High Tech Gearing

You’ll notice that there is not a lot of content on this site geared towards rear-wheel drive cars or drifting. This is down to the fact that there are already so many sources out there covering these topics in greater detail than I ever could. I simply also don’t know enough about the machines or techniques to do them justice.

I like to think of this blog as a technology showcase, as opposed to the traditional magazine style publication that a lot of the drift scene falls under. I do watch a lot of drifting content, but in terms of something that I want to write about, I feel it’s a bit same-samey.

With that said, occasionally something interesting does pop-up.

I’m always interested in modifications that don’t revolve around simply getting more power out of an engine. This is one of those mods, even if the jury is still out on it’s effectiveness.

In the video Japanese driver Keiichi Tsuchiya has his test-mule AE86 fitted with a peculiar short ratio gearbox. This is actually a standard T50 Toyota gearbox which has had the 5th gear replaced with one that sits between 3rd and 4th in terms of ratio.

A peculiar but effective engineering solution for creating a short ratio box. Results in a bizarre shift pattern. Given the amount of rowing you have to do to get through the gears, it’s questionable as to whether there is a clear advantage.

Ford Falcon Longreach Outback


M&P declares Ford’s Outback ute to be one of the great Australian classics, up there with the Holden Monaro and the Falcon GTHO.

Alright, perhaps it’s not there in terms of raw power or overall want factor, but in terms of being uniquely Aussie, fit for market and a high-tech, uprated model.

Designed to fill a perceived gap in the market, Ford astutely recognized the need for a work vehicle with increased off-road ability, but without the complexity of the new Japanese 4x4s. It would also appeal to those who preferred a more ‘car-like’ ride, as well as those true blues Aussie ford fans whose brand loyalty stood tall above all else.


Based on the XG Falcon ute platform and powered by Ford’s tried’n’true 148kW (198hp) 4.0L straight 6, the Outback was a trick piece of kit. It received a Hydratrak viscous differential; twin fuel tanks with 1000km range and mounted amidship so not to take up valuable tray space; increased ride height with uprated shocks and springs; semi-offroad tyres; underbody shielding including a sump and gearbox guard, bigger wheels with semi-offroad tires, and a two-stage cyclonic air filter.

This particular example sports the facelift EU nose cone, which gives it a slightly rounder face, but is ultimately the same car under the skin.

Although the clear coat is faded and cracking, the paint is in good condition. Its never been restored but has been well looked after. Tints and an external sunshade keep things cool and relaxed while protecting the interior.

You could take this thing to work during the week, adventures during the weekend, and to the odd car show or meet, where it would surely gain many admirers.

Few things in life are as satisfying as a good mashup. Cheeseburger Lasagna; Thomas the Dank Engine; face-swap. Why do we loose our shit over this stuff? Why do these things make life seem ok?

Hiphop’s already done it for music, and internet memes are probably the most accessible and visible forms, but mashups exist in the transport world too.

While some cross-over technologies work, such as the United States Air Force V22 Osprey transport, most car based examples are gaudy and compromised, such as amphibious cars.

On the other hand, motorbikes and bicycles can very effectively share a number of technologies given their similar physical attributes, layout and handling dynamics, and ideas of fun, efficiency and freedom.

While ‘car enthusiasts’ frequently bemoan the implementation of sustainability, efficiency and emissions regulations as killing off their hobby of choice, this simply opens the door to a different breed of exciting machines!

Heres a selection of interesting push-bikes that combine features traditionally seen in motorbikes, creating a hybrid of the two.


Yamaha’s Racer01 is a futuristic electric-hybrid race bike concept based on the company’s Keirin PAS cycle pacer, used during the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Displayed at the 2001 Tokyo Motorshow, the carbon-fibre RACER01 featured the sleek, aggressive lines originally introduced by the company’s game-changing R1 sports bike, coupled with the twin 300w electric motors from the Keirin. Mounted in a V-Twin formation just forward of the bottom bracket these motors could provide a 1:2 power assist ratio up to a speed of 60 km/hr, enabling riding with only one-third the normal human pedaling power necessary.


Honda’s RN01 G-Cross was a short-lived but successful excursion into the world of downhill mountain biking from a company that doesn’t even make bicycles.

