Truckie meticulously restores father’s 1963 Commer

For Andrew Dorling, restoring his dad’s Commer was about far more than just bringing an old truck back to life

Interstate truckie Andrew Dorling is the first to admit he’s a perfectionist – and when it came to restoring his dad Mick’s 1963 Commer, he wasn’t cutting any corners. 

It’s been 30 years since Mick bought the truck, and Andrew has spent the past seven of those fixing it up as a replica of a rig his father drove as a young man. 

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The finished Commer finally made its big debut at the Lardner Park Heritage Truck & Vehicle Display in Victoria earlier this year – and many members of the crowd agreed that it stole the show. 

“I had a lot of people coming up to me, telling me I should be proud of what I had done,” he says. 

“Some people said it was better than if you’d paid a professional to restore it.” 

The restored Commer in all its glory

While Andrew was pleased to get some recognition after all his hard work, it wasn’t really about what other people thought. It was about his mum and dad. 

“My mum got really crook, and in the hospital before she passed away, dad promised her that he would get the Commer going before it was too late for him,” he says. 

“Then about seven years ago, dad was in a real bad accident. He ended up in hospital in a coma. 

“That’s when I decided that if we were going to fulfil his promise, I needed to get on board and get the project underway.” 

The Commer was in a pretty bad way when Mick picked it up in South Australia many moons ago, so he had later acquired another Commer locally with a cab and chassis in better condition. Eventually, another cab came up that was even more promising, so he picked that up too. 

Andrew had his work cut out for him, replicating the striking green truck, trailer and cattle crate his dad used to drive around metropolitan Melbourne, Gippsland and Dandenong back in the day – and he was determined to keep it as authentic as possible. 

Apart from the truck, Dorling did all the paint work on the trailer and the cattle crate himself

The job started with Andrew and his dad pulling the truck apart and sending the chassis rails away to be sandblasted before being painted. 

“While we were waiting on that to be done, we got to work on the trailer,” he says. 

“It was a bit worse for wear, so I got the grinder and started cutting the trailer up. 

“I put new beams in the trailer, a complete new front and back, new suspension and new wheels and tyres.”

Andrew then had someone come to his shed to sandblast the trailer, before he painted it himself and added new lights and timber flooring.

The cattle crate coming together

He decided that if the truck and trailer combination was going to be a really accurate replica of his dad’s old rig, he needed to build a cattle crate. This he made from scratch, taking care to make it look authentic. 

“I bought some rough-sawn timber for the sides,” he explains. 

“Then I bought a thicknesser and ran all the timber through it to get a smooth finish, and cut the sides and put them in.” 

Next up were the decks of the crate. 

“Dad wanted to just put plywood in it to make it easy, but I said we needed to keep it to how it used to be in the day. 

“Decks were all tongue and groove back then so I made all the decks that way. I then painted them and put sheep mesh on them.” 

The trailer and cart completed, he refocused his efforts on the cab, which had to be sandblasted and have a lot of rust removed before it was ready to paint. 

The cabin needed to be sandblasted before painting

He wasn’t confident enough to paint it himself, so he sent it away to be done professionally, along with the signwriting. 

Mick’s original Commer had “Mick’s Big Rig” written on the front, but for the replica Andrew decided to go with “Mick’s Pride” instead. 

He also put his mum’s name – Eileen – on the left-hand door, and his dad’s name on the right-hand door. 

“Mum’s not here and one day dad won’t be here anymore so I wanted to pay tribute to them,” he adds. 

Mick, who used to own his own mechanical workshop, rebuilt the truck’s motor – a Commer Knocker TS3. 

“Because it’s a ‘63 model, we had to make any parts that couldn’t be bought,” Andrew says.

“I made the mufflers, the exhaust system, the gearbox crossmember, the brake lines…

“I wanted to keep everything period correct, so I made the air lines out of steel instead of nylon.” 

There were so many little jobs to be done

A family friend did a complete re-wire on the truck, and Andrew and Mick got the seats reupholstered, refurbished the gauges and the dashboard, got new cables made for the accelerator, and built a bullbar based off old photos of the truck. 

To Andrew’s delight, the type of mirrors that were on Commers in the 60s were still available, and the lights are also the exact same style as Mick’s old truck had.

It was finally time for the finishing touches – and the clock was ticking as Andrew had promised his dad he would have the truck ready for the Lardner Park Heritage Truck & Vehicle Display in February. 

Almost there!

Mick was also sadly diagnosed with cancer during the process of the restoration, which added more pressure for Andrew, who didn’t want to let him down. 

“The cancer is not going to go away, he’s doing chemo which is slowing it down,” he says. 

“After he had his accident, I took over the labour on the Commer but he was still the brains of it all. 

“I did all that labour to give back to him, to do something for him after all he’s done for me.” 

Thankfully Andrew just about made it over the line with the truck, getting it roadworthy and registered just two days before Lardner Park. 

“On the morning of the show, dad looked really crook,” he says. 

“I was getting the truck ready – shining the inside of the tyres as well as the outside, and all the threads and everything to get it as presentable as possible.  

“I was just underneath the truck, polishing it, and I looked up and saw dad. 

“All of a sudden, he had a big smile on his face and a bit of power back in his body. 

“And I thought to myself, it was worth it all just to see that.”

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