These New Cars Are Alright eh!

 

So I’ve crossed to the dark side. I’ve betrayed all that I hold dear. For years I have been an advocate that old four wheel drives are better than the new ones. I’ve punted my old Hilux, a Ford Courier and my beloved old 40 Series Landcruiser around tracks that owners of newer vehicles are not game to, as they don’t want to scratch the paintwork. The simplicity and no-nonsense nature of these old beasts is what kept me bouncing around with a smile on my dial and only occasional internal injuries from the rock-hard suspension.

So what has lured me away? In a nutshell, it’s the Isuzu MU-X 4×4.

With the recent end to my carefree bachelorhood, I no longer have only my own requirements to take into consideration. As much as my immeasurably better half understands my passion for old machinery, she also prefers not to be stuck halfway up a steep slope with an engine which has suddenly decided to stop working (yes it did happen). So with reliability becoming a problem we started looking around at different options.

And what an absolute plethora of options there are these days. Now picking a new car is a lot like marriage, not to be entered into lightly, and if you get either of them wrong it’ll cost you thousands and bring years of misery. Trust me, I’ve been there.

We test drove quite a number of different vehicles, but none of them really hit the mark. They were either uncomfortable, contained all sorts of extraneous and pointless bells and whistles, lacked headroom (I’m looking at you Toyota Fortuner) or contained a price tag that could feed a small African village for a year.

And so it was, in a rather despondent state of mind, I was filling up the little hatchback at the local service station. In front of me was a vehicle that I’d not really seen many of, but on the back was the 4×4 badge, so I looked a bit closer. As it turns out I was looking at an Isuzu MU-X, which was an unknown entity to me at that stage, so I did a bit of research.

The first point in its favour was the price. Now for a person whose last vehicular purchase was for the exorbitant sum of $1500, the price of a new MU-X is still enough to invoke a mild heart attack. But when compared some other chariots on the market, with price tags of tens of thousands dollars extra, the price is quite reasonable and so it was still in the game.

As always the next step is ‘what do other people think of theirs’? You can go to the usual places such as Carsguide or similar review sites, but I’ve always found they never put the vehicles to the type of use that I would. I mean, yes it’s great to know that it holds the road well, is a zippy little number or has a great driving position, or any other motoring review cliché you’d like to name. But if you want the real story, you need to find the opinions of real users, the owners.

I found a thread on 4X4 Earth where a member asked for any issues or problems with the MU-X. One user did complain that the cup holders don’t fit your standard cycling water bottle. Oh the humanity, deal’s off, let’s all go home. But wait, the overall theme of the thread is that everyone is over the moon and happy with their purchase. There was a bit of concern about the traction control if you have diagonally opposed wheels off the ground at the same time, but helpful advice was given on how to rectify that with the accelerator. So maybe we’ll just have to leave the water bottle at home and just concern ourselves with the important issues, and by and large the MU-X seems to handle itself well out in the real world.

So by this point I’m thinking it’s probably time for a test drive and so a test drive was duly undertaken. The first thing that strikes you when you hop in is that fact that nothing strikes you – there is plenty of room so you avoid banging your knees, head or elbows onto the various protuberances that you need to negotiate in some other cars. Sitting in the driver’s seat I didn’t feel enclosed, I had space all around me and I’m reliably informed that the same can be said while sitting in the passenger seat.

The next thing that stands out is the simplicity of the layout. I recently sat in my son’s 2014 dual cab ute and seriously the thing is lit up like a Christmas tree. From near the door, across the instrument panel and nearly three quarters of the way across the dash there are just little orange lights illuminating a galaxy of buttons and switches. Now I understand that for the ‘tech-savvy’ generation all this is considered necessary, but for me I just see a whole lot of useless gimmicks that are going to fail at some stage and require a massive bill to fix it. Not so in the MU-X. Everything you need and nothing that you don’t, well not a lot of what you don’t. The instrument panel consists of a speedo, tacho, temp and fuel gauges and bugger all else, and what more could you want I ask.

So to the test drive. For a bloke accustomed to old diesel engines which sound like tractors, the drive was initially a bit disconcerting. I had to turn the air-con down so I could hear the engine. It is rather quiet. But that doesn’t mean it won’t let out a satisfying animal growl when the loud pedal is stomped and that poor little Barina gets left behind on the Gateway Motorway. Handling and braking is also all that you’d expect of a vehicle of its size. It’s never going to set the lap record around Bathurst, but that’s not what it’s designed for, is it.