M&P suspects that the work is most likely to come from HRC – Honda Racing Company – the infamously well-funded arm of the business dedicated to Honda’s racing endeavors. This is evident from the ultra high quality aluminum double-cradle frame, Showa fork, single-pivot swing arm and radical driveline arrangement. The latter sees the gear-cluster and freewheel mechanism – that small cog on the rear wheel which allows a rider to both coast and apply power – moved from the rear hub up to the bottom bracket/crank housing. This arrangement allows the rear wheel to continue driving the chain and gear cluster when the rider is slowing down and has stopped pedaling, allowing gear changes where traditionally this would result in gears lashing and the chain binding. The perfect gear could be found for corner exit, saving time and energy.

HRC would introduce the first seamless shift gearbox to MotoGP in 2011 on their RC212v MotoGP racer, no doubt inspired in part by the RN01’s simple, elegant and innovative driveline.


MotoGP team Octo Pramac Ducati’s addition to this article may not be entirely practical, but it looks like a ton of fun.
Featuring MotoGP spec rims and slicks, this is surely the ultimate fat bike, even if the combination of triathlon riding position and single speed drivetrain don’t quite fit with the intentions of a good pit hack – that is, something easy to muck about on at race meetings and events.

I’m interested to know whether the tires actually provide a significant increase in grip, given that on a 160kg race bike they ideally operate at over 100 degrees.

The red anodized chain ring cover is a really nice touch – its the clutch basket cover from a GP bike.


Like the bike above, this custom build is more about fun than providing practical, real world technology. With that said, its one of the best executed two wheeler builds i’ve even seen, putting plenty of vintage motorbikes to shame with its attention to detail, coherent theme and considered modifications.

This cruiser started out as a single speed sit-up-and-beg style utility bike in very original condition and with a healthy patina. Such a find is the dream of retro style builders, so its no surprise this bike took a 1950s retro-futuristic path.

A custom ‘tank’ effortlessly blends the gentle curves of the seat stays and dual top tubes. The seat has been repositioned back onto the seat stays, resulting in a lower riding position that sees the pilot stretching low and long across the bike to reach the handlebars. The centre tubes have also been extended and reshaped, doubling as both mock chrome ‘exhaust’ pipes and rear brake lights.

656-1388528399-00b4e470547627971549ac7ac797914fAs well as being styled long and low, the bike has been physically lengthened with the repositioning of the front and rear wheels. The front has been swapped out for a larger diameter rim with a narrow, low profile tyre, contrasted with the fat, chunky rear – this setup is a styling cue straight out of the motorbike world.

The front dropout has been shifted forward of the fork with a tube girder style front end – a nod to early motorbike suspension systems, but also to the original guard and luggage racks found on the bike. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but where the girder mounts the top of the fork there appears to be some sort of rubber coupling, perhaps allowing some sort of primitive dampening.

The rear receives similar treatment, with the dropouts shifted out of the original frame and into custom ones which add several more inches to the bikes wheelbase. Included are adjusters on each side, mounting to the chain stays and allowing precision adjustments to wheel alignment and the fine tuning of chain tension. It’s a neat touch but also necessary given the addition of a bottom bracket mounted 3 speed gearbox; this combined with a dedicated, freewheel style tensioner makes the rear end of this bike quite complex and mechanical for a push bike. With a lengthened wheelbase, crouched riding position, retro-styling and lever-shifted mechanical gearbox, this bike would be the funnest, laziest carpark cruiser ever.


In the first Machine and Pilot team outing, Patrick Williams and Sam Ryan were sent to Rarotonga – one of the world’s premier scooting desinations.

As the capital of the sprawling Cook Islands group, Rarotonga was a top pick for a variety of reasons.  The youngest island in the group, it’s been less exposed to the forces which have eroded it’s neighboring islands to low-lying atolls; its peaks jut some 500m out of the ocean, and the land is draped in rich, dense jungle. An outer ring road allows riders to circumnavigate the whole thing in approximately 45mins, most of this ride close to the sea. An ancient inner road gives access to the interior, often via dirt paths, gravel and stream crossings – impressive and picturesque riding terrain.

The island’s bike licensing system is somewhat infamous for New Zealand riders; in the past you were able to sit the Cook Island motorcycle license test, and then convert this to a full class 6 bike licence back home in NZ. Although this loophole was closed in 2009, we were still interested in the process.

Depending on which country you are from then your relevant license can be used in Rarotonga, provided it is for the correct vehicle type.


The team were told that the process would be extremely easy, but when “it’s easy” is your only instruction things can actually turn into a bit of an ordeal.

imageThe basic process is this: Rent a scooter from a hire company, they will give you a temporary license so you can drive to the police station and sit a written and practical test. Once you pass, take these documents back to the scooter hire place and you’re on your way. In reality this process can be a little more convoluted.

