 2004 something wonderful happened. The designers in Stuttgart must have just returned from a lengthy, boozy holiday in Italy, or possibly France, and drunk on wine penned the CLS. And it took an American to do it too, for as the story goes, the original concept was meant for a Dodge model, not a barnstormer from Baden-Württemberg. Luckily someone nicked it off the Yanks before it was named the Gillette, or some such nonsense, and the most attractive Mercedes in years was born. A curvaceous coupe that, after having a five litre engine shoe horned into it, was given not two but four doors. Who had ever heard of such a thing? A coupe with space for two extra passengers and a way to easily and graciously get in and out of it, as long as the rear passengers were under six foot that is. You see, that wonderfully sloping roof does have its draw backs, but who cares when you’re driving it.


Initially two engine variants were offered; the 5 litre and an entry level 3.5 litre, but soon a 3 litre V6 diesel was added and then the mad men at AMG got hold of it and added the 55 and the simply bonkers C63 to the range. However, we are concerned with the 500 here, simply because of cost. No doubt we would all plump for the AMG if we had a lazy $75-120,000 available (at today’s second hand prices), but this site is concerned with affordable cars, so the miserly 500 V8 it is then. And honestly speaking, does a second slower up to 100 km/h really make that much difference? They are all limited to the same top speed so let’s assume it doesn’t. The 500 will sprint to 100 in a mere 6.1 seconds, reducing to 5.4 a year or so later with a new 5.5 litre engine. The AMG’s would do it in 4.7 and 4.5 respectively, so come on who is counting?

Power everything came as standard, as did expensive low profile tyres. However, parking sensors were only an option, so it is important you source a car with these included because you will need them. The angles of the car slope in such a way that it is difficult to ascertain where bumper stops and scrapes begin. It is also very much a four seat car, so families of five have no chance, so bear this in mind. Yes, rear passengers may not have much of a view, due to the high waistline and large seats and head rests in front of them, but tell them to desist with their moaning and enjoy the cossetting ride and comfy armchair provided.

But what is it like to drive?

Based on the E-class platform, Top Speed tells us that “Stuttgart widened the E-Class’ track, lowered its center of gravity, fitted larger wheels and brakes, and gave the CLS’ variable assistance rack and pinion steering system a faster ratio.”

Autocar at the time said it had “effortless torque and relentless acceleration.” It’s “slick seven-speed transmission kicks down a couple of ratios under full throttle, [and] you could be forgiven for thinking AMG has had a hand in the V8’s development. A near-perfect transmission and 530Nm of torque give the CLS relentless acceleration from any speed.

So it drives well then. Though this is no sports car, it is a grand tourer but Mercedes ensured it could take the corners as well as any car of its size and then many that are smaller and perceived to be more nimble.

For cars registered between 2005 and 2008 prices range from an amazing $39,999 for a vehicle with around 135,000 kms on the clock, up to around $60,000 with a mere 45,000 kms. If you bought a new one today, you would have to fork out $230,000 so for a wait of between six and eight years you can realise a 75% discount. Most available in Australia have driven just under 100,000 kms and are priced around the $45-50k mark.

So what’s wrong with them?

In a few words – not a lot. Though the CLS was based on the E-class, luckily it does not share its rather dubious reputation for reliability. The forums are low on noted problems and high on praise. However, as with any car so heavily electrically assisted, my Landie included, these things can go wrong in time, so switch on everything, press every button and test to see everything works.

There have been some reported issues with the automatic gearbox sticking in gear and at one point the CLS was recalled for possible faulty brake pedals, a loss of engine power, airbags not deploying as they should and the odd fuel leak. The brake issue was traced to faulty wiring within the Sensotronic control unit, and there was a faulty crankshaft sensor on cars built in 2006 and 2007 that led to the power loss. However, these issues should all have been dealt with at the time, so it is unlikely you’ll find them 7-8 years on.

So all in all, if you have a spare $40-50k and don’t take a look at one of these beauties, you should have your head examined. That is unless you are of the ilk of the aforementioned driver on the Pacific Highway, in which case, you should be shot at dawn for even considering it. Go buy yourself a Holden Barina, for then at least you’d spend more time at the service station getting it fixed than taking up valuable road space.


Affordable Iconic Cars: Jaguar XJ X300-X350

The Equalizer

I live in an apartment over looking a car park. I’m not proud of it mainly because everyone else who lives in this part of Artarmon has a beautiful house, a lovely garden and overlooks a new and expensive car in their driveway. But it’s home and the wife and kids like it. Why I am not so sure, we don’t even have a garage for gods sake.

Anyway, recently someone has started parking his white, colour-coded Jag XJ in the car park. From my expansive deck, if you can call the size of a postage stamp expansive, it looks like an XJ X300 and too new to be a Series III. Staring at it took me back some 3 decades to my youth and a certain TV programme called the Equalizer. I liked the show because of the car. It’s sleekness suited the gritty streets of New York and cosseted the driver from the cold and steaming alleyways the protagonist always seemed to frequent.

Edward Woodward, aka Robert McCall, a retired secret agent, drove a black XJ6 Series III, upgraded in 1986 and again in 1988. It must have been the ’88 version that stuck in my memory because it doesn’t seem as dated in my minds eye as an earlier example. Perhaps it was the drilled alloys on fatter tyres than the standard mid-80’s version wore.

Anyway, I started to think that there were quite a few cars from my misspent youth that I still yearn for, and today the beautiful thing is that they should now be very much within reach.

So lets start with the Jag.

The series 3 XJ6 does look a tad passé now, and after the truly awful XJ40, it did eventually spawn the X300, and later the X358 which is one sexy car. Not that I’m holding out much hope that the latter can be classed as affordable here in Sydney. The UK most certainly but not here, so let’s focus on the X300 and if we are lucky the X350.

By: Jaguar MENA

Plenty of X300’s built between 1994 and 1997 abound, ranging from a mere $8000 up $17000, all either 3.2 or 4 litre versions and mileage as high 230,000.

Moving up a step, there are a few X350’s, the most expensive coming in at $75k for a 4 year old example and representing a saving of over 50% from new. It’s the 2.7 V6 Turbo Diesel version, the same engine as in my Disco, and all the better for it.

For $30k, and definitely within our range, you could plump for a ‘06 model X350 with just over 100,000km on the clock. This one comes replete with the 3 litre normally aspirated engine and so a little more expensive to run.

If we halve that price again, we could get hold of a ’94 X300 Sovereign, the top of the range at the time, with the 4 litre donk and less than 95,000kms on the clock.

Or better still, in WA there is a ’99 XJR X308 with only 101,000km on the clock for a mere $24k. Ok, this is not an XJ6, it’s a supercharged V8 but who’s counting.

So do you see where we are going with this? Absolute luxury and a ride to die for in a rapid limousine is now so much within our grasp it is a little like Tony Abbott, or not funny

But are we about to give ourselves a headache? No, not really, the biggest rule of thumb being to avoid the XJ40. Forums and various Jag enthusiast sites suggest that the factory in Crewe finally brought this elder statesman’s quality and reliability in line with its competitors. Only a couple of nagging doubts exist with cylinder liners and timing chain tensioners. A compression test will help diagnose the first and a rattle when starting from cold will give you a hint for the latter. If ignored it will cost you an expensive engine rebuild, but as ever, seeking a full service history will allay most of your fears.

It turns out the XJ in the car park is an X308 XJR and looks fabulous close up. Hopefully I will hear from the owner shortly and I can regale you with tales of awe.

By: The Car Spy
By: The Car Spy