Picture perfect Superliner

By: Warren Aitken, Photography by: Warren Aitken


Following a meticulous four-year restoration, Gavin Sutton of Tamworth-based GST Transport has got a working show truck whose appearance can paint more than 1,000 words

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Everyone’s heard the old adage ‘a picture paints a 1,000 words’ right? Well, as a journalist, I supply the picture as well as 1,000 words to go with it; some of it is an attempt to be informative, some of it is an attempt to be entertaining, but most of it is just to get paid. 

Every now and then I get to photograph some trucks where there is no number of words that will ever entertain as well as the photos. Take Gavin Sutton’s Mack Superliner, for example. A photo of this Mack is worth more than 1,000 words, easily. Unfortunately, though, my editor won’t let me invoice him for 1,000 words per photo! So in order to buy new memory cards after using them up in Gavin Sutton’s yard, I need to add a little waffle in and get paid. I’ll make it quick and concise so everyone can get back to drooling over this blood-pumping beast of a Bulldog. You’re welcome.

Sutton runs GST Transport, based out of Australia’s home of country music, Tamworth. He’s got a fleet of trucks covering all corners of the country and there is a story to tell there as well, but that’s for another day. Today, we are focusing on the ‘right place right time’ situation that resulted in Sutton fulfilling a life-long desire to own a classic Mack Superliner.

Unwanted child

Believe it or not, the 1989 Mack Superliner was an unwanted child. It ended up in the hands of Don McQueen and the McQueen family after the original order got cancelled. The keen-eyed observer will pick up on the non-factory sleeper box that McQueen had fitted to the day cab-specced truck. With McQueen behind the wheel, the truck was a regular on the Newell raceway back in the infamous early ‘90s.

"It’s still good for near 100mph [161km/h]," Gavin confesses, though I’m sure this is a qualified estimate based purely on the long diffs and some fine calculations, not from testing it out. It spent five years running up and down the coast. Word has it the truck used to haul Comet out of Melbourne, up to Brisbane and then race off and grab a load of bananas back to Sydney. Painted up in an olive green with yellow blue and silver stripes, and adjourned with plenty of scroll work the Superliner was the epitome of cool from day one. 

She looked fairly well-worked when it finally rolled into Sutton’s yard, a definite ‘Before’ photo

After five years it was apparently sold to Keysseckers in Mudgee where it was used to cart explosives. Think of the irony in that: a big banger carting big bangs. Yes, it doesn’t take much to amuse me. The Mack spent another five years doing explosive work – sadly the rules and regulations for that work stipulated that no trucks older than 10 years were acceptable. Again, the truck went up for sale.

That’s how the truck ended up in Sutton’s neck of the woods, though still a fair while before he would get it. It was bought by John Dunn Towing in Tamworth, the chassis got shortened to fit some heavy towing gear on the back, it got a nice new paint job and it became one of NSW’s coolest tow trucks.

After five years of Hume racing and five years of explosive adventures, the big Mack settled down to nearly two full decades of playing recovery vehicle. In that time, Dunn wore the factory E9 out and had it replaced with a new one. Even with the old motor, I’m pretty sure it would not have been beaten to many recovery jobs by anything other than the local cops. 

Chance encounter

In early 2017, Dunn retired the 28-year-old truck and replaced it with a new Iveco. It was here that a chance encounter brightened up both Sutton’s day and the Bulldog’s future. 

"I happened to stumble along John one Saturday morning doing a recovery," recalls Sutton. 

"I said: ‘What are you doing with the old girl?’ He said: ‘It’s for sale.’ So, I grabbed me wallet and said: ‘How much?’" 

Impulse shopping is never really a great idea but restoring an old Superliner, driving an old Superliner, owning an old Superliner – well all that trumps common sense and Sutton walked away that Saturday with his very own Mack Superliner.

According to the thousands of photos on Sutton’s phone it was February 2017 when he picked the truck up, drove it straight to the yard, stirred up some dust and no doubt let of a few smokes signals then parked it in the workshop where he and the team began the tear down. 

Pulled apart in the yard and put back together in the yard, it was a tight team effort restoring the Mack

The resto

The truck had obviously had the towing gear removed already; meaning Sutton, along with a lot of help from Daniel ‘Boon’ Dowe, was left to pull the rest of the truck to pieces. Cab and bonnet were removed, all the tanks, everything was removed. The cab and chassis were all blasted, primed and resprayed by Boon. Before the respray the truck was lengthened back out to its original specs by the team at Alan Fisher Fabrications. Once it had been tidied up by Boon, with a little help from Sutton, they put the truck back to a basic point and sent it back off to AK Fabrications to get a lot of the more specialised repairs done.

All new deck plating needed to be built as well as all new brackets were built for the tank steps as at some stage during its lifetime someone had replaced them after some damage. New turntable was fitted. The fuel tanks themselves were about as smooth as the Bruce Highway, so rather than try and repair them Sutton actually threw them in the back of the ute and headed down to Rob and the boys at RC Metalcraft to get them wrapped. 

