Truck Restoration Projects

First-class Kenny – a superb Aussie restoration

The Kenworth manufacturing plant at Bayswater in Melbourne was the birthplace of this ruby-red gem in August 1986 and it now resides on the South Coast of NSW in the hands of Brett Cleary, a confirmed SAR Kenworth devotee.



The affable Brett Cleary is a third-generation family member of Cleary Bros Group that has been based for more than 100 years in the Illawarra and South Coast regions of New South Wales. 

The Group has interests in the construction, quarrying, earthmoving, plant hire, civil engineering, concrete, transport and waste-disposal fields. 

Cleary’s hallmark is its legendary, brightly-hued, yellow trucks and civil engineering construction industry equipment. They’re always beautifully presented – an endorsement of the Group’s work ethic and commitment to excellence. 

We wonder if the truck colour was chosen because of the vast amount of yellow Caterpillar earthmoving equipment and truck engines in its fleet – and they simply sprayed the trucks the same colour.

Cleary Bros (CB) was traditionally a user of Mack trucks from its early days, operating utilitarian NR models, fabled B models, R models, CH, Vision and Trident models.There were also Value-Liners, Metro-Liners and MCRs in the agitator fleet and Titans for heavy haulage work. 

More recently the company has well over 100 trucks in its fleet and the Bulldog mascot has to share with the emblems of Western Star, International, Kenworth, Sterling and Volvo.

“There’s a saying coined by the company elders – ‘Cats, Macks and Holdens’-  but I reckon it should be ‘Kenworths and Toyotas,” Brett quipped with a smirk, when talking with HV’s Jim Gibson.

Brett’s first SAR purchase was a 404 model in 2004, to operate in the CB fleet as a tipper. That was his introduction to the SAR and, in later years, he looked for an older one, for a restoration project that could be used as a display vehicle, for various events throughout the year.

Brett bought this featured SAR in early 2016, about the time of his 40th birthday, as a present to himself, as he said:

“No one else was going to buy it for me!”

Brett was 10 years of age when this truck rolled off the Kenworth production line in Bayswater.   


The SAR story



The SAR is a uniquely Australian Kenworth. The acronym stands for Short Australian Right-hand-drive or was colloquially and affectionately known as ‘Short And Rough’. 

It was designed with a dimensional short BBC (Bumper to Back of Cab) measurement. The front axle was strategically located fully forward, in order to produce maximum extreme axle distance when coupled to a trailer.

Incidentally, the original S-model Kenworths that Ed Cameron (the father of KW in Australia) brought to this country in the 1960s had short, sloping bonnets that Kenworth in Seattle had specifically built to Ed’s requirements.

These short-BBC bonneted prime movers, set the scene for the later SAR models. As they say: the more things change, the more they stay the same.  


Brett’s restoration gets under way



It had poured all night and into the early morning on the day Jim Gibson arranged to meet at Cleary’s farm near Berry, in order to discuss the finer points of the SAR restoration.

Also present was Les Lipinski, CB’s transport workshop manager; a valued veteran of nearly 40 years service with the company. Jim said Les was a man of character, with a firm handshake, who looked you in the eye.

The rain had eased to showers by the time the three of them sheltered under the lean-to attached to the bunkhouse, perched comfortably on stools with a welcome cup of coffee, brewed by barista Brett.   

Les was in charge of the restoration and he said with a smile, while looking at Brett:

“But there wasn’t any pressure to finish the restoration!

“The truck arrived in April 2016 and Brett wanted it to run in the annual Illawarra Convoy for Kids, scheduled for the following November.”




The SAR came from used truck dealer, Boss Trucks in Melbourne, who’d brought it over from Perth with a seized 3406 Caterpillar engine. The KW was in overall good condition; the price was right and Brett thought it an ideal project. 

However, the 30-year-old had suffered some road trauma, having been driven for unknown kilometres along the highways and byways, and rough terrain of Australia.



It takes enthusiasm to embark on the restoration of this type on a heavy-duty prime mover and a dedicated specialist team is a decided advantage. 

Jim Gibson reckons a full-resto needs something like a hospital team that receives a patient suffering from road trauma: all have to work together using their particular expertise, performing surgery in order for the patient to survive. 



Les said that when the SAR arrived he knew it would need major surgery:

“It was an apparition when it appeared in our yard at Albion Park, painted Kermit green! 

“The Cat engine was so badly seized that the internals almost melted, so we dumped it and bought a good second-hand, running 3406B to replace the original.”



The enthusiastic team checked it over and fitted a new water pump, pipes and hoses. It was then loaded onto a trailer and sent to Cleary’s paint shop in nearby Bombo and it came back resplendent in Cat yellow, looking like brand new. 



“Our guys fully rebuilt the 18-speed Roadranger and also pulled the diffs, to check condition and reset the preloads,” said Les.

“The steering was overhauled and the brakes copped a complete rebuild, with the air valves renewed, as well as the airlines. 

“New front springs were fitted; the universals were replaced and the rear suspension was converted to Airliner air bags.” 