First up there were availability problems: No scooters were available at any of the six vendors tried between the main town of Avarua and Muri Beach. Try to book bikes in advance if the vendor allows you to do so. Scoots were eventually found at Muri Beach Avis, however this company requires you to already have the full Cook Island’s license – they won’t issue a temporary one for the purpose of passing the practical.

So it was back into town to the police station to book the test. Once inside you head to a little room on the right; this might seem obvious, but again, there are no instructions anywhere telling you what to do. You’ll need your existing car licence and passport. To apply and book the test costs $20. Our practical test (an extra $5 for some reason) ended up getting booked for the next day – see, this isn’t quite as easy as they were told.

image_4The following day they sat the theory test (another extra $5 for some other reason) and as it turns out you were meant to have purchased a Cook Island’s road code ($15) if you want to actually pass. Of course, our pilots are some of the best in the business and did just fine, but not without more hassles. In reference to a question about stop signs Ryan wrote “it requires that you are stationary before proceeding.” The answer needed to be something along the lines of “you need to come to a complete stop.” However, stationary means just that – you’re either stopped or not. A short discussion and the failed test was deemed a pass. It was a nervous walk down the road to Avis to grab a bike for the practical – remember, you can’t book the scoots in advance, and there was only about ten minutes to find some. By chance they had just one, and both riders sat the practice on the same bike. Neat plastic cards printed on the spot were received like trophies.

image3“It was actually a very stressful situation, there was a little roadblock every step of the way and we were wasting so much time trying to get scoots,” says Ryan. “When I initially failed my test we were both distraught, this was a team operation and having only one bike wasn’t going to cut it. I definitely wouldn’t say it was easy, I would say the process was as finicky as anywhere else, perhaps more so given the complete lack of instruction.”

The second bike was picked up from Muri Beach Avis, a 10-15 minute drive from the town centre. This seemed to be the place to go if you needed a scoot and they always had a big line of them. You can drop the bikes back to either branch once you’re done with them.

image_2The bikes themselves were Yamaha Xeons in ‘Victorious Red’, manufactured in Indonesia and popular throughout the competitive South East Asian market. They feature a water-cooled 125cc engine with Yamaha’s innovative YMJET-FI fuel injection system which employs a small secondary intake runner at low engine speeds to increase cylinder swirl and fuel atomisation, resulting in greater efficiency and engine response.

With the largest capacity engine you can rent on the licence these are surely the best bikes on the island, especially if you plan to ride with a pillion; their larger diameter rims mean they are fairly stable and easy to ride. With a practical top speed of 80km/h you don’t really need anything else, even if they are lacking in the looks department with their edgy, sporty styling.

Winter in the Southern Hemisphere is a popular time to visit the island, it’s the dry season and temperatures still sit in the mid-20s. Despite this the island had just been lashed by a tropical cyclone and while warm and relatively free from showers, previous rainfall had left inner roads and paths swamped.

image_2-copy“The bikes handled the conditions impressively,” says Williams. “In general we are pretty sensible people, but when we’re together there is definitely an unspoken competition to try and ‘out-crazy’ one another. Roads were fairly rocky and many were extremely muddy and slippery. We had a blast riding with the bike slewing around underneath you, picking its own path while you hang around for the ride. In many situations it was easier to have the rear spinning up like crazy than actually have it grip up and push the front. We were hard on them, but not reckless. They’re water cooled and we didn’t once trip the temperature light, despite sustained revs at low speeds. The inner roads are a blast, you get to see how the majority of the island live. You do need to be respectful, in many cases its impossible to tell whether the road your on is an open public track, or a private track through someones land. Either way, a smile and a wave goes along way in diffusing the latter. Everyones friendly here, they’re probably well used to bumbling tourists.”

Quality of life is high, thanks to the fact that land can only be purchased via hereditary and although it can still be leased for up to 60 years, the arrangement stops big money coming in and setting up a system of wealth inequality and worker exploitation.

The condition of land ownership means that you must build on the land to secure it and this has led to a lot of unfinished buildings – just the concrete slab and walls with no roof or any internals. These are frequently overgrown with beautiful gardens and have a lost world vibe.

