Truck Restoration Projects
British Bulldog with an American bark
Alby Twyford’s Detroit Diesel powered Bedford is a fine example of this Anglo-American prime mover that the British truck maker hoped would be more suitable for Australian line-haul tasks.
When we interviewed Alby in 2016 he was already a veteran of more than 40-years’ running the blacktop and was passionate about Australia’s road transport heritage.
He had restored several makes of trucks from bygone days and had more on his bucket-list when time permitted, between his busy schedule as a contractor to McColl’s Transport – Australia’s largest independent bulk liquid carrier – hauling its tankers far and wide throughout our country.
Appropriately, his 1970 Bedford was previously owned by McColl’s Transport, firstly on line-haul duties. As the company grew in size, along with the size of its trucks, the little British lorry with the US two-stroke diesel under the driver’s seat was relegated to lighter duties as a yard prime mover.
The KM model Bedford’s launch in the UK was September 1966, as a separate model to the TK lineup. The KM was powered by the all-new Bedford Series 70 diesel – a 466 cu in (7.6-litre), in-line, six-cylinder producing 136bhp (101.5kW) at 2800rpm and net torque of 320lb/ft (434Nm) at 1600rpm – coupled to a new Turner five-speed gearbox.
It had 10-stud road wheels, a double-bumper, factory ‘bullbar’, twin five-inch headlights and wider mudguards to suit its heavier-duty front axle. It had Girling wedge-operated brakes with two-leading shoes: seven-inch wide front and eight-inch at the rear.
This model was sold in Australia from November 1967, but operators were looking for more horsepower and some were repowered with a 6V-53 Detroit Diesel (née GM diesel) by Detroit Engine & Tool Company (DETCO). In the process the cab had to be lifted to accommodate the chubby Yank engine’s V-profile and clear the accompanying 10-speed Roadranger transmission’s linkage. Most converted trucks were used for single-drive, prime mover applications.
Subsequently, an article dated 15th January 1970 appeared on Page 45 of the British Commercial Motor Magazine, headlined: ‘Detroit-engined Bedfords for Australia’. The article went on to state:
‘Bedford KM tractive units with Detroit Diesel engines and Fuller transmissions are now being sold in Australia.
‘According to the Australian journal Truck and Bus Transportation, models with similar specification have been sold as conversions before, but the current vehicles have been engineered by Vauxhall Motors in England and are being sent to Australia as SKD (Sectionally Knocked Down) kits for assembly there.
‘The Detroit Diesel used in the chassis is the 6V-53 two-stroke that develops 195bhp (145kW) gross. The drive is through a Lipe Rollway 15-inch (380mm) clutch to a UK-built Fuller RT610 10-speed gearbox. These short 132-inch wheelbase, two-axle tractive units have an Eaton two-speed rear axle locked in the high ratio of 5.61:1 and with a maximum gross train weight rating of 66,000lb (30,000kg).’
GM-H fired up assembly in Australia during June of 1970 and Alby’s truck was an early production model of these units, being assembled in July 1970, with the model code KMR-XT5.
Vauxhall engineers had redesigned the inlet and exhaust manifolds, to eliminate the need to lift the cab. A heavy-duty air cleaner was fitted and the fan was driven directly off the crankshaft, negating the use of fanbelts.
The KMR-XT5 had moderate success in fleets: McCrae Transport in Sydney had two that they ended up in the NSW Linfox fleet after it acquired the company; Pipeline Supplies and FleetExpress also ran them in their fleets; six went to Tasmania and GM-H used a number in its car-carrying fleet.
The exact number sold across Australia during the KMR-XT5’s five-year production run is unknown, but a large number of small fleets and owner operators purchased them.
In 1975 the Bedford brand morphed with Isuzu when GM-H began to market the Japanese product as a ‘Bedford by Isuzu’, but it was all-Isuzu behind the badge.
However, while the Australian GM subsidiary moved away from traditional British trucks, the late-1960s’ R&D involved in shoehorning the 6V-53 into Aussie-bound Bedford KMs wasn’t wasted. Bedford launched the KM 32-tonner in 1972 in the UK, powered by the Detroit Diesel 6V-71 two-stroke, but very few were sold.
Then in 1974, Bedford launched the new-cab TM range, with 216hp (161kW) 6V-71 power and, two years later, the wide-cabbed TM powered by the 8V-71, with 296hp (221kW).
