Truck Restoration Projects
Big Pete gets an Aussie makeover
Anthony Wiblin’s penchant for American trucks came from DNA passed down by his father Bob, who loved ‘ballsy’ American trucks and became a master of the two-stick Mack box from his days running the blacktop in the 1960s and 1970s.
This Peterbilt 359 is Anthony’s second: he just can’t help himself. The first was a model 335 rigid that was Australianised by Peterbilt specialist Kent Collision and Kustom of Ingleburn NSW. Anthony put this truck to work as a concrete agitator back in 2006.
Anthony sold the 335 and moved to an 8×4 Kenworth concrete agitator. But, after 15 years of churning bowls of sloppy grey mud and spitting them on building sites, he sold it and retreated to the family property, nestled in the outer-
However, the Peterbilt bug was still in his system, so he fired up his computer and began trawling eBay in search of, this time, a 335’s long-bonneted sibling. And there it was: a 1984 Model 359 with a 3406B Cat rated at 425hp under the hood (our bonnet) for sale in Arizona.
After an in-depth phone call to the USA, he thought it prudent to grab a mate for a second opinion, so they hopped on a flying kangaroo and headed for Tucson, Arizona.
They then had to make their way to the ‘Wild West’ town of Safford, to meet the owner, Clay Mack and view Big Pete at M&M Transport & Leasing’s yard.
Clay owned six similar spec’d and painted Peterbilts that had been hauling stock and general freight out of Mexico to the US’ southern states, but the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) regulations changed and he wasn’t able to compete with the now Mexican competition, so he was selling up.
After a close inspection of the truck, Anthony was happy with both the condition and the financial arrangement, so a deal was done and a wad of ‘Greenbacks’ transferred.
Anthony had made contact back home with USA-Australia container consolidator, David King, who was a specialist vehicle shipper, but he had to get Big Pete 870 road miles (1400km) to San Francisco. Anthony didn’t want to risk driving it without insurance, so Clay organised loading it onto a drop-deck trailer and freighting it for him.
The 359 was consigned to well-known Australian Peterbilt conversion specialist, Frank Christie and arrived in Melbourne during the second half of 2015. After five Australian Customs and Quarantine inspections it finally arrived at Christie’s premises, where Big Pete had steering moved to the correct side, and became a fully-fledged Australian citizen.
The next leg of the journey
It was early 2016 when Anthony’s father Bob drove him to bail Big Pete out from Christie’s workshop and drive his new-found treasure home to ‘Greendale Customs’. (We’ll explain that later).
In the process of getting out of Melbourne, Anthony said: “We crossed the Westgate bridge three times.” (Not suggesting they must have been lost, we thought: ‘Well, maybe they simply enjoyed the view of Melbourne’s CBD from up high!’)
Safely in Greendale without any further sightseeing, Big Pete’s makeover began in earnest – with plenty of assistance from the troops at Greendale Customs.
You see, as well as his dad Bob, Anthony’s mates and elder brother Nathan offered a plethora of skill and enthusiasm – to assist with the Aussie customisation: hence the founding of ‘Greendale Customs’. His father Bob said, “They reckon I’m classed as the supervisor.”
Anthony recalled: “We got to work removing the sleeper and cab in order to open the size of the cab-to-sleeper aperture, refurbish the interior and add some bling.
“The speedo was replaced with an electronic Canadian kilometre model, hence forgoing the old mph cable driven original. The mileage calibration transposed to 490,000km.
“Some of the gauges and switch gear that we checked needed to be renewed.
“We also fitted new late model gold rocker-style switches – the wiring was checked and again replaced where needed.
“Brother Nathan fabricated a new chromed gear lever.”
Anthony added: “The original wheels were 24.5-inch diameter U.S. type, so the axle hubs, bearings and auxiliary componentry had to be replaced in order to suit the Australian 22.5-inch alloy wheels.
“Brakes were replaced and custom-made mirror finish stainless rear guards from specialist truck customiser Hogebuilt in the U.S.A. were fitted over the new bogie’s wheels and tyres – all of this sprung with new rear suspension airbags.
“We left the rear axle ratios at 3.55:1 and the 15-speed overdrive Roadranger was in good shape and didn’t need touching, so we just renewed the oil.
“Nathan’s skill with steel fabrication had him knocking up brackets and he also worked his magic on the full width rear light bar,” said Anthony.
Ken at Windsor exhaust refurbished the fuel tanks by wrapping them with mirror finish stainless as well as the rear deck plates.
Anthony said he had a mate who ate Caterpillar engines for breakfast: “And what he doesn’t know about them, isn’t worth knowing,” he smiled.
“He checked the 3406B over; fitted a brand-new turbocharger and replaced the alternator; compressor was fine; so just a general tidy up was all that was needed.”
The cab and sleeper were refitted to the chassis with new mountings.
Anthony said: “The paint was in really good nick, as you can see, so we just buffed it.
“Apart from the fact it saved the expense of repainting, I think it’s good that the truck remains it its original U.S. fleet colours.”
The result of this 18-months restoration journey is first-class and an absolute credit to all involved: not only giving this 34-year-old truck from an iconic manufacturer a new lease of life for all to see and admire, but also making Anthony’s dream come true.
He intended to saddle up and put Big Aussie Pete to work, so keep an eye out. They’ll possibly be pulling a company’s trailer, carting general freight on the east coast.