Deals on Wheels: That's Gold!

By: Warren Aitken


Kenworth SAR Gold Nugget #29 This truck is a show-piece that took years to rebuild Kenworth SAR Gold Nugget #29
web flame truck recropped The truck was repainted at some stage and renamed 'Nitro Express'. Painted all black and with flames, it spent some time towing Jack Daniels drag cars around Australia web flame truck recropped
web IMG 6456 It appeared for sale in Deals on Wheels in January 2005, still in flaming black web IMG 6456
web 51136477 2219669911422951 4404628368096493568 n Number 29, after a complete make-over by the next owners, Churchill Transport in Holbrook web 51136477 2219669911422951 4404628368096493568 n
web Churchill rollover The rig was flattened in an unfortunate accident, and was written off and stowed away at Royans truck and trailer repairs web Churchill rollover
web 51304181 2219675304755745 2860152360313815040 n Such is the scarcity of these limited editions, when Mark Tobin heard of a write-off sitting at Royans he immediately checked it out, confirmed the authenticity of the wreck and snapped it up web 51304181 2219675304755745 2860152360313815040 n
web 51858168 2219675388089070 8500902239236259840 n The decision was made to fit eight-bag suspension and also a new Kenworth front axle with larger hubs web 51858168 2219675388089070 8500902239236259840 n
web 1 A new cab was found, not an SAR but off a W-model; and a second-hand Aero 1 sleeper was found, re-skinned and had a high roof added web 1
web Full Chassis Strip The twisted chassis was straightened with inserts added all the way back to the engine mounts web Full Chassis Strip

Rebuilding a truck is a big job, but rebuilding a limited-edition Aussie icon just ups the ante even more - especially when you're starting with a total write-off

 

Actually, weeding my garden is a big job; rebuilding a truck is a huge job!

So imagine how difficult that task is if it’s not just one of only 30 Gold Nuggets, but of those 30 only 20 were SARs and this particular SAR has spent almost a decade as a lawn ornament after being flattened to the bonnet and written off in the early 2000s.

Sounds like a monumental task. And it was. But the end result that is parked at Mark Tobin Transport is an absolute treasure.

Let’s start with a little history lesson first, a trip down Kenworth lane.

There’s something unmistakeable about a 1980s Kenworth SAR, some say they have a face only a mother could love, others just drool like a happy springer spaniel at the sight of them.

 

Only 30 SAR Gold Nuggets were ever made

 

Love them or hate them though, they are an iconic piece of Australian trucking history. So much so that during the 1980s Kenworth decided to run a limited-edition Gold Nugget series. Only 30 of these trucks were made – 20 SAR Gold Nuggets and 10 W-model Nuggets.

While they looked very much like the standard models, it was the added luxuries that distinguished them from the run-of-the-mill versions. Each truck would have a commemorative plaque on the overhead console as well as decals on the bonnet.

Being paid by the word I should list all the added extras, but I’ll stick to just a few as there were many: custom upholstery, an in-built fridge, a calculator fitted to the driver’s sun visor, and a colour television in the sleeper.

Keep in mind in 1986 televisions were not the slim-line things we see now, they were probably as large as the SAR’s fuel tanks. The only positive aspect of a 1980's television is you wouldn’t have had to sit through the reality trash we have these days!

 

The paint job and design were based on the original Tympat livery, with Tobin Transport blue instead of red

 

Now out of the 30 gleaming Gold Nuggets, the one we are going to focus on is number 29. ‘Cobber’, as its second owner Peter Shelton informed me was its name, rolled off the production line in 1986.

One of four Nuggets that were running under the Tympat colours, the truck has led an adventurous life.

Like most of the legendary Nuggets piecing together their history is harder than trying to interpret any phone company’s online complaints system.

The best I can gather on number 29 is as follows. Cobber lasted less than two years with the Tympat name on the side, before it was purchased by Peter Shelton, who was running timber and bricks between Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne.

I had the privilege of speaking with Peter, who still remembers the truck fondly, and even recalls the driving force behind the purchase.

 

Of the 30 Gold Nuggets made, 20 were SAR Gold Nuggets and 10 were W-model Nuggets

 

"The 475hp 92s," he remarks, referring to the Detroit 8V92. "They’re great engines!" He pointed out the only bigger option at that stage was the 500hp Mack’s.

It may have ranked second on the horse-power list but Peter ranked it top when it came to the ride. "It was absolutely perfect, one of the best trucks you’d ever wish to drive," he recalls. A strong complement from a man who’s driven damn near everything.

Peter also pointed out what the luxuries included.

"It came with a television and a fridge as well," he notes. I asked Peter what the TV was like and he informed me with a laugh, "buggered if I know, I never watched it, never had time, you’re always having a go."

Peter ran number 29 for about four years before necessity required that he sell it. Things are a hit and miss with dates from that point on, but the truck ended up at some stage getting repainted and renamed ‘Nitro Express.’

 

The entire cab and sleeper were retrimmed to showroom condition by Barry Ashen, and his attention to detail falls in line with the standard set on the rest of the truck

 

Painted all black with flames, it spent some time towing Jack Daniels drag cars around Australia. In the days before mandatory speed limits and with ‘Nitro Express’ rumoured to be geared for 143km/h, it was rather fitting.

Next step for number 29 came not far off its twentieth birthday. The classic rig was purchased by Churchill Transport in Holbrook. It was given a complete makeover by the Churchill team. The original Detroit Diesel 8V92 was taken out and replaced with a Cat C-15 and the truck was completely repainted.

