AE 393 – Interview: Rev Heads, Car Accidents, & Car Culture in Australia with James Buchan
G’day guys. Welcome to the Aussie English Podcast, the number one podcast for anyone and everyone wanting to learn Australian English.
So, today’s episode is obviously an interview episode. I had the pleasure of interviewing one of my childhood friends from high school James Buchen. He has been a dear friend for probably the better part of 18 years, and we… he’s a bit of a rev head. So, we’ve talked about cars. We’ve talked about Japanese cars, Australian cars, and how he got into cars as a kid, how he started to appreciate them and develop a passion for cars. We also talked about when he was in a car accident, which was an interesting story that we’ll get into here. And then, we go on to discuss what car culture is like in Australia.
So, today’s episode is a good one. It’s just the first half of the total interview. So, this interview was about 40-50 minutes long. The second half we talk about what you need to do to buy a car in Australia, and that will come up in the next couple of weeks so keep an eye out for that.
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Anyway, let’s dive into the interview, guys, and I’ll play you the call of a yellow-tailed black cockatoo to take us in. Listen to this.
G’day, guys! Welcome to this episode of Aussie English. Today, I have a special guest with me, one of my best friends from high school, who I’ve probably known now longer than half my entire life.
It’s pretty crazy, isn’t it, when you think about it like that.
Yeah, so James and I went to high school, all through high school together, and we’ve been friends since, after high school, we’ve hung out. It’s been like 10 or 11 years now since high school.
It has been.
And I thought I would get James on because…I guess, you would explain yourself as being a bit of a rev head, James, just to say the least, into cars, just slightly.
Yeah, that’s probably the best way of putting it. I am a bit of a petrol head, although, perhaps I was a little bit more active in, I guess, like a motoring enthusiast or petrol head scene when I was younger. These days… I appreciate a fine motor vehicle, but I don’t really get involved with many groups or go to meets any of that kind of stuff. The certain aspects of certain… of car culture especially in Australia, I’m not a huge fan of. So, I appreciate a nice car, I can understand the engineering behind it, but I’m not what you would call one of these people that goes out.
…And is really full on.
Just partially full on.
Just a bit of a hobby more than an obsession right.
That’s right, yeah.
Yeah, so I thought it’d be good to have James on, because you can talk about, I guess, we can go through buying and selling a car in Australia, the different kind of cars that you’ll find here, maybe what a ute is, the Holden and Ford conflict…
…and then I guess, we can just start with your story. How did you get into cars and from what age?
I guess, ever since I was born, I’ve always sort of had an obsession with cars, at least so my parents tell me. They had an old Mitsubishi Sigma wagon. So, they were… I think they called it a Chrysler Sigma originally before Mitsubishi bought the rights to it. Anyway, my parents had this blue Sigma wagon, and apparently when I was a little baby I was fascinated by the wheels and everything about it, and I guess from there, I sort of got into, I guess, anything that was sort of mechanical, so like earth moving equipment and stuff, and then ever since I guess I was sort of like a teenager, from then on it was just cars, mainly European exotics, but then I guess, my world was sort of opened up to Japanese cars and, you know, to a lesser extent, I guess, Australian cars and all of the other different, you know, nationalities of vehicles, and, you know, they’re all got interesting. There’s always something interesting behind them. So…
And is it a family thing too? Was it the family were interested in motors and vehicles, or was it just you that go into it?
So, maybe it was genetic you might say. So, on my father’s side, my dad was interested in cars. His father was a mechanic. And on my mother’s side, my grandfather, he had 39 cars throughout his lifetime.
39. So, every year, just about, he would go buy another car, and every car was the best car he’d ever owned even if it was a complete junk box.
So, it only got better and better then, obviously?
It only got better and better, despite the fact that I’m pretty sure he took a backward step several times. But he did have a really nice Nissan Skyline at one point. So, that was a pretty cool car.
But then your father as well’s into motors into cars?
And your brother too.
That’s right, yes. So, my brother knows about them as well, and he would sometimes educate me or vice versa. So, if there were something interesting out there, he’d, you know, point me in that direction and say take a look at this, and yeah. I remember his first… his first car, because, throughout high school I didn’t really have a job. And then, when I was old enough to drive I had to borrow mum and dad’s car, and I said to my brother, one of my biggest regrets was not getting a job sooner so that when I was able to drive I could get a car. So, I guess he took those lessons on board and his first car was a Toyota Supra. So, he paid 17 grand for this car. This was… I don’t know, like 2007.
