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Tw o CentsA N D O N E M O R E T H I N G . . .

Has it ever occurred to you that maybe machines are getting a bit uppity? I can live with a fridge that makes its own ice-cubes, but I donít think I want one of those bluetooth-connected jobs that `knowsí when youíre low on milk or cheese and orders another cowís-worth for you while youíre at work. Thereís just something a bit creepy about that, and yet itís technology that has existed for some time now. Apparently, the fridge scans the barcodes of whatever you place in it so it knows what to reorder. Though how it can tell when the milk is off without having a sniff of it, I donít know.

Anyway, while the old bangers youíll see in Unique Cars are my first automotive love, I also work for other car books, most of which have a younger clientele and much younger subject matter. And some of the new tech Iím seeing on new cars has me a bit worried.

I drove a new Bentley the other day; one that featured technology called lane-assist. Because the power-steering now operates off an electric motor (as does the vast majority of the worldís power-steering these days) the Bentley was able to talk to the electric motor and adjust the steering all on its own. Thatís how those fancy self-parking systems work. But with cameras and radar for eyes, the Bentley was also able to `seeí an unbroken white line on the road and move the tiller to keep itself within those lines.

The problem was that the Bentley was a huge great lump of a thing and didnít, in all circumstances, fit within the white lines. So even though I wasnít trying to change lanes, at various times I got close to the line. Too close for the Bentleyís comfort, it seems, and it would try to steer me back on to the straight and narrow. I wonít say the wheel was fighting me, because it was a gentle nudge from the car at best, but it was definitely off-putting. And because not all roads have clearly marked white lines and because the Bentleyís eyes are not infallible, sometimes the car would let you fall completely off the road without mentioning it. Clearly, this is not a hands-off system and remains one of the big problems with the autonomous-car concept we keep hearing all about.

But the piece of new-tech I dislike most is stop-start. Okay, I can see how switching the engine off at the traffic lights can save fuel. But when a modern, small-capacity four-cylinder hatchback is using about 0.3 of a litre per hour when idling, it aint gonna save much. And then, when the light goes green and you step on it, the motor springs into life and away you go. So whatís not to like? Plenty.

For starters, thereís lots of NVH going on when the things cranks into life. Itís worse if itís a diesel. But thereís also sometimes a bit of a delay (some systems are better than others) as the car cranks and starts and THEN moves away. Okay, itís split-second stuff, but Iím the sort of bloke who times his run into a traffic flow with a fair degree of precision. Also, when I commit to hauling into a moving stream of cars, motorbikes and B-doubles, I want to know the engine is already running and isnít going to cough or splutter or stall. And I just donít feel confident if the thing isnít already whirring away smoothly beneath me.

But what I hate most about these systems absolutely haunts the mechanical sympathist in me.

When the light goes green and I step on the gas, the engine fires and then goes from zero load to a big load, way before itís had time to build up oil pressure. Yes, I know thereís still oil in the bearing shells (The engine only stopped a minute ago, remember) but pressure? Not enough for my liking. I tried it yesterday on a modern car I was driving (okay, a Porsche 911 Turbo) which had both an analogue and a digital oil-pressure gauge. And I have to say, I was already moving pretty well before either gauge was registering a normal amount of pressure. And thatís on a brand-new car with a high-tech variabledisplacement oil pump. What about a not-so-special car with an engine showing a bit of internal wear?

What do you think? Am I striking a chord here or am I my usual barking mad self, hell-bent on wasting 0.3 litres of fuel per hour?

Here come the Knockers

Allow me to share with you some details on the Commer ďKnockerĒ. The TS3 Knocker utilised a single crankshaft which had two crankpins 180 degrees apart for each cylinder and both the air piston and the exhaust piston were connected to the crank pins via connecting rods and rockers, such that the TS3, three-cylinder had the following: One crankshaft with 6 crankpins; Twelve connecting rods; Six pistons; Six rockers.

