WHEN IT COMES to petrol, I reckon the oil com­pa­nies have been hold­ing us to ran­som for decades and can be more slip­pery than gov­ern­ments.

What I get cranky about is the ex­tent to which mod­ern fu­els can be a prob­lem in older cars. New fu­els in new cars? No prob­lem, as they’re de­signed for it. The sorts of cars we like, how­ever, of­ten need work to cope. Every­one loves a GT Fal­con or an SL/R Torana, but they are any­thing but happy with some of the stuff that comes out of the bowser. A good ex­am­ple is ethanol blend fu­els. We’re told how fan­tas­tic they are and how they per­form bet­ter. They don’t – cer­tainly not in older ma­chin­ery.

Ethanol at­tacks a lot of the seals in a typ­i­cal car­bu­ret­tor and you can have a car run­ning badly in a mat­ter of days and it will cost money to fix. Of course the oil com­pa­nies are not keen on get­ting in­volved in this, so you are on your own.

It’s a bit of a mine­field and de­serves think­ing about. Ide­ally your old car is set up for mod­ern fu­els to the ex­tent the valves have hard­ened seats, while the ig­ni­tion tim­ing and jet­ting is set up right. In gen­eral, they’re go­ing to like higher-oc­tane fu­els, though the sit­u­a­tion will vary from one ve­hi­cle to an­other.

For ex­am­ple, the Unique Cars Chevro­let C10 tends to foul plugs on 98 at idle, and is hap­pi­est with 95, while the Ed’s old Kingswood (which has had rel­a­tively re­cent car­bu­ret­tor and ig­ni­tion work) prefers 98. In any case, work out what it needs and get ad­vice from your work­shop if you’re not sure.

There is a dif­fer­ence be­tween brands of fuel. I’ve had some poor ex­pe­ri­ence with Shell, while I and Tony Whe­lan, the owner of Wil­son Car­bu­ret­tor Ser­vice in Melb, lean to­wards BP as first choice and Cal­tex sec­ond.

If you’re out and about with the car, there will be times when your first choice of fuel isn’t avail­able. It’s no big deal, but do make use of the first op­por­tu­nity to di­lute it down with the good stuff.

While I’m on the case, I’m not a fan of ad­di­tives and the like – set the car up prop­erly.

Re­ally, you should aim to have the fuel sys­tem in good shape – no leaks – and the car reg­u­larly topped up with fresh juice. These days petrol can go off in a ma­jor way in a month or two. Let it sit for a few years and you will be sur­prised at just how de­struc­tive it can be.

So the kind­est thing you can do is not just jump in and start the en­gine ev­ery blue moon, but pump up the tyres, take it for a proper drive and stick some fresh fuel in it. Be­lieve it or not, the in­vest­ment in time and petrol will be a whole lot less than the con­se­quences of a neglected car.

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