And to put that in context, he’d saved all this money during year 11 and year 12 at high school. So, not only was he doing high school full time, right, but he was working after school, weekends and somehow managed to save $17,000 for this Toyota Supra. And I guess, my first drive of that thing, coming from Camries or Commodores, V6 Commodores, and so on. I remember I had my first drive of this thing and just the power was unbelievable. From that point, I guess, I was hooked. I was on the fence as to what I thought about Japanese cars before then, but I was on… you know, after that drive I was hooked.
So, what is it like for you, when you get into there, and you say you get into that car and you drive it for the first time and it’s incredibly fast, what are the emotions you’re feeling and, you know, is it for you is it the speed, or is it the sound, or is it a combination of all of it? It’s an experience.
It’s all of that thing. It’s a sensory kind of overload, ’cause you get, you know, you get the smell of the interior, it’s a Japanese car made in the mid 90s, so you’ve got this weird smell of perhaps with some of them, you know, soy sauce, Japanese cigarettes, the smell of the interior, you get in there, and then you get the sound of the engine, and then I guess the speed and the way it feels.
And I guess, to put that in context, the reason you get those smells with these cars is because they’ve been imported from Japan…
These specific cars.
Yeah. So, yeah, I had my first drive and I guess I was hooked after that.
What was it like? Can you run me through, like, when you first stepped in the car and you put your foot down, what was the feeling like?
Coming from little four banger Camries or 4-cylinder Camries, and you know, V6 Commodores, this, you know, it was a nice big straight six, so it had…it had a lot of talk. It just felt like it was ready to go in every gear. There was… and it didn’t weigh a huge amount really. So, it felt good.
Was it frightening at all?
It probably would have been stupid if I had had that car from a young age, yeah, ’cause I would have got myself into a lot of trouble with it.
And why do you think that is? With younger kids too, buying these sorts of cars and then ending up in accidents, is just a common occurrence, and is it obviously just males mostly?
For the most part, I’d say it’s just males, but again, I guess it’s like anything, you know, you’ve got some females that get into cars and like any, any young person I guess, the brain’s not fully developed, and, you know, when you’ve got a lot of power and you’ve got irresponsibility, I guess, or that feeling of showing off, it’s… yeah, it can be a recipe for disaster. So, I can understand why the government has imposed legislation banning turbo and V8 cars for P-platers, or previously, when I was a P-plater, they had power to weight ratio.
So, what would you say to yourself if you could speak to yourself when you were 17 or 18 and give yourself advice on the first car that you would own? Would you would you say, go for the most powerful, or now with all the wisdom that you have, would you say, just take it easy?
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Absolutely, take it easy. You know what? I had a Camry and thinking about it now, like, that’s still a good car now. It was manual, so enough to have a little bit of fun with, but it was practical at the same time. It was good on fuel. You couldn’t get yourself into too much trouble in it. So, if you’re just looking for a car to get from A to B, that’s still sort of alright, that was a good car. And if you really want to go crazy later on, just wait until you’re a little bit older. You know, you’ve got all the time in the world you don’t need to… And also the other thing is, as a P-plater you’re restricted from getting… as a young person, you’re restricted from getting something insanely powerful anyway. So, what’s the point? Just wait, and then really see, I guess, see if it’s for you. Because it’s a slippery slope. You can spend a lot of money on cars modifying them.
And so, what happens when you do? Have you been in anything that was frighteningly quick and had any interesting experiences with that, James?
I have indeed. So, I had a friend with a Mazda RX7, that was… yeah, he’d spent a considerable amount of money on this engine, a stand alone engine management system, the entire engine was completely built, had a pretty big single turbo on it. And yeah, that thing just lit the tyres up at any speed. I can recall the speedo being, you know, saying something like 200 something, and it felt like the wheels were spinning. Yeah, it was… that was actually… and I guess, when I was younger I didn’t… I sort of felt like indestructible. So, that, you know, you do those kind of speeds, and that was okay. But I guess, now that I have been… you know, I’ve had a couple of accidents, nowadays, I very much feel nervous getting into anything that’s even driven slightly quickly or irresponsibly. Some of my friends up in Melbourne, they, you know, from… they give me an old Top Gear reference called ‘Captain Slow’, James May in Top Gear he gets called ‘Captain Slow’, and that’s sort of my nickname as well now. I don’t…
Yeah, it’s a derogatory term, but at the same time, it’s sort of a badge of honour of being the most responsible.