If Bali seethes with the buzz of its thousands of scooters, Rarotonga burbles to a gentle beat.

image_4-copyRarotonga has a very relaxed pace of life and this can probably be a bit deceiving, you need to be vigilant on the roads just like anywhere else. In general people are pretty good drivers, even on the seldom used inner roads they’re used to checking properly for a scooter or bike. The things to look out for are dogs and chickens running in front of you, or random patches of gravel on corners – Ryan hit one of these going about 30kph and had the rear step out in dramatic fashion, and he was lucky he wasn’t high-sided into a taro plantation.

image_3-copyThere’s an interesting selection of vehicles on the island: a lot of tiny Kei-style trucks, and quite a few of these are chinese. There’s also a pleasing amount of cars well on their way to rusting out; the best one was surely a faded blue/green Supra with cracked and peeling paint, and huge rust holes in all the roof pillars.

One interesting phenomena is the way you can reach the same landmarks on the island but traveling in different directions. Go one way and a beach might be after a small hut on your left, but from the other direction the beach is on your right and before the hut. Just remember, people baulked at Christopher Columbus’s suggestion that he could reach the far east by traveling west.


Suzuki Alto Side Slim


The 16 valve turbocharged Slide Slim Works

The mid-late 80s marked a period of innovative design for Suzuki, as it sought ways to extract the maximum flexibility from their Alto ‘Kei Car’ platform – a low tax vehicle class featuring restrictions on physical size in regards to body and engine capacity, as well as power output.

Working within these rules Suzuki introduced a number of quirky yet practical body styles and layouts to the Alto range, often mirroring the specific features of much larger and pricier vehicles.

To this day, the exercise remains a relevant case study for the future of transport, efficient design, modular platforms and assessing consumer needs.

The Alto family tree included the Mighty Boy ute; popemobile-esque Hustle; the very tall Walkthrough; and the Slide Slim easy assess vehicle.

While the range had its roots in utilitarianism, they also possess an extremely high fun quotient.


Slide Slim Swivel Seat

Specialised commercial or utility orientated models are often below the entry-level grade of their passenger equivalents to save money, however Suzuki provided consumers with real choice. On top of this range of specialised Alto variants there existed sub-models, featuring different trim and spec levels – variants on variants!

It’s an interesting concept and the seldom realised dream of automotive designers the world over – a vehicle that truly integrates with buyers lives beyond the concept stage.

The story begins back in 1982 with the then recently updated Cervo range. This was based on the Fronte, which in 1979 had shifted from a rear mounted engine/rear-wheel drive platform to a modern tranversly mounted engine driving the front wheels. In transitioning from 70s oddity to a fresh new 80s style of odd Suzuki introduced the Mighty Boy ute approximately 7 months after the new Cervo went into production.

The models which came fitted with roof/tray rails and a tonneau cover could no doubt be setup to be a very useful hauler, as long as the load was no too heavy – the 800cc 3 cylinder was happy around town but highway speeds would be stressful, with harsh levels of noise and vibration.


Suzuki Mighty Boy

Mighty Boy was produced up until 1988, when a new generation Alto was introduced, on which the rest of these screwball Suzuki’s were based.

With sliding doors and swiveling seats, the Slide Slim sought to address the inherent problems of hinged doors and vehicle entry, which remains practically unchanged since the dawn of the 20th century. Anyone with even a mild injury or disability such as a bad knee, hip or back will testify to the awkwardness of swinging open a door, shuffling sideways and flopping down into a seat. This is especially apparent in space-poor japan and as well as the slide door configuration being useful in tight spaces, it also fits well in an urban environment which favors cycling, where the risk of a swinging doors is serious and very real.

Even though these vehicles are highly specialized, numerous configurations exist – A sub-range within a range. Some have sliding passenger and driver doors, while others will have two hinged passengers doors on one side, and a sliding driver door. Various trim levels see different interiors, wheels and engines across different model years.

The most interesting of these is the ‘Works’ variant, which already existed in the standard Alto rang with the 660cc 3 cylinder receiving a turbo charger, intercooler and (4wd?). These are no doubt the most collectable in the entire Alto range.


Suzuki Alto Walkthrough

While the Mighty Boy and Slide Slim were largely aimed at domestic consumers, The Hustle and Walkthrough were commercial offerings. They are some of the few Kei cars to make use of the class’s maximum height guidelines, and the result is a comical appearance. Hustle retains the lines of the standard Alto from the nose to the b pillar, behind which the profile shoots up on a fairly sharp angle. Much like a truck, an air deflector sits atop the cockpit roof. The extended roof of the Walkthough begins at the A pillar and is coupled with a full height shutter door. Both of these would make excellent promo or service vehicles, or even just grocery getters.


Suzuki Alto Hustle