The disappointing part about the Churchill experience was us truck lovers never got to appreciate how good number 29 looked in the stunning Churchill livery as an unfortunate accident saw the rig flattened in a rollover. It ended up written off and stowed away at Royans truck and trailer repairs for the next few years.

 

The entire restoration project was managed by Troy Richards of Cutting Loose Mechanical and Geoff McGregor

 

Number 29’s resurrection came about several years later because of one man’s desire and the skills of more than a few good workers. Mark Tobin is the man behind Tobin Transport, the name now on the side of number 29. It was his drive for a Gold Nugget that lead to the rebuild. "I only bought it cause it was a Nugget," Mark says referring to the wreck. "I always wanted to do one up."

He couldn’t have picked a bigger project than number 29, but it seemed the only option to fulfil that desire. "I’d been hunting for one for years and couldn’t find one," Mark confesses "I hadn’t seen one hit the market for ages."

Such is the scarcity of these limited editions, that when Mark heard of a write-off sitting at Royans he immediately checked it out, confirmed the authenticity of the wreck and snapped it up.

 

The finishing touches were added by Troy Richards with Ryan Northcott from Bling HQ customising several extra pieces to round out a stunning rebuild

 

Point of note here readers: From the beginning of this project the idea was a rebuild not a restoration. A rebuild is defined as ‘build (something) again after it has been damaged or destroyed'; whereas a restoration is ‘the process of restoring a building, work of art, etc to its original condition.’

The condition of number 29 and the availability of original parts meant the task would be more rebuild than restoration.

While it was Mark that was driven to chase a Golden Nugget, he hands over the credit for the rebuild to the team that did the work.

Tobin Transport’s mechanic, Troy Richards of Cutting Loose Mechanical, was one of the main men involved in the project, sourcing, fabricating, fixing and constructing throughout the entire five-year project.

"When it came here it was just a chassis, a twisted chassis with the engine and that’s it," Troy recalls. "I think it was sitting on four wheels, no radiator no nothing."

 

The truck belongs to Mark Tobin of Tobin Transport

 

He adds that the only parts left of the cab were the bullbar, bonnet and quarter guards. "It was like a banana," Troy says of the chassis. "The front and the back were dead in-line and it was out by about two inches in the middle."

With a starting point like that the task was always going to be massive and Troy is quick to point out that there’s a lot of people to congratulate for the end result.

Geoff McGregor is one of those that need to be singled out. Along with Troy, Geoff oversaw the majority of the build. Geoff’s background lies in panel beating and restorations. He has undertaken enough projects in his time that even a task like number 29 hardly pushed his challenge button.

Geoff was actually alongside Mark when he went to check out the wreck at Royans in Brisbane. "It was as flat as a shit tin," Geoff recalls, "and Mark just said can you rebuild it and I said I guess so."

 

Tony Gibbs Truck Writers in Caboolture were responsible for signwriting on the truck

 

I questioned his first response, knowing it was an absolute write-off, and Geoff was quick to point out the toughness that the Kenworth brand is renowned for. "It’s a Kenworth, you can rebuild them from pretty bad," he says.

So, a new cab was found, not an SAR but off a W-model which has a very similar cab.

Geoff replaced the firewall with parts from the original, re-sheeted around the back and a few other adjustments.

A second-hand Aero 1 sleeper was found, reskinned and had a high roof added.

The twisted chassis was straightened with inserts added all the way back to the engine mounts.

The decision was made to fit eight-bag suspension and also a new Kenworth front axle with larger hubs.

Mark had admitted the truck was definitely soaking up some coin and rather than upset his lovely wife by spending more dollars chasing down an original 8V92, he chose to leave the CAT C-15 in the truck. That also meant leaving the new 18-speed gearbox in, rather than an original 13-speed.

 

This Kenworth SAR Gold Nugget was produced in 1986

 

The interior was another huge mission for the team. They had torn it all out so they could make a few comfort improvements like an adjustable steering column and recessed accelerator. Which meant the truck was now a driveable option for guys over five-foot!

As much of the original setup was used as possible, including the original wiring harness with updated components when necessary. The old school stopper cable was changed to a more practical turbo timer. I admit I forgot to check if the original calculator was reattached to the sun visor, I’ll have to check that next time.

The entire cab and sleeper were retrimmed to showroom condition by Barry Ashen and his attention to detail falls in line with the standard set on the rest of truck.

Next task was to get the exterior looking top shelf. The paint job and design were based on the original Tympat livery, with Tobin Transport blue instead of the red.

 

But not everything on the truck is original. It has a Cat C-15 Engine and an 18-speed gearbox, instead of the original's 13-speed gearbox and Detroit Diesel 8V92 engine

 

Anyone who appreciates a good signwriting job will recognise the work of Tony Gibbs from Truck Writers in Caboolture. I also learnt that Tony apparently did the original work for Tympat when it bought number 29 back in 1986. "It’s the paint job that makes that truck," Mark Tobin admits, beaming with pride at the quality of the work.

The finishing touches were added by Troy with Ryan Northcott from Bling HQ customising several extra pieces to round out a stunning rebuild.

It was almost a decade-long search for Mark Tobin to find a Gold Nugget and half that time again to get it to showroom condition. And the end result has been worth the wait. It’s more than just a truck to Mark and his team.

"The truck is a show piece after hours of pain and presents something more than a rebuild," he says, adding "twentynine Nugget is about legacy, family and commitment. Only 30 built and my people and family own a very special number 29! Thank you!"

Congratulations to all those involved in returning this Nugget to its golden state.

Mark Tobin says "Twenty Nine Nugget is about Legacy, family and commitment"

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