Yeah. That’s… You know, it’s genuinely scary. After the… after the RX7, I went in a big single turbo Supra up in Melbourne. That thing had engine management system and other TO4Z big single turbocharger, and it just spun the wheels for first, second, third, fourth. And I remember being… I didn’t like the feeling of not being in control.
As a passenger.
As a passenger. And then, I had a turn in a Nissan GDR, an R35, and again, it was the same feeling, except, I guess, slightly lesser extent, this R35 had a lot of security and safety features. So, it… not that going really, really fast you’re ever going to be indestructible, but it was slightly safer, because you had airbags and ABS brakes, and so.
So, taking us back to the RX7, can you talk us through that experience and what it was like?
Sure. So, I got in it, and it was loud it was noisy, and rotary engines, they have like a certain unique sound so… kind of sound. And, I guess, to people who don’t know what a rotary sort of looks like, imagine a circle and imagine a corn chip or a Dorito, and basically the corn chip moves around inside this… inside this circle and it sort of produces this unique noise that only really, I guess, Mazda has used. The engine had been fully built. I think there was something to the tune of almost twenty thousand dollars spent on this engine and turbo. And, rotaries famously, they’re known for not having any torque, because they’re not a big engine. They’re only about one point three litres. So, you have to rev them. And this thing was revved really properly hard, and the big turbo came on, the wheels would light up, it would struggle for traction. Anyway, I had some time off one day. I was between jobs. This is when I was studying at uni, and I thought I’d go and see a friend who had this RX7. He’d been building it and he wanted to show it off to me. So, we went for a drive and… perhaps slightly… you know, an ominous sign, it didn’t really start very well. There were a couple of problems with it stalling. So, maybe that was a sign that the day was not exactly off to a great start.
And yeah, so we went for a drive, and it was as you would expect it was frightening, the wheels were spinning, it was going really really fast. And anyway, we went down to the Point Lonsdale. We werejust coming down from Ocean Grove. And we went around a corner. I wouldn’t say hey this corner is particularly fast. We just went round at 60, but this RX7 was old. The tyres weren’t a staggered set up. So, they were the same size tyres front and back. And perhaps the owner had spent a considerable amount of money on the engine, but I don’t know what kind of tyres he’d fitted to this car. And maybe it was slightly twitchy in the power delivery, but we came around this corner, we weren’t going particularly fast at this point, but I think the turbo was kind of old school as well, it wasn’t a modern responsive ball bearing turbo. It was an old school 267, sort of journal bearing, kind of laggy, but gives a really big kick when it comes on. So, it goes this big kick, I guess, as it came on, and the car just… It just sort of locked up as we were going around this corner. The rear end just sort of stepped out, and by that point, both myself and the driver were just passengers, and I guess, whenever you have sort of a scary experience a lot of people will say that things happen in slow motion, and it was certainly true for this accident that was going to happen. So, I could see the power pole and I could see we were sliding towards it. And we’d… you know, we had I’d say maybe five seconds or so. You saw it and you thought we were going to crash here. So, I sort of moved towards the centre of the car. And it’s an old RX7. It hadn’t… didn’t have a safety cell, didn’t have any ABS brakes, didn’t have any airbags. And so, I tried to move my body towards the centre of the car, knowing that we were going to hit this pole, and we did. We hit the pole. My nose hit the dashboard and instantly it felt pretty sore. And the first thing I think… the engine stopped straight away, it just cut out. And the first thing I said was, we’ve got to get out of here. Maybe that’s being a young Australian thing, not wanting to get into any trouble because we’ve just knocked down a power pole. So, power lines have come down. And the car wouldn’t restart, and I couldn’t get out, because my door had been… my door had been sort of banged shut, I guess, with the impact of the power pole. My nose was obviously hurting quite considerably. Anyway, I guess, as luck would have it some people came out of the house and saw what had happened, and then some guy that I’d known from Geelong College was driving past in a Toyota Land Cruiser, and vaguely recognised this guy from college. We’d seen each other one once or twice. He vaguely recognised me and could see the predicament we were in and offered us a tow and removed the car from the pole. We pushed the car to the side of the road and we were able to survey the damage. I have some pictures on my computer that I might be able to send to you later on. They’re slightly grainy from one of the first camera phones, but (it) gives an idea of the force involved. I guess, I was pretty lucky, because if that had happened and it had… the pole the slightly further forward, it could’ve been my head that it hit the pole. Whereas, I guess it hit the pillar of the car where was the most strength. You don’t need a big hit to the head to kill you or to cause any damage. We weren’t going particularly fast, but I’d just say the car was twitchy, the power delivery was kind of, you know, spiky, and it all happened so quickly. Yeah, you’ve really got to be very careful.