The initial TS3 engine produced 105BHP at 2400 rpm and this was increased to 117 BHP during the early years, all from a 3.26 litre (200 cubic-inch) block, making the output per litre comparable to the 15-litreplus turbocharged engines in current Kenworths, Scanias and Volvos!

The reliability of the Commer Knocker in the livestock transport area in the 1950s and 60s was well regarded, as the relatively uniform engine speeds and long running times did not produce the blower quill failures nor the de-coking requirements that cityusage trucks or those operated in their home country (UK) seemed to endure.

What was important to longevity was clean and unrestricted incoming air and the Rootes Group addressed this by fitting Australian Knockers with dual oil-bath aircleaners.

Incidentally, this requirement for clean air was not lost on Chamberlain Tractors which fitted a GM 371, twostroke engine to its large tractors produced in WA at around this time, and fitted very large oil-bath air cleaners and, in some conditions, specified twin air-cleaners.

The Rootes group was taken over by Chrysler in 1964 which promptly killed off the TS4 engine which was to be the replacement for the TS3 model, and reputably addressed most of the perceived short comings of the TS3 engine.

Unfortunately for it, it was not made in the USA.

As a schoolboy at Casterton High in the late 50s and early 60s we were often presented with the spectacle of a line of Commer Knocker livestock transports, nose-to-tail, negotiating the long climb from the town centre on livestock sale days. The sound of four or so Knockers in second gear at 10 to 15km/h climbing the long hill was ear shattering.

Occasionally we were treated to the sight of the lead truck wheelstanding for 200 or 300 metres with the front wheels 30 to 40cm off the ground, the driver reducing throttle and grounding the truck as he approached the turn in the road at the top of the hill so as to have steering.

Mostly these trucks belonged to Scotts


Transport based in Mount Gambier, and today this family company has in excess of 700 trucks on the road and, in addition to covering all aspects of transport, has a number of large pastoral properties throughout Australia. Local folklore suggests that the Commer Knocker set them on the path to success.

It has been close to 50 years since a Commer Knocker was used in commercial transport, but all is not lost. Achates Power Inc, established in 2004 in the US, has redesigned the opposedpiston two-stroke diesel utilising two crankshafts geared together, an array of current technologies and metallurgy. They now have multiple contracts with the US military and have demonstrated that the performance, economy and cost of their engines is superior to current offerings and they already comply with Euro 6 emissions.

The acceptance into high volume production for passenger cars and light trucks in the US is facing headwinds from low gasoline prices of USD $2 per gallon (USD 50 cents per litre) negativity brought about by VWís ďdieselgateĒ, and overall concern about the carcinogenic attributes of diesel particulate emissions. We could however see them in large trucks again, but I suspect with muted exhausts.


I learn about these incredible engines, the more intrigued I become. And so do you lot, apparently, because two-stroke diesels in general and Commer Knockers in particular are the topic of the month around here. The Commer used a truly amazing design, and Iíd love to sit down for a chat with the bloke that came up with the idea of a supercharged, opposed piston two-stroke in the first place.

Itís funny you mention Chamberlain Tractors, too, because the Chamberlain brothers also had a crack at a blown two-stroke way back in (I think) 1929.

Admittedly, it was a petrol engine and it was used in an open-wheeler race car.

And while it was fast and led the Australian Grand Prix back in the day, it proved to be a bit fragile to be too handy at long events. It made its name, therefore, as a hillclimb and sprint racer and was a bit of a legend at the Rob Roy hillclimb outside Melbourne. From what I can recall, it was effectively two inline four-cylinders, mounted deck-to-deck like a Commer Knocker. It used two crankshafts (one above the engine and one in the traditional position) and a supercharger. The bottom set of four pistons produced the power, while the top four controlled the inlet and exhaust ports. And Iím sure that description has just oversimplified it to the max.

I saw it run once and it

was LOUD!

Now, in the meandering way of such things, the Commer Knocker brought us to Chamberlain tractor air-cleaners, that took us to the Chamberlain race-car, and that now takes us to a bloke named Jim Hawker.

Jim was a cousin of the Chamberlain brothers and is really the bloke who got the Chamberlain into race-winning form, mostly by refining the electrical system (he made his own spark-plugs for the Chamberlain for cryiní out loud).