Speaking of what its designed for, I can’t comment on that just yet, so that will be the subject of the next article.

So as you can probably guess, after the test drive and a week of consideration, we have now signed the contract and gotten our very own MU-X. The dealer was fantastic. I’ll let you in on a little secret, I have a mate who is the manager of a different card yard and he gave me a list of all the things to look out for, and I can state that our dealer was not guilty of any of these things. He was friendly, knew what he was talking about and didn’t try to up-sell when we said we only wanted the base model. He even let us drive his own personal MU-X so we could see how it performs with 17 inch wheels.

We’re now very excited to take delivery after the bull bar, snorkel and 17 inch wheels are installed, and then we’ll see how she goes off-road. I’ll let you know.

Better than the day I bought my kids home for the first time.

The Third Bit of the Simmo Saga

 

My dear readers who have been following the tale of my intrepid travels across the Simpson Desert may remember that way back in the dark days of the last few months of 2016 I posted the second bit of the epic journey, and left it hanging after a quiet and sober celebration of my 18th birthday. No doubt you were hoping that was the end of it, and as the months have ticked by you’ve been thinking “thank all that is Holy, he’s not going to continue”, but I’m here to tell you I may have been distracted by bright shiny things, but now the saga continues (insert evil laugh here).

So with surprising and unexplained hangovers (remember I said above that it was a quiet and sober celebration………) we headed off for our first full day in the Simmo. For those who don’t know, the Simpson Desert is characterised by a couple of thousand sand dunes running roughly parallel to each other in a north/south direction, with gaps ranging from a few hundred metres to a kilometre or so and has the track cutting across them. The wind generally blows in from the west which piles up the sand on the western slope of the dunes, creating a nice gentle ramp, and then drops off suddenly after the crest.

Now this is wonderful…….if you’re coming from the west. But we were coming from the east which meant we had the steep approach and then gentle down the other side, which is the more difficult way of doing things. The results were predictable, vehicles got stuck. Fortunately with the number of vehicles we had on the trip this was no great issue, as with a bit of shovel work and either a snatch strap or the good old-fashion “put your shoulders into it” approach we were never delayed for too long.

Now with the passage of time, one bit of boggage and dune crossing kinda moulds into any other so I won’t try to impart intricate details of each dune. Suffice to say it was three and a bit days of getting stuck, getting un-stuck, powering up the front face and gliding down the rear face of the dunes and spending peaceful, quiet evenings with good mates in the valleys. Not a bad way to spend a few days, and something you really should do at least once in your life.

After three days we finally popped out on the northern edge of the desert with the promise of a dip at Dalhousie Springs. “You beauty.” I thought to myself with the memory of the freezing cold dip I had taken on my birthday still in my mind. “After three days in the hot desert, now in the heat of the day, what could be better than a nice cold swim?”

It was here that I discovered that Australia is a cruel, cruel country, but it also has a sense of humour. For not only is Dalhousie Spring not cold, it’s not even cool, tepid nor indeed could you even call it slightly on the chilly side. It’s bloody hot dagnamit! Somewhere in the region of 38 degrees Celsius. So in summary – when I was hoping for a nice warm spring to be thrown into on my birthday I got something straight from the frozen depths of the Antarctic, but when I wanted something cold, Australia turned on a steaming hot bath. Bastard.

It may look cool and refreshing, but it’s just an illusion.

Anyhoo, my disillusion was only short lived. As the therapeutic waters soothed my weary bones, it was actually quite a good half hour or so. I highly recommend spending some time there next time you’re ducking into the interior of Australia.

We ended that day at Mt Dare Station which has the honour of being the most central pub in Australia. No doubt that in the intervening years this dot on the map has improved as more and more visitors are making their way into the area, but back then about the best you could say for the place is that it was a great place to breed mosquitos. Big buggers they were, and plenty of them. In the interest of safety we had to tie our sleeping bags to the trucks, just so the mozzies couldn’t carry us away. The next morning Humper looked positively svelte and lean, unfortunately it was because he’d lost about five litres of blood overnight and looked decidedly shaky.

Alright, maybe I exaggerated a little.

So a little worse for wear after a sleepless eve we forged ever onwards through the rolling green hills, interspersed with lush willows and the occasional babbling brook. And now back to reality, it was more flat country covered with spinifex and a few scraggly shrubs barely clinging to life. It was on this stretch that I experience my only real ‘moment’ of the journey.