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My nose, as it turns out, was broken. My mum, I should point out, did not like the guy before he’d been involved in the crash. She wasn’t a huge fan of the owner and owner of this car. Anyway, I came home and I’d sort of mentioned to my dad what had happened and said please don’t tell Mum, and he didn’t, to his credit, but my nose was hurting, and I tried to go through a couple of days, and it was no good. So, I mentioned that my nose was sore, and I eventually fessed up to what had happened, and, you know, you can understand when any parents angry. You’ve all been there. You’ve done something where the parents are not happy. And, I got taken to the doctor. And they did the x-ray scans and so on, and that sort of revealed that my nose had been broken and that it was shattered, but I’d left it… by this point it’d been about two weeks since you get the results from the scans. You know, you’ve followed up with consultations and so on, and they’d said, well look by this point the nose had already started to reheal. If you want to… if you want to fix it up, the nose has to be rebroken.
Well you need a nose job.
And when they looked at it like it’s really not that bad.
You’ve got a better one than me. I’ve been through exactly the same thing, but with jiujitsu and getting a knee to the face.
But, just left it too long as well.
Yep. Yeah, yeah.
So, I just sort of, like, well you know what? It’s not exactly a cool story, but in hindsight, it’s an interesting story, and it certainly taught me a lot of valuable lessons, I guess.
What do you think it taught you, and was it a turning point for your life, especially being behind the wheel of a powerful car or a passenger in a powerful car?
Yeah, yep. You know, if you want to go and behave like that, there’s a track. Go and be involved in like a motor sports club. If you want to go and drift, there’s skid pan days. I’ve done one of those before. They’re fun. They’re in a perfectly safe controlled environment. If you’re in a powerful car, there’s just… if you’ve got friends, that’s okay, but just take it easy and relax, you know, you’re going to get there in the end. And yeah, maybe spend a little bit more on a nice wide set of sticky rubber that, you know, doesn’t… that’s not going to let go. You know, I guess these days, we’re lucky as well. We’ve got modern engine management systems and turbochargers. So, these days, we could have a nice responsive car. So, you’re not going to have that kind of like lightning… that really sudden power band, where it just sort of kicks in all of a sudden. So, that can be somewhat eliminated with cars these days. So, I’d like to think that an accident like that, it is preventable.
So, are you glad you went through that experience or if you could go back would you say, James don’t get in the car?
To an extent, yeah, I am glad that I went through that experience, because I’ve learnt a valuable lesson from that, and I would certainly recommend to younger people, you know, perhaps don’t get in that car. If it’s a really, really, really, really fast one or if you’re getting into a car with someone who is perhaps not the most responsible behind the wheel, but I’d say it was a good experience for me. I think I learnt a lot. And yeah, I don’t mind being called ‘Captain Slow’. That’s quite alright. You’ll get there in the.
Slow and steady wins the race, James.
Yeah, sometimes it’s just nice to cruise and relax, put on some music or something.
So, I guess, changing gears a little bit, pun intended. What’s the difference between car culture in Australia and car culture elsewhere? Whether it’s America, Britain or Japan or Europe or whatever it is. Do we have a unique car culture here in Australia?