The majority of work was carried out in-house, under the supervision of Les and workshop foreman Robert Georgievski, at Cleary’s mechanical workshop and body-repair division. 

The cast included electrical specialist Garry Winter, who stripped and rewired the cab plus all lighting upgrades, harness work and custom light bar. Mechanical work was carried out by Jake Davidson and Garry Winter.



Custom fabrication was done by Shane Grant, Alain Boardman and Stef Coric, with custom paint by Wayne and Adam Mulcahyh. Body repairs were done by by Peter Coombs and metal polishing by John Caruana. Andrew Koeberlein assisted with the fit out and repair process throughout the entire build.

The end result is a tribute to Les and his CB team.


Cleary’s restoration team


In addition to the expertise of the Clearygang there were other specialists who also added their skills to the finished restoration: Frankies Auto Electrics in Albion Park fitted the sound system and Janice George from Kyabram Screen Printing worked her magic creating the mural ‘Their Spirit Lives On’ emblazoned on the back of the sleeper cab. Janice recalled: 

“It wasn’t the easiest of collages I’ve had to create, as the brief wasn’t cut and dried, so there was a bit of trial and error involved.

“I had to find the elements from various sources and add sections that didn’t originally exist, so it took a few goes, but I’m sure they’re happy with the end result.”



Les said that Tony Baric from Gilbert & Roach at Narellan was a great help in the sourcing of specialist parts and also organised for the interior trim and seat coverings that were then sent to Rae-line, Kenworth Trucks’ long-term interior trim assembly plant supplier. The seat coverings and trim were returned in as-new kit form and reinstalled.

“As the time frame became tighter and November was approaching fast, it was all hands on deck in order to meet the completion date, said Les, looking across at Brett with a grin. 

“It was a marathon effort, but we made it.”



It takes a great deal of money to painstakingly restore a motor vehicle, be it a Morris Minor or a Kenworth truck, but the cost is only apart of the equation. Also essential are the skill and dedication of the artisans who piece the jigsaw together and craft it to not just as good as the day it rolled off the production line, but in most instances, as on this occasion, even better. 



As with a finely-tuned motor racing team, cost is not the only governing factor The team has to take great care, using their skills and knowledge in fettling the car, allied with the skill and courage of the person behind the steering wheel, that gets it across the line in first place.  





A yellow-hued footnote – tracking the Cat 

You never know where a domestic cat goes on its wanderings and it’s almost impossible to track one. However, Jim Gibson thought it would be interesting to track the wanderings of this Cat, not just for himself and the owner, but for you readers as well.

Just where had this Cat-powered SAR, chassis number 408573 prowled during its 30 years, from the winter of 1986 to the spring of 2016? 



Armed with the chassis number he first contacted the KW manger in Perth, as we knew this was the last place where it had turned a wheel in anger. The message came back saying there was no joy over there, but Kenworth’s records showed it was sold new by the dealer in Queanbeyan, to an L H & J McIntyre. 

Thirty years later and, of course, there wasn’t a KW dealer in Queanbeyan, so Jim trolled the NSW electronic phone book for the ‘McIntyre’ name. Sure enough, he found one with the Goulburn area telephone prefix and… struck gold. 

“Yes, I remember that truck,” said Len McIntyre, who had owned McIntyre Transport in Goulburn, before selling the company and retiring. He’d ordered it to his spec’ as a factory build; painted in the McIntyre fleet colours of yellow and white. 

Its duties during 13 years in the McIntyre fleet had been running between Canberra, Goulburn and Sydney.

Len was most helpful, sending Jim a colour photo of the truck when new. He knew of Cleary Bros and thought it ironic that his old truck was only 90-odd kilometres away, after almost 20 years since he’d sold it. 


Brett Cleary with the truck’s original driver, Ray Miller


Len said that the original driver, Ray Miller, lived in Albion Park – the same locality where the truck had been restored in CB’s workshop.   

Peters Transport of Werribee, Victoria, had bought the truck from Len in 1998, with some 1.3 million kilometres on the clock. Peters removed the spider wheels, replaced them with polished aluminium disc wheels and repainted  the SAR in their fleet colours of red, white and black. 



After some time carting general on the Melbourne-Sydney-Melbourne merry-go-round, the Cat spat its dummy and the truck was sent to the Victorian Caterpillar agent, William Adams for an engine rebuild. 

They also fitted an air-to-air intercooler and tweaked the fuel system, increasing the standard 261kW (350hp), according to Peters, adding considerably more stallions under the bonnet. 

The original 13-speed Roadranger was replaced by a burly 18-speed from the same Eaton family. 

In 2006 the truck was sold to AG Spread in Bunbury, Western Australia , who repainted it green and operated it as a prime mover in its tipper and low loader operation. They also had some engine repair work carried out during its 400,000km journey in their tenure.  

In 2011 the SAR was then passed on to WA Hydromulch, also in Bunbury, who ran it for only about 40,000km before, due to driver abuse, the engine was seized solid and the truck was disposed of.

Enter Boss Truck Sales Melbourne and Brett Cleary’s purchase. 





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