There are many injustices in this world and for me there is that Lotto win that proves itself elusive, week after week, and the realisation that I’m really not pretty enough to ever get married to a supermodel. But hey! That’s life.
For Dennis Kelly, a retired grazier and crop farmer from up Clermont, Queensland way, the injustices are a little less selfish.
After reading, “Kidman, The Forgotten King”, by Jill Bowen, Dennis formed the opinion that Sir Sidney Kidman was not well enough acknowledged for his tenacious achievements. More so, Dennis felt that not assigning a Bi-Centennial Mack his namesake, was an oversight worthy of correction.
“Kidman, The Forgotten King” is a true account of a man who was undoubtably Australia’s greatest pastoralist. As a scarcely literate boy of 13, Sidney Kidman ran away from home and worked as an odd-job boy in a sly grog shanty in the outback, and the rest as they say, is history.
A love of Mack Trucks was imposed upon Dennis when a carrier arrived on the family’s 16,000 ha (40,000 acre) property, “Amaroo” which was created when the larger “Avon Downs” was broken up in the early 1960s. The driver arrived in a B-Model Mack to do some grain harvest work.
“I have loved Mack Trucks ever since,” Dennis confesses.
Dennis owned a Mack Titan for a time, which he bought to use on the farm.
“We bought the truck second hand and it went with the property when I sold up and retired in 2008.”
That retirement, and I use that term loosely, saw Dennis move to a much smaller place at Kumbia in Queensland, where the desire to own another Mack and give some recognition to Sidney Kidman smouldered until the Dennis could ignore it no longer.
A fella by the name of Doug Weir had a Superliner which Dennis liked the look of and he told himself, “I’ll buy that truck one day”. True to his inner voice, Dennis did buy that truck to form the basis of what was to be a mammoth metamorphosis, from old worn-out cattle truck to an immaculately customised 1988 model Superliner, with a twist.
After the truck was purchased it went into storage in Toowoomba for a few months before Dennis and Glen Beutel got collaborating to work out which direction the build was going to take.
Glen Beutel is well known for his knowledge and vision in overseeing Mack restorations for himself, private clients and even Mack Trucks themselves. His restoration now total 13 Mack trucks. The fact that Mack entrusted his direction of their own project is something of which Glen is justifiably proud. Glen oversees the whole project from start to finish, ensuring the build turns out exactly the way the owners had imagined, and then some.
Around three years ago, Dennis decided that he’d better get the project moving as, in his words, “I’m wasn’t getting any younger”.
Spurred on by what he had read in that book, Dennis was adamant that the truck was ultimately going to acknowledge the legacy of Sir Sidney Kidman.
“Kidman was not your ordinary kind of bloke, far from it, so the truck had to be as individual as he was. It needed to be bold, imposing and rugged, all traits demonstrated by Kidman,” Dennis says.
After workshopping ideas and concepts, it was time to take the truck to PJ’s Customs Pty Ltd in Rocklea, Brisbane to ask part-owner of the business, Nick Allez, if he was up to the challenge.
Much to the pleasure of Dennis and Glen, PJ’s was up for it and so began the huge, ground-up restoration.
Prior to commencement, permissions were gained from the book’s author and the Kidman company for use of the image of Sir Sidney and the name on the truck. The old original Kidman cattle brand was used on the rear of the cab due to copyright of the modern Kidman brand.
Nick says that this job is probably the most expensive job they have done to date, with some 3000-plus man hours attributed to the project. Nick says: “Like any restoration project, they’re always challenging, no two jobs are the same, each job creates its own specific challenges and this one was no different.”
“When we got the original truck, we thought that it was a reasonable starting point, but sadly that wasn’t to be. After it was sandblasted, you’d swear that it had been shot up with a shotgun,” recalls Dennis.
There were quite a few surprises along the way which were not anticipated, including the realisation that the original truck had been in a rollover, which, along with the poor surface finish, rendered the cab unviable for repair.
After scouring the wrecker’s yards, Dennis located a new-old cab. The donor cab came off an ex-Boral agitator truck and was in far better condition than the original.
The cab was then completely restored and re-furbished and mounted in front of a 58-inch sleeper box – with air conditioning, TV, microwave, fridge and wardrobe – by Joe Bradley.
Acting on Glen’s recommendation, Dennis chose to place the cab and sleeper on a rail system. Both units are mounted on a common rail, with a fixed-pivot mount at the front extending back to air bags on the rear. This concept provides a single mounting platform providing a smoother ride and greater comfort, while still retaining the walk-through design incorporating a connecting sock. This also creates a higher stance and improves under-cab airflow.
Keen eyes will notice some differences to your average Mack Superliner. Some changes are obvious, others not so much, and reflect the meticulous nature of the truck’s transformation.
The square fuel tanks are one glaringly obvious change.
“We wanted to continue the straight cut bold lines of the Superliner body styling but the original, round tanks didn’t fit with that theme so we went square and we are really pleased with the result,” said Glen.
This did however pose particular difficulties for the team at PJ’s. According to Nick: “We had to spend a lot of time modifying and fabricating to get the later model square tanks to mount up to the older Superliner chassis.”
Looking a little closer – and it is hard to spot until you’re told – the bonnet was cut in half and raised by 75 mm. This was to firstly blend with the “Kidman” theme of boldness and secondly to provide alignment with the cab sitting higher on the rails.
Another difficult task during the project, according to Nick, was to get the taller grille right.
“It had to look like a genuine grille, like it hadn’t been altered, and this took a good deal of time and effort,” he said.
The original bull bar sits out front but it has had the bottom channel deepened to raise it in line with the rest of the front end.
The driveline was stripped and inspected or repaired as necessary with all new brakes, wheels bearings, clutch, radiator and intercooler.
The Superliner now has a stretched chassis and extended wheelbase over the original truck. The driveline remains as per original specs with a fully rebuilt, 500 hp V8 Mack engine, 12-speed transmission, 44,000 lb rear axles and a nine-tonne front axle.
The colours chosen for the truck are by no accident, chosen to represent the colours of the outback and in particular, Broken Hill. I believe the colours also gel well with the earthy hues of cattle hides.
Some areas of detail which may be overlooked at a cursory glance are those small intricate touches, like the “Sidney Kidman” seat embroidery. If you look closely at the Superliner badges sitting proudly on the sides of the bonnet, one has been custom made so that the elliptical oval circling the word Superliner faces the same way as the opposing side. If you were to buy standard badges, one would lean forward and the other backward.
Perhaps the most fastidious of details – which possibly drove the guys at PJ’s nuts – was drawn from Glen’s trade as a detailed joiner. Glen insisted on having all the nut and bolt fixtures and “dressed”, a joinery term for having all the hexes at the same alignment. Wherever possible on visible bolts and nuts, the point of the hexes are at 12 and six o’clock. This also prevents water sitting on the flats after washing and leaving water stains. That’s seriously, next-level attention to detail.
All work was handled in-house at PJ’s as they offer a drive-in, drive-out service, doing all their own fabrication, panel beating, spray-painting and mechanical, including the work of a resident air-brush artist.
“No stone was left unturned on this one,” said Nick.
Dennis and Glen glow when they recall the journey of this restoration. It is almost like it takes on a life of its own and the passion is evidenced by this magnificent truck, dedicated to an equally special Australian Pioneer.