Retired restorer takes a trip down memory lane

Stephen Corstorphan chats to Deals on Wheels about his life restoring vintage trucks

Following in your father’s footsteps is a rite of passage for many, the culmination of generational knowledge and passion. 

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A family business is an Australian ideal that is materialised in ‘& son’ or ‘family-owned’.  

Stephen Corstorphan was inducted into the family business before it even had a name or ABN. 

With International customised tray trucks in the backyard as play equipment, and a father running fruit interstate, it seemed only a matter of time before the duo joined forces.

Stephen’s working career began at the former Gas & Fuel in Dandenong, as an apprentice diesel mechanic. 

He completed his apprenticeship and moved to K & S Freighters in Footscray, working there for three years. 

In the background, the passion for truck restorations began to stir, with Stephen and his father Jim working on trucks at The Yard in Ringwood.

It wasn’t until 1997 that Stephen decided to drop it all to work for his father’s newly found business, J Corstorphan Pty Ltd, repairing and restoring vehicles.

1937 D15 international dual wheel

“Dad started off with trucks and even back then, all the trucks that he drove on the highway, he virtually brought them in and stripped them down and rebuilt them before they went on the road,” Stephen says. 

“The only new truck he had was a Mercedes, which was the last truck he had on the highway. But other than that, they were all stripped down and rebuilt. And then they went out to work.”

Some full restorations of their own private fleet include a 1960 International R200 and a 1969 Ford 750 prime mover, known as The Siblings.

Stephen says working with his father was an adjustment.

“The first time I started working for him, I was living with him. It was seven days a week, seven nights a week living and working together. There were definitely a few blues, but I enjoyed working with him,” he says. 

Stephen’s restoration career spanned 16 years, working for individuals and transport companies all over Australia. 

“I worked on trucks for Linfox, I fixed up an AB 184 International for Ian Cootes, we did a lot,” he says. 

“Doug Livermore used to have an orchard opposite ours. We did up about seven or eight trucks for him.

“They went all the way back to 1937/8 Internationals. They were all different ones.”

1850D International Loadstar

Stephen says the worst condition truck he ever had was the last restoration he did for Doug. It was a 1937 D35 International that Stephen says had been rolled and caught fire.  

“We had a sandblaster over, and he told me the rats had been living it, it was covered in rust and it had been burnt for sure.”

Despite the major flaws, Doug was persistent in restoring it, with Stephen finally giving in and convincing him to get new tyres to “finish the truck off”.

1937 D35 International

“The satisfaction was always there for me in resto’s,” he says. 

“You’ve got to have pride in what you do, and that’s where the truck resto’s came in.”

“I didn’t really worry what year it was, or what condition it was.” 

Doug passed away several years ago, but many of Stephen’s restorations for him are displayed in a big shed, “like a museum” at Doug’s property. 

Stephen says it was important for him to recognise that truck restorations isn’t a solo sport, but rather a team effort.

He says, “Something I was always saying when talking about truck restorations was that we had done them. I never said I had done them.” 

“A lot of other people had always helped. Trimmers, windscreen guys, we had a couple of panel beaters working for us. 

“It was never just me, or dad and I, there was a team of us working on the trucks.”

1957 630 Diamond T (Image: Prime Creative Media)

One of the most recognisable trucks that Stephen still has is his restored 1957 630 Diamond T.

“That truck should have been in the scrap originally,” he laughed, “we really brought it back from the grave.” 

Stephen’s father had two Diamond T’s on the highway for years, and says a lot of work had to be put into it to get them going. 

“It got stripped right back to the chassis and straightened, and the cab was all repaired,” he says.

They fitted a GM V6 53 motor into the truck and added a Road Ranger gearbox.

“We put a full air front axle underneath it and back end. Done all the brakes and everything virtually from one end of it till the other.”

“We straightened it all out and got it running.”

Stephen recently showcased the Diamond T at the Historic Commercial Vehicle Display in Yarra Glen. 

He says this is the first year he has decided to get back into the shows after missing the camaraderie of the events. 

“I don’t worry about trophies; I’ve never worried about them. It’s always been the fun of getting out there meeting people and showing the truck off.”

1964 AB184 International

Stephen and his father Jim were both inducted into the Shell Rimula Wall of Fame at Reunion in 2015, two years after Jim had unfortunately passed away. 

Stephen took over the family business, but ultimately decided a couple of years later that it was time for the next chapter in his life. 

He now drives trucks for Doolan’s Heavy Haulage in Moorabbin, but says he misses doing up the trucks. 

“I miss doing the trucks, but in saying that, I’ve barely touched the truck I’ve got sitting in my shed,” he laughed. 

“I’ve always wanted to go truck driving, and my sister told me to do what I wanted to do,” he says.

“So, I started off driving two, three days a week and then after about six weeks I became full time.”

Stephen says his biggest advice for people looking to get into restoring is to save your money. 

“Everything has gotten so dear now, and so many people get halfway through and end up pulling the pin.”

The Loadstar and AB184 finished and ready to go

He says proper preparation is key and understanding what you are getting yourself into can save a lot of stress. 

“It is a lot harder now to do restorations than before. Parts are more expensive and harder to find,” he says. 

His love for restorations still reigns though, with another Diamond T that he brought from America with his father sitting in his shed. 

“That’s one that we have had for 15 years that kept getting pushed aside at the factory, I just couldn’t sell it, I brought it home.”

“I’d be lucky if I’ve done probably no more than 20 hours work on it, but I will get to it one day,” he says. 

Stephen hopes that the art of truck restoration doesn’t become lost while prices increase. 

1954 R-190 International Fire Truck

“I went to a truck show in Echuca, and a lot of the oldest stuff had disappeared,” he says. 

“The trucks that are rocking up now are highway trucks from the 90s and a lot of them are just trucks that have come off the road and headed straight to the shows.”

He hopes that there are still people passionate enough, and willing to put in the money to keep the old trucks running. 

Stephen sent us a picture with himself, his brother, son and Doug and captioned it, “This is what restoring old trucks is for, to see smiles on faces.”

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