Truck Restoration Projects
Utility Vehicle, 7cwt, Holden – troops for the use of…
Any faithful restoration is a complex undertaking, ensuring originality where possible and concours judging often comes own to very minor points. It’s an even more complex undertaking in the case military-spec’ vehicles that differed in many ways from their civilian counterparts.
As a single example of this additional complexity, take the case of the correct engine colour in this magnificently restored ex Australian Army 1953 Holden FX 50-2106 Utility.
Those of us who are used to poring over military vehicles might find the civilian hue of its ‘grey motor’ out of line: a bit like when the warrant officer spots bright red undies among your freshly laid-out kit!
That was one possible colour conflict that patient, dedicated restorers Jason and Chanelle Vella came across, during their eight-year rebuild of this iconic motor vehicle.
Their research showed that while the entire ute bodywork was finished by General Motors Holden in deep bronze green, the engine remained grey, because it was produced on a separate assembly line and mated with the painted bodywork only in final assembly.
Confusing their research was the discovery that some ‘demobbed’ utes of the period were powered by green-painted engines, but Jason’s and Chanelle’s research showed that these engines had been refurbished in Army workshops at some point and painted in regulation green after rebuild.
When retired Army vehicles were sold off at auction most went quite cheaply – around £320 ($640) in comparison with about £1100 ($2200) for a new Holden FB. Most ended up as farm utes and had very hard lives.
Once sold off, these utes had most of the identifying Army parts taken off and were cheaply painted over, to mask the Army green. That meant the Vellas had to find help in tracking down reference photos to recreate some of these long-gone parts by hand, including the seat in the rear, canopy and buckles, tent bows and the safety mesh panels.
In the beginning…
This ex-Army Ute was salvaged some years ago from a farm paddock in Murray Bridge, South Australia, by Steven Field, an avid car enthusiast. Steve had been made aware of two ex-Army utes, originally discovered by researcher, Don Loffler, whom many would know as the author of many FX and FJ Holden books.
Steve Field brought the ute to Penrith, in Western Sydney, from where, in 2013 it was purchased by Jason and Chanelle Vella, who for eight years – on and off – restored the vehicle to factory originality.
That operation started with painstaking research into the vehicle’s original specification, including the modifications and equipment specified by the Australian Army.
“After two years of research and a lot of help, we were able to track down the original vehicle record book at the Australian war memorial library, “ said Jason.
“We found the excerpt and knew it was the correct car when we were able to match the engine and chassis numbers in the record book to the vehicle.
“This then allowed us to find where the vehicle was based, along with its original Australian army registration number (ARN) 78899 that you see painted on the bonnet and rear,” concluded Chanelle.
The last Army record of the car was that it was sold off at Keswick Barracks in Adelaide, South Australia, on the 6th of January 1960.
The Vellas’ research showed that the ute originally served with the 10th Infantry Battalion, which owes its origins to militia companies established in the Colony of South Australia back in 1860, where the name ‘Adelaide Rifles’ originated.
Army vehicles around the world carry insignia and signage that are deliberately coded to make identification possible to only the gifted few. Some of these markings are ‘Tac’ and ‘Formation’ signs, the latter having been Introduced to the Australian Army in 1950, following British Army practice.
The Formation badge indicates that the vehicle belonged to Military District 4, Central Command, South Australia. The badge is a khaki square overlaid with a black-bordered yellow circle. Within the circle is emblazoned a black and white magpie with outstretched wings, this being the state badge of South Australia, as it appears in the fourth segment of the Australian Coat-of-Arms.
The restored ute bears ‘Red 56’ Tac signs on the front left and right rear, representing the 10th Infantry Battalion, based at that time in Keswick. (The Battalion readopted the designation of ‘Adelaide Rifles’ in the 1950s, as part of Central Command and provided training for national servicemen until 1960 when the CMF was then reorganised.)
After much research and wanting to do justice to the ute, the Vellas were able to track down original photo reference material, which allowed them to be able to restore the vehicle exactly as it would have left the factory.
