Truck Restoration Projects

Nev Storey’s Kenworth obsession

Neville Storey is passionate about the Australian road transport industry, having spent the majority of his working life either as an employee behind the wheel or managing his own transport company.

Neville is a staunch devotee of the celebrated Kenworth brand. He’s restored several examples that needed a great deal of mechanical and cosmetic surgery after a lifecycle of hard yakka in Australian on- and off-highway duty cycles. His 2020 KW project was a burly 1978 SAR, powered by a Cummins 19-litre KT450 serving up 392kW (525hp) … but more on that later.

Nev’s father Kevin worked for East Coast Transport, one of the interstate divisions of the long-gone, fabled Mayne Nickless transport group. 

Mayne’s was founded in 1886 by John Mayne and Enoch Nickless, initially as a parcel delivery service in Melbourne. Listed on the Australian Securities Exchange in 1926, it expanded to provide freight services to all Australian capital cities and ports. Mayne Nickless later branched into armoured car deliveries and international logistics, but ceased operation in 2005.

East Coast’s fleet had grey cabs with black guards, red pin-lines and yellow sign-writing, and plied our interstate highways. However, during the 1970s there was a name and fleet colour change, and the trucks became white, with a new name ‘Intermodal’.

From an early age all Nev wanted was to earn a crust driving a truck, but his parents wanted him to get a trade, so he reluctantly started work as an apprentice carpenter. However, once his 21st birthday came around he was of a legal age to obtain a semi-trailer licence and was ready to follow in his father’s footsteps. 

In 1975 Nev rang the manager at East Coast Transport to apply for a position and, when asked his surname by the manager, the question came back: “Are you a relation of Kevin Storey?” After Nev answered in the positive, the manager said: “Come in tomorrow morning and we’ll give you a go”. In his words, “I was chirpy as peach pie,” and the rest as they say, is history.

He initially drove Bedford and International rigids on Sydney metro work, and during the following months, as he industriously learned the ‘trade’, he progressed to driving a Cummins-powered AB184 Inter dragging a closed-bogie trailer. 

Nev recalled: “I worked seven-days a week, coming into the yard on weekends, roping, chaining and tarping loads of interstate-destination paper rolls from APM, for seven dollars per hour.”

“When the company was satisfied with my work I got to drive the White Road Commanders, Road Bosses down to the paper mill; then bring them back to the yard and tarp them. 

“That earned me $10 per hour, and I loved every minute of it.

“I did a couple of interstate runs later that year, but didn’t start as a full-time interstater until I was 22, but having said that, I can’t say that I was totally on interstate for a full five years until I left in ’79, because they used to shuffle jobs around. 

“We’d also run the shuttle service, meeting the ex-Melbourne truck at Tumblong, some 16 kilometres south of Gundagai and swap trailers.”


For the love of KWs

Nev Storey initially drove White Road Commanders and Road Bosses on interstate, but, when the company changed the name to Intermodal, it bought new plain-white Kenworths.

Nev remembered being called up to the office one day, thinking, “What have I done?

“Well, the Kenworth salesman was in there and he shook my hand and gave me the key to the new KW he had just delivered. 

“That was the day, in 1976, that started my passion for the brand.

“It had a VT903 Cummins and a 15-speed direct Roadranger, and I just couldn’t believe that at 22 years of age old and, in only my second year at the company, I’d scored this truck. 

“The older long-term drivers apparently said to the management: ‘How come the kid without a lot of experience got the new KW?’ But I didn’t care what they thought – I’d earned the gig.” 

Like all good operators, Nev was a stickler for keeping his allocated truck in first-class condition: industriously washing it and painting the wheels and tyres. The company was happy to give its drivers this top-shelf equipment, if they looked after it. 

However, Nev recalled being sent to backload asbestos at the Barraba mines one day and there was already a loaded trailer on-site, so he had to swap trailers. 

“I wasn’t happy, because the loaded trailer had not been well cared for and I had spent the previous afternoon washing and painting the wheels and tyres on mine. 

“I hate driving dirty scruffy looking equipment – it’s not my style – but in this instance, it was the luck of the draw and I had no option, other than do as I was instructed, unfortunately.”


Takin’ care of business

The Mayne Nickless group ran a very professional organisation, employing three ex-police officers as boundary riders, whose job it was to cruise the interstate routes policing the behaviour of the group’s various fleets. East Coast/Intermodal was just one of several brands that included Cubico, Fluid Freight and Jetspress; all specialists in their various transport tasks. 