"They didn’t have a stencil for these type of tanks," Sutton recalls. "They mucked about for about a day and got it done though, did a great job." 

Contrary to my first assumption it wasn’t just to avoid polishing; I saw photos and the tanks were very worn.

The other stainless work was farmed out to a local company JRC Stainless and, like Sutton, I couldn’t fault the workmanship. The customised pieces between the rear guards, with the Bulldog cut into them, is spot on. JRC also did the stainless and lights on the steps, as well as around the dogbox is all them. Their biggest challenge was adding the stainless under the cab, according to Gavin. 

"The bit under the cab on a Superliner is very, very difficult. Because of the nature of the cab and how it’s formed, took a lot of work," he adds. Sutton makes it very clear though that he’s very pleased with the work.  

The Superliner came along, bit by bit

"They did an outstanding job, outstanding," he says.

Another local company with huge involvement in the project was A&K Auto Electrics. Basically, the whole truck got rewired, everything around the engine, the cab, everywhere. 

"It was a bit of a rat’s nest," Sutton admits. "Over the years, different owners, different applications, it had been doctored up a lot." 

So, from the radiator to the taillights it all got a working over. When the rewiring got to the interior it was decided to source a whole new dash. 

"The old one was just full of holes from 57,000 CB radios, UHFs, scanners and all that sort of thing," he notes. A fibreglass company up in Toowoomba was able to supply a new one for the big rig. Pretty much all the lights were stuffed or walking the plank at best, so all new lights were fitted. Sutton sourced original Mack lights, just sealed beam lights this time. He wanted to try and keep the truck close to original.

Part of that originality was the Mack bullbar; the truck’s original bar had obviously sent many a wildlife creature off to that big farmyard in the sky and was beyond repair. A call was placed to Tony Tester up in Toowoomba. Tester runs BigRigBullbars and specialises in replica Mack bars. The bar is slightly different to the truck’s original one, but the new one looks right at home under the Bulldog’s nose.

Mack aficionados will notice the offsets on the steer axle. True, those weren’t factory-fitted, however, the 10-stud alloys were. On the build sheet, and in the early photos of McQueen’s ride, you’ll see it had 10 studs up front. Sure, McQueen would have had to polish his, whereas Sutton’s gone with chromed alloy all round for the restoration. One less thing to polish.

A cup of tea and a computer screen with legendary Showy from Showman Signs in Newcastle saw the scroll work designs. 

"He’d add one here, I’d take away one here," jokes Sutton. He admits that Showy’s a fan of Macks as well so he had some great ideas that wouldn’t be too over the top.

While the company colours for GST are white with the blue, when Sutton and his painter, Boon, discussed the repainting, they knew it would start with a metallic blue chassis. Cab-wise, he wanted similar to his fleet but different. So cream it was. There was a fair bit of time mixing, getting creamier and creamier as it went until the end result emerged.

Last but not least was a freshen-up of the cab. With an all-new dash and wiring set-up it goes without saying that the rest would get a spruce up. Again, Sutton looked locally and had the truck sent off to Ferry’s Motor Trimmers to get all the new upholstery fitted.

So much for being a show truck, Sutton has no problem putting the Mack to work

Best on show

It took almost two years to get the legendary old Mack back to a show-class standard. From a hard-worked ex-tow truck, Sutton brought it back to a top-class show truck, I say that with a little grin. Why? Because it lasted longer as a show truck than I would last on ‘Dancing with the Stars’. 

In fact, it was roadworthy for a week or so before Sutton had it down at the local transport office getting it registered. Two days later he had it hooked up to the company trailers and out loading up. They built those old MKIIs to work and Sutton couldn’t resist doing just that. Sure, he was gentle with it at first, just single trailer jobs, very picky about which pickups and deliveries it would do. Then he decided to change the rego and start putting road trains behind it. 

As a truck lover and a photographer I’m all for this. Check out the shots of the big Mack with a couple of trailers in tow: it looks right at home! However, as a truck lover and a photographer I’d also want a chaser car out front making sure no one was flicking stones at the classic truck as they went past either. It would be an emotional rollercoaster. 

With it getting a bit of work to do there has been another important change as well. The original nine-speed box has finally been removed and replaced with an 18-speed one. 

"I thought it might slow it down as well," says Sutton with a grin. "I don’t think it has."

He has had the old Superliner for four years now and is still loving every minute of it. Even as we moved around Tamworth to go get some photos there were heads turning as they heard and saw the big girl coming. 

"The desired effect was plenty of smoke and plenty of noise and that’s what we got," Sutton admits. It may be helped that during the restoration project the single muffler in the chassis just ‘happened’ to be left out. End result, Sutton has got a working show truck whose image can paint more than a 1,000 words.

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