Truck Restoration Projects
UD’s legendary CWA45
UD trucks were an integral part of his working life during the 1980s, when he was UD Australia’s national sales and marketing manager, recalled Jim Gibson.
‘UD’ is actually an acronym for Uniflow-scavenging Diesel, which is the 1953 Japanese version of the 1930s two-stroke German Junkers and the American GM (Detroit Diesel) two-stroke diesel engines.
The UD two-stroke had the same high-pitched scream as its American and European counterparts, and was affectionately christened by Australian truck operators as the Hiroshima Screamer. These engines were inexpensive imports and used as repower units during 1960s and 70s.
UD Nissan Diesel completely built up (CBU) trucks were initially imported and distributed in Australia in 1972 by Cyril Anderson of Western Transport and Mack Trucks Australia fame. The Anderson family’s automotive division was known as Westco.
These post-1972 UDs were much quieter, four-stroke models and were the foundation for UD’s commendable reputation in this country, as a high-quality, well-respected competitor in the road transport landscape.
The initials ‘UD’ triggered many quintessentially-Australian connotations: Ugly Duckling and Useless Diesel to name just a couple. However, at UD Australia, because of the product’s reliability and durability, they coined the words ‘Ultimate Dependability’, as a promotional slogan.
Introduction to UD trucks
Jim Gibson’s first contact with the UD truck product was in 1972–73, when he was the operations manager at W. J. George Transport at Regents Park in Sydney.
Older readers will remember George’s red trucks with artisan Horrie Rudgley’s line and scroll highlighting their cabs and ‘Let George Do It’ emblazoned across their white front bumper bars.
The largest client was ICI and the George fleet serviced its local and interstate transport needs, using company vehicles and sub-contractors. Getting ‘subbies’ to cart Brisbane freight was always a problem, as back-loading out of Brisbane was scarce, particularly when farm produce wasn’t in season.
Jim Gibson vividly remembers one subbie from Bangalow in northern NSW, who was as regular as clockwork and a willing Brisbane runner – he was one of nature’s gentlemen – whose name was Dick Irwin. He’d traded his old steed and rocked up in the yard one afternoon in a brand-new, bottle green UD, single-drive CK40, towing an 8ft 1in (2.46-metres) spread-bogie trailer.
The other owner drivers thought him stupid to put his money on an unproved Japanese product instead of buying a traditional International or 1418 Mercedes-Benz. Some said: “Dick, you really are a dick!”.
The currency exchange rate back then was some 300 yen to our dollar, making the UD’s purchase price very attractive and, of course, UD dealers were keen to give a sharp price on a trade in.
Dick ran that CK40 without any service or warranty problems, just changing the engine oil and greasing the chassis nipples. He was on time, all the time and had a grin from ear to ear. His decision to buy the UD had been well and truly vindicated and he’d shown the other owner drivers that he really was a ‘clever dick’.
Now about the CWA45
Jim had no idea back then that a decade later, he would be the national sales and marketing manager at UD Australia when the CWA45 was launched in Australia. In the early 1980s this all-new bogie-drive model was UD’s flagship.
So, when Jim spotted the CWA45 you see in this article, working on a building site on the NSW South Coast, he thought he’d talk with the owner, Anthony Higgins, to see how this 35-year-old UD was serving him.
“I just love this truck – except for the rust in the cab – but it just goes and goes,” said Anthony, the principal of Southern Trenching & Excavations.
“All I need to do is change the engine oil – about four litres between service intervals – and push some grease around the chassis on a regular basis.
“ Oh, and when it goes for its annual rego inspection I sometimes have to fit a couple of new suspension bushes.
“I reckon the damn thing is bullet proof and you can’t kill that burly rear suspension.”
Anthony showed Jim Gibson the odometer,: “I’m the fourth owner and it’s clocked up 1,217,000km.
“ As far as I and the previous two owners know, it’s only had a cylinder head replaced.
“It originally came from Victoria, where it was towing a pig trailer, then the second owner – a local South Coast operator – used it with the trailer, but needed a bigger truck as his work profile changed.
“He then sold it to another local, from whom I purchased it.
“I’d love to find a rust-free cab to fit, but so far no luck in locating one in good enough condition.
“Apart from the rust I have no reason, or wish, to buy another truck,” said Anthony Higgins.
Rewind to the 1980s
In its heyday, the CWA45 took the industry by storm, with operators appreciating its ride quality, low cab-noise level, reasonable performance, robust engineering, 15-speed Eaton installation and heavy-duty six-rod trunnion-style rear suspension.
CWA45s rolled out of the dealers’ yards and soon established a loyal following with customers, many of whom became repeat buyers. The dealers were smiling, but further into the 1980s they asked for more horsepower, to capture a larger slice of the market.
The CWA45’s PE6-T engine developed only 280PS (the Japanese use PS [Pferdestärke] – German for metric horsepower – that many colloquially nicknamed ‘Promising Stallions’), so the CWA45 was fine dragging a bogie trailer on local and some intrastate tasks, but needed more horsepower to move up in the linehaul market.
Obviously, a larger engine with more grunt was needed. Nissan Diesel had a thirsty and heavy V8 which was used in the Japanese domestic market and in some under-developed countries, but obviously wouldn’t suit the Australian market.
The Australian request for a 14-litre turbo six caused the Japanese engineers much teeth gnashing and sighing, along with head shaking.
UD Australia conferred with Cummins, to supply its 14-litre 300hp engine and the re-power was deemed feasible. To the cost of the engine and its fitment at UD’s Miranda (Sydney) HQ by in-house fitters was aded the need to convert the direct-drive 15-speed box to overdrive, by cog-swapping. Off those costs came the return from selling the original PE6Ts through the dealer network.
The result was a competitively-priced prime mover.
Jim Gibson recalled the workshop building 13 or 14 of these trucks , with the nomenclature CWA300 and each had a personalised plate with the owner’s name engraved on the dashboard.
This was the first time anywhere in the world that a Nissan Diesel UD importer had been brazen enough to transplant a North American engine into one of its new trucks and name it as a new UD model.
The CWA300 was well accepted in the marketplace and advertised as having ‘Japanese reliability with American grunt’. Apart from independent operators a couple of fleets – Howards Transport in Willowtree NSW and Fleetexpress – ordered more than just one. Fleetexpress initially used them in the southern NSW forests, hauling felled pine to the mill on the northern fringe of Albury.
The Cummins project couldn’t be sustained, however, because UD Australia ran out of buyers for the displaced engines. But the local company succeeded in showing Nissan Diesel that it needed a higher-output engine and soon the new CWA70, powered by a brand-new 14-litre, six-cylinder, GD6-T, engine with 330PS was released.
Sadly, this move backfired – literally – as this engine was an absolute disaster: water in the oil; cylinder heads not sealing; lack of performance… the list goes on. UD dealers were furious, because they had customers screaming at them and demanding buybacks.
The Japanese were in turmoil and it cost them not only financially, but also in reputation terms. The company recovered, of course, but it took time before UD’s reputation was reinstated.