I met Jim many years ago and in telling me about a car he built as family transport back in the day, he revealed his true genius to me as we sat around on old oil drums in a country workshop, talking cars.

Way back when Jimís kids were still little Ďuns, sunny Queensland (when it was still a collection of fishing villages and beaches) was the annual holiday destination for the Victorian-based Hawker clan. Now, Jim was a big fan of the cars Peugeot was building back in the day; rugged, rear-drive sedans that were properly tough. Only trouble was, the 403 (I think it was a 403) Jim owned at the time wasnít the fastest thing on earth. In fact, by the time the family arrived in Queensland, it was almost time to turn around and go home.

Jimís solution was typical of the bloke. He took a pair of Peugeot four-cylinder engines, cast up his own crankcase and modified a crankshaft to take double the number of con-rods.

Then, by bolting it all back together, heíd made himself a Peugeot V8. The detail stuff was fascinating too; he worked out that the standard Pug con-rods were way over-engineered and that allowed him to re-thickness the rods and bearings, meaning he could bolt two rods side-by-side on a single big-end journal.

That kept it all physically compact, too, and ensured the finished product would still fit in the 403ís engine bay. Apparently, the starter-motor location nearly ended the project but, eventually, he figured out an offset-mounting arrangement that got it all working.

A busy bloke through the day, all this was taking place in Jimís spare time so, by the time it was ready to rock and roll, the holidays had started. But, having total faith in his own work, Jim fired the V8 for the first time on the Friday arvo, piled the kids into the car and headed directly to Queensland. And it ran like a top all the way. Got them there in record time, too.

Itíd be interesting to revisit the Hawker V8.

The last time I saw it, it was stored under Jimís workbench. Anybody know where it is?

And againÖ

Morley, hereís what I recall about Commer Knockers.

They were a very popular truck for the following


reasons: They were very light on fuel. Because of the very little movement in the swivel and gudgeon pins, the tolerances could be set at far smaller gaps than conventional engines.

They were also cheap to register. This was because, at the time, rego fees were calculated on the swept volume of the engine. This was called the RAC rating.

The Commer came in at seven horsepower (or it might have been 13, I canít remember).

But the engine being so small gave very little engine braking and travelling down Pretty Sally or Toll Bar (Toowoomba) Cunninghams Gap or the long hill into Adelaide had to be approached with extreme caution.

Overall, they were a good, but very, very noisy, little truck. Non-attention to silencers soon attracted the attention of the boys in blue. What finally killed all two-strokes in Australia and elsewhere was their inability to control exhaust emissions.

Now, Detroit diesels: The Jimmy Ė a godsend to operators who had bought big ex-army trucks with Hercules (big Yankee diesels that were almost antediluvian) or huge V8 petrol engines. The exhaust signature of the Jimmy was unmistakable and every model from the 120-hp sixcylinder units to the 500-hp model used to leak about as much oil as they consumed.

A popular truck in the 1960s was a Peterbilt which came with an 8V71 Detroit as standard equipment. Blew everything else off the road.

There was another twostroke truck engine on the scene in the early 60s and that was a unit made by Foden in England and fitted to its export models.

Everybody in the Northern Territory in heavy haulage bought Fodens which were usually equipped with Gardner, Cummins or Rolls Royce diesels. But these new two-stroke engines came on the scene in two forms, one with a conventional supercharger and one with a turbocharger as well.

Clearly, Foden was using us as guinea pigs. The rule of thumb was: Two good trips, one bad trip and then a piston-and-liner trip. These engines were so unsuited to tropical heat, they all failed and were replaced by Cummins NH220s. It must have cost Foden a fortune.

Michael Pyper, Bunbury WA.

IíVE HEARD in the past how the big American diesels landed here in the 60s and proceeded to make pretty much every other heavy-haulage truck look pretty silly. As well as the Detroit Diesels, Iíve heard that the original Mack Thermodyne (albeit a four-stroke diesel) was also instrumental in making American trucks the force they became in this country.

