Warren Caves joins Jim Ristovichis to celebrate Mack Super-Liner history – Images by Torque It Up Photography
To some, trucks are just tools or equipment to carry out a job – random pieces of steel, plastic and material assembled together like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle and put to work.
For others, they take a place in our hearts and harbour memories of distant places and times long passed that bring a nostalgic smile to the face when recalled.
To those who sit on the nostalgic side of the fence, these memories and shared experiences can rekindle a youthful exuberance and set some on a quest to reignite a relationship with a truck, long since sold on.
One such fellow is Jim Ristovichis of Kyabram, Victoria. Casting his mind back to the late 80’s, Jim fondly remembered his time with his Series 11, V8 Mack Super-Liner. Those days were spent carting produce from his own farm, and other Goulburn Valley growers, to the markets in Sydney.
Jim, and Ristovichis Orchards, had seven R-Model Macks at the time, with the addition of a Series 11 Super-Liner soon to make an eight-Mack fleet.
Jim’s 1986 Super-Liner was originally black and one of two trucks that had been produced for the Melbourne Truck Show of that year, the other being a cabover Ultra-Liner.
The truck was purchased by Jim from Sydney, and, shortly thereafter, was painted in the company fleet colours. Before the truck was even registered, Jim was approached by Mack Trucks and invited to take the truck on a promotional tour circuit for four months to showcase the new model.
Perhaps with the imminent arrival in 1987 of the Kenworth T600 “Anteater”, Mack Trucks was eager to lure as many buyers as possible to its revamped Series 11 model.
Jim and his wife travelled to all manner of show events as guests of Mack Trucks Australia, taking out numerous awards along the way in Brisbane, Newcastle and twice in Tasmania.
With promotional duties concluded, Jim went about working the truck for the next four years, recalling many a trip to Sydney with a friend driving a Kenworth fitted with a Detroit Diesel V12 twin-turbo.
“He would always be quicker than me on the flat, but couldn’t get near me on the hills,” said Jim.
As many drivers would understand only too well, it wasn’t long before Jim rectified this speed indifference with a little tweaking of the V8 engine, conducted with the help of Nick Moran (who did all of Jim’s maintenance work).
The Super-Liner and Jim were not destined to be together much longer, with a tragic incident that led to the passing of Jim’s nephew whilst out on a load, resulting in Jim selling all of his trucks.
“I pulled the pin on all the trucks, selling them all off in a matter of weeks,” said Jim.
Upon retirement and some 31 years after selling the Super-Liner, Jim found himself at a loose end, wondering what to do with himself. The solution came when Jim decided to try and track down the old truck and buy it back.
Through digging into historical records and with some fine detective work put into action, Jim discovered that since the time he sold the Super-Liner, it had passed through the hands of five different owners and was subsequently in Queensland under the custodianship of Bob Kirby. Negotiations were had, a deal was done and before long the truck was finally back in Jim hands.
Like many stories of truck restorations, this saga was only the beginning.
“The truck was just about a total wreck. It now had a 12-speed gearbox, not the original nine-speed, the original custom four-spoke leather steering wheel was gone and the original turntable was also missing. It looked a real mess,” Jim recalls.
Not deterred by the gravity of the restoration, Jim was determined to see it through. Having discovered the original steering wheel hanging on the wall in Bob Kirby’s shed, the original nine-speed gearbox was also tracked down with some help from Bob. The original turntable was located in a backyard in Newcastle, thanks to the assistance of Glen Beutel (Mack Trucks). This was a particular win and easily verified as Jim had his turntables made by an engineering company and it had his name stamped on it.
The job of restoration went to Shepparton Motor Panel & Engineering (SMP), which was commissioned to do the job. More specifically, the responsibility for completing the restoration was handed to SMP’s tradesman, Logan Few. Interestingly, at the time of this truck being manufactured Logan was not even close to being born.
The long restoration process began with the 48” Keith sleeper removed, followed shortly by the cabin and anything else that needed attention. This saw the vehicle stripped down to bare chassis rails and driveline.
The twin-rail chassis design resulted in rust accumulation between the two sections, and one side of the chassis was removed at a time to be cleaned, repaired and painted before being reassembled with a urethane seal to prevent a repeat occurrence, followed by the application of a final coat of grey paint.
The sleeper and the cabin itself were in a bad way with a few dodgy repairs and reinforcement jobs having been carried out through the years. Some areas of the framework required new aluminium sections to be fabricated by a local engineering company.
The bonnet was also re-fibreglassed, due to evidence of fatigue and cracking. The front wheel spiders were completely chromed, then the infill areas were etched out and painted red, revealing just the chrome highlights on the lip edges.
All new brakes and S-cams were fitted, together with new electrical cabling, clamps, fasteners and replacement air hoses. “The use of new parts wherever possible made the reassembly part of the job a little easier,” said Jim.
Kyzer Kustoms of Shepparton fabricated new deck plates, cab door step treads and the battery box, all in stainless steel, while the addition of four polished aluminium fuel tanks providing a capacity of 2000 litres added their own impact to the final visual appearance.
The cab interior was sent to Brisbane for refurbishing and “Bull Dog” embossing was added to the trim panels as well as on the custom seats. The centre gauge panel was replaced with a new unit; however, the main speedo panel could not be sourced.
“We repaired the main speedo panel and then arranged for a local signwriter to have the front face recovered and the holes cut out to accommodate the new gauges we fitted,” said Logan.
“The engine and gearbox work was done by Nick Moran, whom we mentioned earlier did all of Jim’s maintenance work. Nick previously worked for Mack Trucks and is a wealth of knowledge on these models”, said Jim.
Jim also credits, Glen Beutel of Mack Trucks in Toowoomba who played a major role in the project, using his local and international contacts to source as many new parts as possible from Australia and the USA.
While there are many who made this project possible, Jim acknowledges Logan Few as the major contributor. “He (Logan), would be in most mornings at 4:00 a.m. working on my truck. He is a great young bloke and deserves a good deal of credit. He put his heart and soul into this truck,” said Jim.
The recent Kyabram Mack Muster saw the newly-completed Super-Liner back out on the road in as good as, or better than, new condition, after a mammoth two-year restoration, standing proudly amongst others of her breed for all to admire.
I asked Jim how he went at the muster. He proudly grinned and replied, “We stole the show!”