However, as we who have driven GM two-strokes know only too well, the need to keep the revs up was essential and that method was foreign to British drivers, who didn’t know how to ‘drive it like you stole it’. Sales were disappointing an Bedford abandoned the concept in the early 1980s.
The Twyford makeover
The Bedford took up residence in a corner of Alby’s father’s farm when it arrived and sat for some four years before the toolbox was opened and a spanner wielded in anger. Alby recalled:
“We pulled the cab off and then the engine and gearbox came out.
“The 6V-53 had a recon kit put through it; the injectors were serviced and the gearbox was re-raced.
“The cab was sandblasted and then we ratted parts off other trucks and also called on Bribbaree Truck Wreckers for some other missing bits and pieces.
“Overall, the cab was in good nick, but needed some repairs around the solid mounting sections and a few spots where the metal white-ants had been, and one of the doors needed replacing.
“We also attended to some house keeping with the wiring loom”.
As for the trailer, Alby bought it in Bomaderry from the Manildra Group, which had purchased the site from Dairy Farmers, where the trailer sat resting, as it was surplus to requirements.
Alby smiled saying:
“It was a marathon effort to collect the trailer from Bomaderry.
“I had a subframe made up to fit a turntable onto the back of my bogie drive Volvo, because of the short distance from the pin to the legs on the trailer, so that I could tow it home.
“It was a Saturday and I arrived at the milk factory at 6pm with some roadworthy tyres on wheels strapped on the chassis, plus a coil of air hose and a box of tools riding shotgun in the cab with me.”
Alby said he checked the trailer wheel bearings and fitted the roadworthy tyre mounted wheels, plumbed the airlines to the Volvo and set up a light-bar on the rear of the trailer. He finally headed home, putting his head on the pillow at Candelo around one o’clock on Sunday morning.
Work began with the trailer’s pantech body separated from the chassis. It was stripped, repaired and a new floor fitted, Alby recalled:
“Shane the painter, who had sprayed the prime mover, set-to with his spray gun, along with ‘Spy’ the sign writer, who has lined and scrolled all my trucks and trailers over the years.”
Alby said the journey took five years ; with the need to fit it in between the work he needs in order to finance his hobby: ’keeping the dream alive’ and preserving our road transport heritage, by restoring the vehicles that worked for those trucking pioneers from days gone-by, for all to clap their eyes on and enjoy.
These single-axle refrigerated trailers were manufactured by Dairy Farmers in Sydney. They were used as a quick hitch/unhitch bulk delivery ‘warehouses’: left at Dairy Farmers’ regional depots as storage facilities that were then accessed by various milk vendors’ vehicles for distribution in a particular area.
They used the British Scammel trailer hook-up which was fitted by Farrell Engineering in Silverwater; the exclusive Australian suppliers of the system. Farrell also did conversions to the prime mover and fitted the attachment and landing legs on the trailers.
This system of automatic trailer coupling was used by several British truck manufacturers in the 1950s and 1960s. The tractor unit simply reversed under the semi-trailer and the landing gear folded up between the tractor’s chassis rails.
Dairy Farmers’ factory complex was situated in Birnie Avenue, Lidcombe and the trailers were built in its workshop in the complex, with an entry in adjacent Pappita Street. This was originally NSW government railway land and Pappita railway station was built in the early 1900s on a branch line, to receive animals from the country en route to the Homebush abattoirs.
Road transport industry identity, Peter Bukowski, joined Dairy Farmers in 1977, with the major responsibility of procurement, maintenance and economical running of the transport and associated equipment fleet. He said:
“At the time of my arrival the company was running 55 to 60 Scammel-equipped under-powered diesel COE Bedfords, with vacuum-boosted brakes.
“These prime movers were unreliable and, with the trailers fully loaded, struggled with performance and braking: our drivers weren’t happy and neither was I.’
Peter said that after getting board approval to replace them, he put out a tender to Scania and Mercedes Benz. Scania declined as Sweden wouldn’t sign off on a chassis conversion for the Scammel pick-up, but MB wasn’t negative and a deal was consummated, with Yorkstar Motors modifying the chassis. In the meantime, the trailers were converted to an air brake system.
Peter Bukowski left the company in the 1980s and 1986 Linfox took over the distribution, refitting the Scammel trailers with conventional landing legs and 50mm pin hook-up.