Spit ’n’ polish
One of their prize ‘finds’ was an original list of specifications the Army required General Motors Holden to adhere to when building FX Utes for the Army – all of which have been incorporated in the restoration.
The changes from standard spec’ included: 5.50×15 six-ply tubeless tyres; a 13-plate battery in lieu of nine-plate and special reflex markers in the rear. Deletions of standard equipment included all tool kit items, apart from the owners’ manual and the ash tray and radio from the dashboard.
Finish specifications were the exterior to be painted deep bronze green, including all parts normally chrome plated and the interior painted deep bronze green, also unpolished. The steering wheel was to be painted Dusky Beige and the seat coverings and soft trim, in Copper Brown PVC.
Additional specified equipment was: an auxiliary folding seat for three people in the load compartment; a roll-up canopy cover supported by three bows; windshield drip moulding above the windscreen; canopy side guard mesh screens in the rear; jerry can holder; external rear mirrors; fire extinguisher and bracket; two key tabs; unit signs on front left and right side; FRAM bypass oil filter; rear bumperettes; chain on petrol tank filler cap; radio interference suppressors and tyres fitted with serial numbers facing outwards for easy workshop reference.
Another interesting requirement was that all removable items be branded ‘D broad-arrow D’ as specified by the Army, including the canopy, jerry can, oil filter, horn and air filter.
Owing its origins to 14th-century England the broad arrow is a symbol used traditionally in heraldry and later by the British Government to mark Government property, including some prison uniforms. In heraldry, the arrow head generally points downwards, whereas in other contexts it more usually points upwards.
The broad arrow symbol became particularly associated with the Board of Ordnance and later the War Department and the Ministry of Defence. It was exported to parts of the British Empire, where it was used in similar official contexts.The broad arrow symbol was used to denote government property in the Australian colonies from the earliest times of settlement.
The Vellas found that sourcing the original ‘D broad-arrow D’ parts required scouring hundreds of swap meets and contacting numerous parts collectors.
The interior was restored to exactly how it would have left factory, using the colour codes provided by Australian army reference material.
The handles and knobs on the doors were painted green, but the knobs on dash were left ivory/ white, in the interests of being more easily seen, for safety reasons.
No interior rear view mirror was needed, because the canopy blocked the rearward view, but exterior side mirrors were added.
The logbook holder; unit signs; ‘40mph limit’ painted on dash; tyre pressure (PSI) numbers painted on the mudguards above all tyres and the registration number were added by the Army to the vehicle, once it had arrived at the barracks.
There were around 600 FX Army utes delivered and the Vella vehicle has body number 586, making it the last recorded surviving vehicle before the updated FJ ute replaced the FX.
Being a late model Army FX Ute the Vella ute is fitted with a replica stout metal plate, running the width of the vehicle, just behind the rear window, to protect soldiers sitting in the rear. This protective plate was not fitted to the earlier versions of the FX.
The canvas canopy was painstakingly replicated using photo references gathered from years of research. The lettering painted inside reads ‘G V MULDER 1953’. This maker was a Victorian canvas company, founded by George Mulder, that successfully tendered to the Australian army, providing various canvas canopies.
The seat in the rear was designed to transport three soldiers and to flip down when not in use. The seat was re-upholstered with horse-hair filling, just as it would have been in the day, in order recreate the vehicle exactly.
The rear tailgate is painted with the maximum load capacity of ‘seven hundredweight’ (7cwt) or 356kg. (Back in the pound, hundredweight and tons days, a British hundredweight was 112 pounds, but the Yanks went for the original hundredweight of 100 pounds, which is why a US ‘short’ ton is 2000 pounds, but the British ‘long’ ton is 2240 pounds. And we’re buying Metric System nuclear submarines from that alliance…)
The originally specified safety mesh panels were recreated and woven by Jason’s skilful hands.
Jason and Chanelle Vella completed the vehicle restoration just in time to attend its first show on the 29th December, 2022 in Cooma, NSW, for the 25th AHEF FX FJ Holden Nationals.
“Sourcing and researching were definitely the hardest elements in restoring the vehicle to what it is today,” the successful couple agreed.