Apart from observing the movements of the various fleets’ trucks – were they parked outside of country pubs, for instance, or were their road manners consistent with the company’s expectations – these ex-police officers were invaluable in the direction and supervision of a company truck that was involved in an accident.

In 1978, Nev was offered a driving position with Northern Builders, whose owners were directors of Mayne Nickless and he was flown to Cairns for an interview.  Nev recalled:

“They said I was younger than they expected, but my driving record was unblemished and they know I had a very good work ethic, so they would like to offer me the job: driving a K100, delivering general hardware materials from Sydney to Toowoomba and Rockhampton, then backloading veneers from Ravenshoe and other parts of Queensland to Sydney; dropping the trailer at the Sydney Haulage Terminal and taking the prime mover to Kenworth for service.” 

Nev was rapt with the new job:

“During that period, we lived in Cronulla and the cost of real estate there was too expensive for a young couple, but, because the Northern Builders job was regular five-day-week work, it gave me the flexibility to live out of Sydney. 

“So, in 1979, we moved to Ulladulla where properties were more affordable and we were able to buy a house. 

“It was easy for me to drive our ute to and from Sydney, to pick up and drop off the truck.

“Also, I then had weekends free, so I got a weekend job with a local transport company in Ulladulla, relieving one of their drivers over the weekend.”

In 1980, Northern Builders was sold and Nev decided to leave and work full-time for the company in Ulladulla.

“After three months, after talking with customers of that company and several others, that the service they were getting from the majority of transport operators down here was sub-standard,” said Nev Storey. 

“So, I set up my ute, then picked up a tray-body and, as time progressed and the workload grew, there was then a need to buy a semi-trailer.”

The business became N&J Storey and grew substantially and successfully over the years, by virtue of good old-fashioned service. After all, the only commodity a transport company has to offer its customers is service. 

Also, during this time of growth, he and wife Jan wisely invested in commercial properties, built on some and leased them, creating an ongoing and growing source of income.

N&J Storey serviced the South Coast as far as Bega and up the hill to Canberra, but eventually  the work involved mainly distributing for warehouses and it wasn’t that profitable. Nev finally thanked them for their business and gave notice, suggesting some transport companies in the different areas that he thought would be happy to pick-up the work.

Nev and Jan Storey finally pulled the shutters down in mid-2019.


What to do next

Nev had restored several KWs that he’d used in the business over the years and enjoyed the challenge of fettling these ‘old KW girls’ and giving them a new lease of life – the second time around the odometer. 

He has a penchant for that short sloping bonnet model, the SAR, which, in ‘KW speak’, stands for Short (bonnet) Australian Right-hand-drive. However, there is another translation, coined by those who have driven a steel-sprung, six-rod version and it simply goes like this: ‘Short And Rough’!

Nev’s 2020 restoration effort was a ‘big-banger’ W924 SAR, whose working life was in Western Australia. It was purchased by Brambles WA in August 1978 as a 125-tonnes-GCM road-train-rated prime mover, to pull multiple trailers along WA’s North West Shelf.

After he purchased the truck in 2017, it was progressively stripped in Nev’s massive workshop, while he planned the best approach for its rebirth. This became a three-year journey, searching and sourcing components, but in real time Nev said it was probably nine-months of consistent effort.

The cab and sleeper were stripped, prepared and painted, by Western Truck Repairs in Riverstone and then lined and sign-written by Lines and Scrolls. Naturally, the seats and the interior trim also had to be refurbished. It was a mammoth job to clean the chassis and fit replacement suspension, brake and airline parts.

The big K-series engine wasn’t well, and after pulling it down for inspection by Nev’s long-term mate and gun diesel fitter, Steve Farr, it was decided the best approach financially, was to find a replacement. Fortunately, one was located further south, in the Eden area.

Nev and Steve inspected the replacement that had been used in a marine application and, recently, had been professionally reconditioned. That meant simply swapping some of the bolt-ons from the ‘dead’ engine, because there isn’t any difference in that model K-series iron-set, whether used for marine or on-road.

With the ‘new’ engine in the workshop, the gearbox was opened and inspected, as were the diffs. Then with the running gear overhauled it was time to put the refurbished cab and sleeper back on the chassis. It then had the electrics attended to with some rewiring and the instruments checked out.

Finally, another Storey Kenworth resto got its second wind. 

You can see photos of other patients from previous surgeries below: many of which have new owners these days.

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