Trundling along in the Bush Pig, our trusty 110 Landrover, in casual conversation with Moe, we came up to a slight left hand bend which as it turns out, had a bit of a dip on the exit. This dip was full of one of the more dangerous aspects of desert travel – bull dust. Fine particles of dust which look innocent enough to the casual observer as they fill in dips on desert corners, but once it gets hold of the front wheels unexpectedly it can get messy real quick.

And you thought that Parliament House was the only place where Bull Dust flows thick and fast.

As it happens this particular corner also had the only two substantial trees within cooee of the place on either side of the track, and as the dust took over steering responsibilities from me I was now heading straight for one of them. After wrestling control of the steering wheel I bought it around just in time to avoid anything more than just brushing the outside branches. But we weren’t out of the woods (literally) yet because I was still in the bulldust which was now taking me towards the only other tree in the area. Once again a quick wrestle of the wheel and we just missed that one as well.

Not being one for the liberal usage of hyperbole nor excessive verbosity and panicky gesticulation, Moe just casually turned to me and said something along on the lines of “yeah ya gotta watch that bull dust” and then continued to stare out the passenger window, while I was mentally ascertaining whether I needed a change of reg grundies** or not. Fortunately I was unsoiled and so we continued.

I was not the only one to come unstuck on this leg though. A couple of hours later, with Moe behind the wheel now, we noticed the Landcruiser Troopy was facing us as we approached a small grove of trees. It was sitting there nice and quietly with it back end parked beautifully up against a small slope on the edge of the track. Would’ve been a good parking job had it not happened at 40km/h. I won’t say who was driving at the time, but by the time we rocked up, Tony was sitting on the edge of the road sucking on about 10 cigarettes at a time, and cursing that young man’s name for all eternity.

But as they say, it’s all shits and giggles until someone giggles and shits, and with nothing more serious than a couple of bruised egos we continued on until many hours later, cutting through the darkness and on the blacktop for the first time in more than a week, the lights of Alice Springs shone brightly in the distance. Ah The Alice, the northern most point of our trip. The chance for a couple of days out of the vehicles, regular showers and a bit of sightseeing. But that’s where we’ll leave things for now.

Tune in next time as we start our return leg and find out what a German, a bull and big red rock have in common, and see the events which led to Tony delivering the best one liner of the entire trip – “who wants to neck a Greenie?”

Until then – life is good.

** For our international types, ‘Reg Grundies’ is an Australian term meaning ‘undies’ or if even that’s a bit too confusing, ‘undies’ is short for underpants.

Beware the Experts, For They Know Not What They Do

 

Anyone can make a mistake, but to really mess things up requires a degree and the dubious title of ‘expert’.

I don’t know about you, but as I occasionally peek out of my own insulating bubble of indifference I get the feeling the world seems to have lost its grip on common sense. The combined wisdom of generations upon generations of ‘old wives’ and ‘jack-of-all-trades type men’ seems to have been whisked away like a fart in an over-complicated cyclone. We’re less healthy now than we’ve ever been (the occasional medieval plague not withstanding), we’re more broke that previous generations and our literacy and numeracy levels are falling faster than a sky-diver with no parachute.

How, in this day and age, is this happening? As alluded to in my opening sentence, I reckon the answer is ‘experts’. We’ve outsourced our common sense and faithfully placed in the loving hands of experts who have been trained in a particular area, because, ya know, apparently they know about these things. But if you have a close look at things, our world’s downhill slide began shortly after the rise in the numbers of people undertaking university education.

I left school just as this tertiary education craze was just taking off, but back then you only really considered university if you were going into law or medicine or some other ‘high-end calling’. Not so these days. I just did a quick perusal of casual jobs etc and just about everything these days requires some kind of certificate or qualification. I kid you not, even an ad for a kitchen hand/dishwasher wanted some kind of food safety certificate. To wash dishes……..

Anyway, as usual I digress. This upward trend in the number of people running around with degrees means that they all have to find something to do to justify the tens of thousands of dollars they’ve just spent on their ejukation. So what do they do? They take an issue, say for example ‘are potatoes bad for you’, undertake a study whereby they interview one hundred patients in a cancer ward, ask if they’ve ever eaten a potato and then conclusively state that potatoes give you cancer. And because they claim to be experts we all stop eating spuds.