I’d certainly say we do. We, perhaps, had a stronger car culture when Holden and Ford were producing, you know, locally delivered and built cars, but since those two factories have closed down, perhaps the car culture… it will still exist, but it’s just going through a transitional phase. I don’t think it will be as strong anymore, because Holden and Ford, there was that rivalry.
I was going to get to that. I wanted to ask you where does that come from? I don’t know that much about it, but I would love to know how it evolved if you know much about it, you can shed light on that.
I know a little bit. Perhaps, I’m not as ingrained into that kind of culture as some people, because I’m… primarily, I prefer my Japanese cars, but your parents, when they were growing up, they generally had the choice of…they had the choice of either a Holden or a Ford. You know, fleet cars, that kind of thing. And I guess, you were born and you grew up with, you know, loyalty or allegiance to one brand or the other. I’m sure people can relate to that.
Almost like football teams or soccer teams.
Exactly, yeah. People know what allegiances are like, and that’s what Holden and Ford were like. You had an allegiance to that and that was…
That was weird, ’cause that happened to me, but it wasn’t sort of by choice. So, I started working at a pizza shop, and, as luck had it, the… I think one of the guys there had a Holden, and the rest of the guys then decided to get Holdens, and therefore, I felt this kind of pressure to fit in/want to impress/…, you know, I guess, yeah, mainly just fit in and impress. And so, I ended up getting a Holden, and that’s how it sort of manifested.
Yeah, and I can totally relate to that. I was also a Holden. My parents had several. They had a VL Commodore. They had the VT. And that was just… that was what you did. That was your allegiance. But some people it was for Fords.
And I remember when my parents were looking at getting another car, they had the VT Commodore and they ended up getting this Camry, and.
…I wanted to… I wanted to keep the Commodore for myself and they could roll around in the Camry. But I guess, they had other ideas and they gave me the Camry.
Just to tease you.
And look, you know, in hindsight it’s probably a smart thing, ’cause, you know, I got to experience the Japanese car, and a car with a little less power, and that’s, I guess, what sort of turned me away or turned my interest away from Holdens to more the Japanese kind of cars.
So, where do you think that comes from, because there is a massive following of just Japanese kind of style cars? I mean, you would have your followings of European cars, maybe American cars, but there seems to be, especially with younger people, an obsession with Japanese cars.
Why is that?
They’re well built. They’re much more, I guess, say, technologically advanced than say some of the Australian offerings, and they’re just… they were different. The imported cars, they were just sort of seen as somewhat rarer. And a lot of them as well were turbocharged. So, I guess with the Australian cars, unless you had like a big… really big V8, you didn’t have a huge amount of options for getting more power out of them. Whereas with these little Japanese cars, I call them ‘little’, you could whack a bleed valve on the turbocharger or an electronic boost controller, an exhaust, and maybe a bigger intercooler. You can increase the power heaps, and it’s just… it’s just so easy with any turbo car, you know? You just bleed off some of the air from that turbocharger and run more boost, and it just… they love it. And that’s why, I think, like, that’s why I… my perception as to why the Japanese car culture has just really sort of taken off in Australia, because if you can run more boost, make a lot more power cheaply and easily… I guess, the only good thing about turbo cars is that… when you’re on the on the throttle use a lot of fuel, but when you’re not they’re not so bad. That is if you haven’t fitted massive fuel injectors and aftermarket management systems, but for the most part, when you’re not on the boost, they’re pretty… they’re pretty good on the fuel. So, well, they’re better on the fuel, if they’re in good condition.
As in more efficient, fuel efficient?
More efficient. Although, say, my brother’s R33 Skyline that he had was an exception to that. That car would only get 250 kilometres to a tank.
Perhaps there was something wrong with the oxygen sensor, but it drank the fuel that car.
(It was) good fun to drive, though.
Alright guys, so that was the first part of a two-part series for this interview. The next part will come out in the next couple of weeks, and it’ll be covering how to go about purchasing a car in Australia. So, we’ll give you tips about what to look for under the bonnet, the kinds of forms that you’ll need, how much you’re probably going to have to pay, what kinds of cars to go after, all that good stuff. So, keep an eye out for that, if you’re in Australia or thinking of coming to Australia and purchasing a car.
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Anyway guys, thanks for joining me today. I hope you have a killer week and I’ll chat to you soon.