Truck Restoration Projects
Brett gets a Big Mack
To celebrate Mack Trucks’ 100th anniversary in 2000 the Australian factory produced 25 limited edition Trident Centennial models. All but four were painted blue with white flashes adorning the bonnet and each truck was named after an Australian highway. This is the story of the ‘Cunningham Mack’.
Brett Cleary was keen to own one of these collectables that represented the century milestone for Mack – the truck manufacturer with arguably the most well recognised bonnet mascot in the world.
Brett’s family’s company, NSW-based Cleary Bros (CB), has also passed the century mark and moreover, has operated many Mack trucks during that time.
The Cunningham Highway was named after the early 19th century botanist and explorer Alan Cunningham and it runs for some 325km through southern Queensland, stretching from the NSW border at Goondiwindi to Ipswich. The latter township isn’t far from where the ‘Cunningham Mack’ was built in 2000: at Mack Trucks then manufacturing plant in the outer Brisbane suburb of Richlands.
Like its stablemates, this limited-edition Trident model, is spec’d with a Mack 12-litre six-cylinder E7 engine rated at 470bhp at 1800 rpm; a Mack 18-speed triple countershaft transmission; 4.6:1 rear axle ratios and Mack air suspension. A heavy duty, double-rail chassis helped it tip the scales at some 10.5 tonnes.
The truck was located by a CB’s employee’s 13-year-old son – a truck enthusiast – who had found a photo of a Centennial on Facebook and sent it to Brett, knowing he was looking for one.
In the photo, behind the truck, was a building with a phone number on it, so Brett rang the number and found the fellow owned not just one, but three Centennials, and all were for sale – in Western Australia.
After perusing the photos the owner had sent and discussing the three trucks’ details further, he thought the Cunningham was the best choice and bought it.
Brett sent two of Cleary’s older drivers to Perth to drive it back to NSW, two up. When the truck arrived back at Albion Park a week later, it was a sight that Brett had waited to see for 14 years. He recalled saying to his late uncle John back in 2000: “ We should buy one of those Centennial Macks”. But John’s reply was, “No son, we’d have to paint it yellow”.(Cleary Bros’ fleet colour).
Brett said the two old rascals, who drove the truck back from The West, told him the heater in the truck wasn’t working and it was so cold, coming across the Nullarbor, they had to put socks on their hands to keep them warm.
Cleary Bros’ transport workshop manager Les Lipinski said: “The truck cosmetically looked pretty good, but I wanted to see how it drove, so I climbed into the driver’s seat and took it for a good test drive.
“I couldn’t believe how well it performed and steered for a truck with over 1.5 million kilometres on the odometer.”
Brett added: “The odometer apparently hadn’t been working for some time, so it may have travelled closer to two million kilometres!”
Brett gave Les a timeline to have the Mack completed, because he wanted to run it in the annual Illawarra Convoy for Kids in November 2014. The page on the calendar had just turned over to August, so the pressure was on, big-time!
Les’ first task was to get his team of specialist tradesmen to strip down of all the componentry. Also, oil samples from the engine and driveline, to assess the wear rate came back with a clean bill of health, so that meant it wasn’t necessary to disassemble and recondition them. That eased the pressure somewhat, but there was still a mountain of refurbishing to complete.
“We stripped the cab interior and found some rust in the floor that we had to repair and some dents in the roof where someone had stood on it,” said Les Lipinski.
“The wiring looms were remade and the gauges either recalibrated or replaced.
“Frankies Auto Electrics & Custom Audio in Albion Park fitted the electronics, TV and sound system.”
Les thought it prudent to separate the double-rail chassis members and inspect them for internal corrosion, but apart from a sand-hill of sandwiched bulldust, he said they were in good structural condition.
New brake linings and hoses were fitted and rear and front end suspension and steering components were either replaced or reconditioned.
A new stainless-steel exhaust system was manufactured by the artisans at CB’s workshop.
The original alloy wheels needed replacing and, as it was impossible to procure them here and Brett was adamant about total originality, there was no option, but to order a set from the other side of the Pacific.
The truck was repainted at CB’s paint shop at Bombo in its original blue colour that Les told us is actually a Fiat colour.
The Bullbar needed a great deal of labour to restore its former glory. It also needed to have sections of gold-coloured plating applied to bring it back to original condition. Les said: “We had to send it to two platers before it was finished to the same standard as the original.
“As for the interior, the seats needed recovering and went to a local trimmer, but the rest of the interior trim was in good condition, except the door cards. They were sent to Mack’s OEM supplier in Brisbane, but unfortunately they were held up, arriving back just in time to fulfil our scheduled deadline.”
While we were looking at the artwork on the rear of the cab, Brett said: “Les and I designed that over a couple of Coronas and sent our scribblings to Janice George at Kyabram Screen Printing to decipher. She then used her artistic talents to create the mural.”
There’s a signature just above the left-hand top of the mural, which reads B Cleary 1940–2010 – a copy of Brett’s father’s signature. Brian passed away in 2010 and, ironically, his birthdate was the 24th September: the same date that the ‘Cunningham Mack’ was built.
The majority of the restoration work was carried out in CB’s Albion Park and Bombo workshops by its tradesmen. The meticulous detail and finish on this unique piece of road transport history is a credit to the workshop staff’s skill and dedication, under the leadership of loyal and long-term employee Les Lipinski.
Of the 25 Centennials, only 22 have survived. Two were painted in fleet colours and another two just ‘Plain Jane’ white. There were nine for dealers to display, using 258mm single-rail chassis and were named ‘Warrego’, ‘Hume’, ‘Eyre’, ‘Sturt’, ‘Calder’, ‘Flinders’, ‘Mitchell’, ‘Newell’ and ‘Pacific’. The other 16 had 254mm double-rail chassis.
Brett’s is the 18th built and was originally delivered by the Townsville Mack dealer to Des Korn in 2000. He also purchased two others – ‘Olympic’ and ‘Flinders’ for his transport operation, Korn Bulk Haulage, which was allied to the mining industry southwest of Mackay at Dysart.
However, the ‘Cunningham Mack’ doesn’t have to work hard in the boiling hot north Queensland sun anymore. Brett has retired it from hard labour and it rests in a shed, from where he can take it out on special occasions, for all to enjoy and admire: at truck shows, displays and parades or for just cruisin’ along the highway.