Over exaggerating? Maybe, but look at the evidence, an apply common sense. Take the three areas I mentioned above – our health, our finances and our education. All three areas have highly educated experts and intellectuals conducting studies and developing theories designed to take us forward into a bright future. But are we heading that way? Uh uh.

I find it slightly amusing that just a mere couple of generations ago, Grannies the world over, with no formal nutritional training were serving their families balanced, healthy meals and obesity really was the domain of the lazy or glutinous, or in rare cases medical conditions. These days, although the stigma still seems to stick, it’s not the case. I know of quite a few people who do everything right, as far as the experts say, and still gain weight. They eat low fat this, and diet that, they exercise as much as their bodies will allow them and they follow the latest fad diet some nutritionist says is this week’s super diet. And…..nothing but expanding waistlines to show for it.

“But we’re living longer.” The defenders of intellect will tell you, and yes they’re right. But just because we’re living longer, doesn’t mean we’re living healthier. Our longevity is due to artificial intervention in the form of medicines. Heart disease is at levels unheard of even fifty years ago, but it’s ok because they have a pill for that. I could go on but you get the idea.

As for finance, well I’m about as sharp as a marble in this area, but even I can see people are struggling more now than they were in the 1950’s and 60’s. Back then your average family of Mum, Dad and two and a half kids, could pretty much have it all on just the one wage. They could afford a modest shanty, school education and some decent tucker on the table. More often than not they could also afford an annual holiday somewhere across this wide brown land of ours. Try that now, it’s impossible. Today’s average family probably has both Mum and Dad at work, the kids in child-care, fast food because no one has time to cook and an annual holiday? Forget it. Even if you don’t buy a house, a very large slab of your wage goes towards paying rent and it’s all very difficult to cope with and not to resort to Government assistance.

But the finance sector has been saying we’re doing well for decades. Economic growth is powering ahead and the models predict that it will continue to do so. What a wonderful age of economic certainty we live in. Well the increasing number of dejected, defeated-looking people sitting by their meagre possessions I see on the streets as I walk to and from work every day, tend to suggest that the rosy picture the experts are painting is more ‘abstract’ than ‘real-life’.

And then there’s education. As the father of three youngn’s who have traversed the system, all I can say is thank the Gods that’s over. It has been incredibly frustrating watching the ‘techniques’ that teachers are being told to instruct. I actually had to stop trying to help my kids because my old-school, common sense approach to simple mathematics was confusing the poor little buggers because their teachers showed them some weird kind of line diagram with looping bits connecting different bits, just to add two numbers together.

I find it incredible that people from my generation, ie those who left school in the early to mid-1990’s, and generations before all received their education with nothing more than a pen and paper, maybe a text book, and un-fettered access to the school library’s Encyclopaedia Britannica. Today’s students have access to all the information in the world with just a click of the mouse, and yet their basic literacy and numeracy skills, as well as their abilities to think for themselves, are so far below the levels of previous generations. This is not an indictment of today’s students. They are, after all, made up of all the same bits and pieces we were. It’s a damning indictment of the experts systematic destruction of all the things which used to work perfectly well, just to try and justify their own existence by conducting ‘studies’ and telling us all to change age-old practices accordingly.

So there, I’ve identified the problem. So what’s the solution? It’s quite simple really. Start prizing common sense over excessive education. To the parents of school aged children and our current crop of teachers, don’t hold university as the only aim worthy of reaching. Do this not just in meaningless words but in action. For example, for each of my kids going into year 10 at school there was an information night on how to select subjects for senior school. It consisted of fifteen to twenty minutes of what to do for a trades or traineeships, and then a further hour and a half on university pathways. It gives kids the impression that practical vocations are not worth much.

Anyway, employers have a role to play as well. Stop looking for 18 year old school leavers with 10 years’ experience in the exact role you need. Instead, take an un-skilled young adult and provide them with the skills in a real-world situation. You’ll end up with a better trained employee who has a natural ability to learn on the job. And it’ll keep them from falling into the tertiary education trap, where they will end up having to justify their existence by becoming experts and conducting studies.

And finally, if someone tells you they’re an expert, just remember that very few experts have any real expertise in the area they pretend to be expert in. Question everything they tell you, and use your own common sense.

I’m out.

The Rest of the Tale

 

So last time we visited this space was back before Christmas and New Years. Since that time I’ve had added kilos through over indulgence in food and lost brain cells through over indulgence in drink, so I think that means I’ve broken even. Prior to the break I advised you of the trials and tribulations in getting Old Rusty to start and left the story with the triumphant roar of the mighty 2B engine. Now I’m well aware that the anticipation of the next part of the story may have cast a slight greyness to your festivities, but fear not for here, now, at this very moment I shall put your anticipation to rest and regale you with the tale of that splendid afternoon.