You can see how the formula for a workable British truck might get lost in translation. For instance, a top speed of 40 mile-per-hour might have been fine for a Pommy truckie whose daily run was on narrow lanes to five villages, all within five miles of each other. But bring the same truck out here and ask it to do Melbourne to Sydney overnight, and you had a battle on your hands.

But the Yank stuff, built as it was for conditions much closer to ours, simply did a better job.

Canít say that Iíve had anything to do with Foden two-strokes, but a few blokes I know who are into their old trucks seem to prefer Gardner engines (the five-cylinder, in particular is regarded as a peach). And boaties canít get enough of Gardner engines to power their projects, so there must be something in it.

From what I can gather, the other popular powerplant for a Foden truck was a Thornycroft engine. youíre the acceptance of the And you re right about Foden stuff way up north.


You still see Fodens grumbling around up in the Territory. The last one I saw was several years ago and had been converted to a crane truck. I spotted it somewhere around Innamincka (I think) but it was still running and seemed to be earning an honest living.

Book full of Commers

Hereís a bit of info on the Commer two-stroke diesel: My wife owned a second-hand book shop for a while 30 years ago and while browsing one day I saw this workshop manual. I can remember as a kid in the 60s seeing Commer trucks around and I liked the unusual exhaust note. It is a very different engine design, so I kept the manual.

Meanwhile, thereís a fella in Yangebup (southwest WA) who has a huge collection of vehicles and I think he has, or at least had, one. Last time I passed through he was working on one of those two-stroke diesels in one of those round-tail 60s tour buses (I forget the make). He willingly started it up just so I could have a listen. About 20 years ago I called in and was admiring his DS23 Citroen and he said jump in and have a drive! He is a very interesting person and seems to love anything mechanical.

Wayne Morey, WA

I LOVE second-hand bookshops, Wayne, purely because you never know what treasures youíre going to find. I once found a factory workshop manual for a Kombi I owned at the time. They were changing hands for more than $100 online, but this one was mine for $25. Mind you, I did have to dig through a dozen stacks of old travel guides and dodgy fondue cook-books to find it, but that was half the fun, too.

Dry ice, rattle guns and fast Fords

Just catching up on some reading. Ice baby was interestingÖ and pretty cool. Pun intended. Thanks for the tip. You asked about an electronic rattle gun: Mate do yourself a favour and just get one. Youíll never look back. Just so quick.

Just be aware that they can strip nuts that arenít threaded properly on first.

You already knew that. Iíve got a Ryobi and itís great.

Bunnings has plenty of them.

I would love to build a hill climb/competition car like what youíre doing with the Commodore, for fun and games. I may have access to a TE Cortina. Iím thinking Barra I6 and five-speed plus some chassis rails etc etc. Your thoughts would be


The 41st Historic Winton will be bigger and better than ever with over 400 racing cars and motorcycles from the 1920s-80s strutting their stuff at the challenging Winton circuit near Benalla in Victoriaís north-east. As well as the on-track action heritage displays will present a huge range of mechanical marvels Ė steam engines, tractors, speedway cars and much more. visit: http://


I was talking to a mate the other day who reckoned he just couldnít bring himself to allow a Holden into his Ford-dominated garage. What, I asked, not even a GTS 327 Monaro?

Or an A9X? Nope, he said, couldnít do it. This is just plain dumb. Brand loyalty is over-rated. And by the way, when was the last time a big corporation did something warm and fuzzy for you?

Exactly. The problem with being dogmatic like this is that youíll miss out on some really good stuff, purely because it has the `wrongí badge on it. Iíd like to know how many people would have bought, say, a Datsun 240Z back in the day, but couldnít get over the fact that it was (and excuse the outdated expression) Jap Crap. Seen what a clean 240Z is worth today?

So hereís my tip: Donít let your preferences become prejudices.

greatly appreciated.

Iíve also got a 1991 Fox Mustang GT 5.0 convertible that Iím playing with at the moment. Itís still left-handdrive and can go on club plates now. Well, when itís finished. Thereís a bit to do, but overall itís pretty good. Just the usual, paint, rubbers, interior etc to go.

