Show stallion


Laurie Williams’ reborn 2006 Western Star 4800, better as ‘Phat Cat’, is more than just a show truck; it’s the culmination of a long and fruitful career in the industry. Warren Aitken reports

 

Laurie Williams last only two weeks in retirement before trucking lured him back

Coming up with a heading for this story on Laurie Williams’ Phat Cat was rather difficult. There’s so many words to describe this truck. I personally was in favour of the expanded technical interpretation of Phat Cat … ‘Pretty Hot and Tempting Felis Catus’. But no matter which way you write it, Laurie Williams’ award-winning Western Star makes a powerful statement, in more than just appearance.

Laurie’s been in the transport game since before man first started rubbing sticks to find a way to cook their sangers. His introduction into trucking wasn’t an ‘it’s in the blood’ family thing as much as it was a ‘kicked out of school, what do I do now?’ kind of thing. His response to that adversity is a credit to the Aussie spirit he still displays today.

"I got kicked out of school; everyone kept telling me my life would [amount] to nothing," Laurie recalls when I questioned him about getting into trucking.

"So I just f#@&ing had a go."

It’s that approach that’s kept him succeeding for the 35 years he’s been at it. A small point to add, Laurie did actually retire when he sold Laurie Williams Car Carrying in 2000, however the idea of lawn bowls and driving a five-tonne caravan with a one tonne Kia didn’t appeal. Laurie’s retirement lasted a full two weeks.

When he was 15, Laurie used to help his neighbour whenever he was washing, cleaning and mucking around with his truck. So, when he found himself out of school at 17 he bought an old D series Ford and began Laurie Williams Car Carrying.

"I just kept going and seeing people, and after a while people would be ringing me, word of mouth stuff," Laurie tells me.

Eventually Laurie had regular work servicing Brisbane to Caloundra daily. New cars, auctions, used cars and wrecks, anything and everything. As his reputation grew so did his workload. More trucks were added to the fleet that was now covering not just Caloundra but all of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and stretching up to Maryborough and Bundaberg.

Laurie Williams Car Carrying grew to a fleet of 14 trucks when it was bought out by Rowdy’s Car Carriers in June 2000.

Starry starry night: Laurie can alternate the lights’ setting for every occasion

Back in the game

However, Laurie held onto his Heritage Western Star when he went into his fortnight of retirement. The plan was never meant to be a John Farnham style retirement, but two weeks in Laurie was sick of his knitting and Sudoku, and the opportunity was there to purchase a T950 with car carrying work. So back into he went.

Laurie began running Brisbane to Townsville carting cars. While the cars were his bread and butter, Laurie was eventually offered the opportunity to start carting trucks as well. I stupidly enquired into the main differences between carting the trucks and the cars, expecting to learn about higher centre of gravity and load restraint. But in typical Laurie ‘hang shit’ fashion I got the reply: "Well you can’t get as many on a trailer".

Over the next 18 years Laurie grew the company with every job and truck he took on. The post-retirement company, North Qld Truck & Machinery Movements, runs two Western Stars, an FLB Freightliner and two International S-Lines, both of which are rarely found in a 4x2 setup. There is also one Kenworth SAR and an International Eagle still working solely on the cars.

Laurie admits he’s more of a fan of buying the older trucks with character than the new ones, finding the components and motors easier to deal with.

Phat Cat is closing in on the 3 million km mark

Accidental outcome

In 2009 Laurie purchased the truck that would eventually become Phat Cat. However, like any good makeover story it involves grabbing a liner after winding the Pittsburgh Power Box up to seven and, of course, blowing a steer tyre and going bush at 100km/h.

Laurie bought the 2006 Western Star 4800 from an auction. At the time it had around 300,000km on the clock. It did have its share of bling and a few extra lights, but the Star was bought to work.

Its regular run involved deliveries in Rockhampton, Mackay, Townsville and Cairns. It was also spotted further west where Laurie would have an AB-triple in tow. It was on one of these road train trips that Laurie pushed the limits of the C15 just a bit too much one day and the truck ended up on the back of a trailer itself.

Laurie’s always keen to ‘have a go’, so the rebuild of the C15 was not going to be factory spec. In fact, it took the boys at Dave’s Diesel in Rocklea, Brisbane, about five weeks to get the motor finished. In fairness, two weeks were used up catering for Dave’s meticulous attention to detail.

Each piece of Cat’s Platinum kit was tested by Dave before it went on. Along with the kit, 600cc high flow injectors were added – and let’s not forget the mouthful that is the Borg Warner Non Wastegated Turbo.

The last addition to the new look C15 was the big cam added earlier this year. So, what did all that result in? How about 727hp at the wheels and 2521ft-lb @ 1259rpm? Yep, the little Star has more pulling power than a busload of schoolboys.

The dyno figures speak for themselves!

So it took a major incident to change the setup of the factory C15 (though Laurie admits that major incident was in self-inflicted, he boosted the Pittsburgh up to seven) and it was another major incident that led to the Hollywood makeover of the little 4800 workhorse.

In 2015, while running just north of Maryborough in Queensland, one of Laurie’s steer tyres blew. The truck ended up out through the bush, but thankfully remained upright and Laurie was unhurt. The same couldn’t be said for the Star, the 62 grand worth of damage could not be buffed out.

Although the insurance company wanted to write the whole thing off, Laurie had only just done the engine up so the choice was made to rebuild. If you’re going to rebuild then why not repaint, reshine and illuminate like crazy?

To quote Laurie: "After I fixed it, I thought f#@% it, I’ll go ape shit with it!"

Phat Cat spent six months off the road getting remodelled. Phil and his team at Advance Tech Auto Body Repairs straightened out all the bush-designed panels and threw a couple of blue bottles of paint at it. The new colour was inspired by an FW Falcon wagon Laurie had in the garage.

The team at Rocklea Truck Electrical (RTE) was tasked with fulfilling all Laurie’s crazy ideas.

"You’re a driver," Laurie tells me. "You know what it’s like when you’re on the road and come up with crazy arse ideas."

I am and I do but credit to the boys at RTE for putting those plans into action. In fairness though, Laurie had all his ideas planned out. He knew how he wanted it done, meaning the RTE boys didn’t have to bring some ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ ideas to life. They just had to follow Laurie’s plans. All standard stainless was replaced with mirror finish stainless.

The Western Star 4800 is one of seven trucks in the North Qld Truck & Machinery Movements’ fleet

For those thinking how much time is spent polishing the rims, they are super-chromed. Laurie was invited down to Melbourne for a truck show and a chance encounter with Bernie from Samios Tyres led to the purchase of some "shinier-than-a-shined-up-shiny-thing" rims.

As for the lights, well Laurie stopped counting once he got past ridiculous. The lights are set up on several relays, allowing for either a few, a bit, a lot or a hell of a lot of lighting – depending on the occasion.

Many of those occasions are truck shows. Laurie’s Phat Cat is a regular at truck shows and charity events. The shows allow Laurie to step away from the day-to-day tasks and join the crew of regular show ponies as they make a day of it.

While he has his fair share of trophies, as well as my share, your share and the neighbour’s share, Laurie admits he goes to shows for the joy of it.

"It’s a chance to get away from the everyday crap and hang shit on each other," he exclaims with a beaming smile.

Phat Cat is edging closer to the three-million kilometre mark although still earning its keep. It may be like its loving owner and slowing down ever so slightly, but its shine just keeps getting better. It’s fair to say Phat Cat is a Pretty Hot and Tempting Felis Catus.

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