So with Rusty happily shaking and rattling we headed off up the Bruce Highway with all the speed and haste the old beast could muster, so around 90k’s an hour…..downhill…..with a stiff tail wind. Being early summer in South East QLD the unshaded Bruce Highway was reflecting enough heat to melt the ex-wife’s icy heart (well nothing is really that hot, but you get the idea). For those of you who drive normal vehicles this is not an issue, you merely put the window up and whack on the air con and comfortably trundle your way along, totally oblivious to the searing heat. Not so in Rusty, not so. If you are unfamiliar with the dear old 40 Series Landcruiser, standard air conditioning consists of winding down the windows and opening up the kick panels – little panels in the side wall roughly where your feet belong. Normally these are a wonderful thing, except when the air being forced through them is about as hot and the air blowing around the House of Reps in Canberra. Add to that the complete lack of insulating material between the engine and cabin wall and you end up with a floor which is just a little bit too hot to put your feet on.

But anyway, Kertrude and myself survived and lobbed at the previously agreed upon meeting place to await the arrival of our companions for the day – Stefan and his son Dougal. Again names have been changed to protect the guilty (as if I’d be mates with someone named “Stefan”). And sure enough, after a sanger and coke, the pair duly arrived in the fancy, ‘modern’ 100 Series Landcruiser. The obligatory greetings and taking of the mickey was undertaken with enthusiasm and then we were off. We headed to the lookout so the Mt Isa boys could take in the wonders of vegetation and variation in ground height and a convenient place to lock in the hubs.

Well I locked in my hubs. Stefan must’ve forgotten to lock his in because I don’t recall seeing him in the region of his front wheels at all. Oh what? He doesn’t have to lock his in? Really? What sort of fourby doesn’t require locking of hubs?

Anyway, got distracted. Off we went into the unknown wilds of the Glasshouse Mountains State Forest. Employing the time-honoured concept of ‘if in doubt take the left hand track’ we veered off onto a small off-shoot which went very well for a few minutes. A bit of a downhill run, washouts and ruts made it all a nice introduction to the day.

And then suddenly we could go no further. Ahead of us, what used to be the track plummeted to become a smooth rock face which would give a mountain goat a heart attack. For probably only the second time since I first met Stefan in 1991, common sense prevailed and we decided to turn around, which is always fun on a tight track with a slope but it was managed.

When confronted with an impassable obstacle, stop for a photo opportunity. L – R Stefan, Dougal, Kertrude & Me

Shortly thereafter we popped out back on the main track over a small rise and were immediately met with the reason for purchasing a four wheel drive in the first place. With just a normal family sedan you basically get to see the Glasshouse Mountains from one perspective – ie from the lookout. With a fourby however, you can see if from all different directions. There before us was the majestic Mount Tibrogargan, towering above the pine plantations with the mid-afternoon sun casting a yellow glow across the whole scene. Beautiful.

Although in all honesty the beauty may be been lost on Stefan as there was another thing of beauty sharing the small rise with us. The beauty in question being a young female photography student who had been lured to the spot by the very vista which I was admiring. Stefan casually sauntered over and was soon engaged in a meaningful conversation with the young lady, no doubt discussing philosophy and literature and world events………..yeah right. (Quick note to Mrs Stefan – I may be exaggerating slightly, so don’t divorce him just yet).

Anyhoo, I eventually managed to drag him away and we were off again. The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring the many off-shoot tracks in the area and at some stage we switched vehicles. I ended up steering the 100 Series while he wrestled with Rusty, which he seemed to enjoy as, due to being a country boy from way back, he learned to drive in a 40. And if I’m forced to admit, the slight upgrade in comfort was not entirely unwelcome as I piloted the big 100 around, although I never did get comfortable with the automatic transmission.

Stefan Driving Rusty
Me steering the Hunjy

To end the day we headed into Beerwah in search of a beer and some pub grub. Not knowing the town particularly well we opted for the only sure-fire approach to locating the watering hole – we asked the hairy, fat bloke walking down the footpath. We were not disappointed. A couple of cold beers and a chicken parmy, after a day playing in the bush with a good mate and a couple of our offspring. I tell ya, it doesn’t get much better.