May do a head, cam and inlet manifold upgrade.

Already goes well so that should perk it up.

I have an XY really XW ute that Iíve given the once or thrice over as well; 351 Toploader, nine-inch. Itís fun. Itís not a show car so I donít panic if I get a stone chip or scratch. Still looks good in Diamond White two-pack though.

Anyway, now Iíve got that off my chest Iíll let you get back to it.

Murray AshtonBentleigh, Vic

GOOD TO hear from you Murray, and I reckon Iíll follow your advice and get myself one of them newfangled electric rattle-guns. Just to be able to rattle on a set of wheels without the damn compressor deafening me would be justification enough, I reckon.

I reckon a TE Cortina would make a darn fine weekend club car and if you can squeeze a Barra six into it, itíll go like a recently cut cat. That said, itíll be one hell of a front-heavy mutha. The original lead-tipped arrow, I reckon. Truth be told, youíre probably better off leaving it with whatever engine it currently has (even the Pinto two-litre four-cylinder can be easily and pretty cheaply tuned up) and spending your gold on making the TE stop and go round corners; two things for which it was never known back in the day. I know wrecking yards are chockers with BA and BF Falcons that have been clobbered up the Khyber making them perfect donor cars, but even a free Barra six is going to soak up mucho dollars getting it to fit and then strengthening the rest of the Cortina so that it doesnít turn itself inside-out the first time you dump the clutch.

My own take on this stuff is that if Iím not prepared to roll it into a ball and walk away from the steaming wreck with no regrets, then Iím not prepared to race it.

Which is why Iíll take the cheap, simple option every time and which is why my Bombadore still has a dirty old 202 in it. The other thing I tell anybody whoíll listen is that I want to take my car to a track and race itÖ not tow it hundreds of kliks to tune it or weld up cracked chassis rails and whatnot.

But let me know which way you go and maybe Iíll see you in the pits at a hillclimb in the not-toodistant.

Twelve down to six

I was interested to see some discussion on the BMW 8-Series recently. I bought a 1992 850i and from the day after I bought it, the EML warning light comes on intermittently and seems

to shut down six of the cylinders into a limp-home mode. I replaced all the plugs and leads but it is still there intermittently.

I was thinking of replacing the engine management system with a modern Haltech type setup. Any suggestions? When it runs well, it bloody runs well and sounds great!

Paul Burge, Tascott, NSW.

OKAY, PAUL, hereís what my BMW specialist has to say: Youíre dead right when you say the engine feels like itís dropping down on to six cylinders from the 12 it was born with. In BMW-speak, EML stands for Engine Management Light and it illuminates because the on-board computer has detected a problem somewhere with something.

In the case of your car, the computerís solution is to shut down six of the engineís cylinders to try to prevent damage being done.

Changing the plugs and leads is a good old fashioned way of dealing with stuff like this, but according to my source, itís almost certain NOT to be the problem on an 850i with a lit EML. The only way you can really deal with this is to take the car to a BMW dealership or some other specialist workshop that has the diagnostic equipment to talk to the car. When this conversation between your car and the dealershipís computer takes place, the car should spit out what are called fault codes and the technician will be able to interpret those codes and get a pretty good idea of whatís going on. My man reckons itís odds-on to be as simple as a sensor somewhere on the car that has failed (or in the process of failing, which is why the fault is intermittent) and is causing the EML to light up.

As for an aftermarket engine management system, you could go down that path but it would probably take plenty of time and money to get it spot on for a complex piece of gear like a BMW 850i. And depending on what system you use, you may lose other functions such as valet modes and even simple stuff like the idle-up function when you turn on the air-con. Many of these aftermarket set-ups are aimed at race-cars which donít need a whole load of that ancillary stuff, so theyíre not always suited to high-tech road cars like yours. And if the problem really is just a dud sensor thatís quick and relatively cheap to replace, youíd want to rule that out first, right?

Exactly. Let us know how you get on.