| Towrota by Drew | page 1 |
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9 September 2006
For 23 long years our old B1500 ute sat in the back paddock with no shelter, gathering moss and providing cows with a sturdy scratching post. In it's prime, it had been used as a work ute by my father who was a powerline contractor at the time. Every morning the little Mazda was loaded with all the supplies needed to 'dress' power poles and it would follow the truck to work. The majority of powerlines my father constructed were in dense bush, so the Mazda worked long hard days.
Not long after he purchased it in the late 1970's, the original motor started getting tired and couldn't cope with the workload. The ute's chassis and diff were very strong, so the old motor was pulled and a Holden 179 motor installed. The conversion included a 4 speed gearbox with another 4 speed mounted behind it in a joey box type arrangement. Increased power and 16 gears now meant the little ute could haul huge loads (regularly up to two tonne) along steep, rough, bush tracks. Landcruiser rims were also fitted to increase ground clearance and highway speed and this was how she worked for several years.
Only one mechanical failure ever occured - a faulty ignition coil. Not bad for day after day, year after year of such hard work. Although the conversion had proven itself as safe - despite harsh working conditions which would have broken lesser utes - the RTA didn't agree and so in the early-mid eighties the ute was deemed unsafe and taken off the road. It was then used around the farm for little jobs and also became the first vehicle I learnt to drive on at age 11. Sometime soon after though, she was parked in the back paddock and forgotten, the only attention being occasionally robbed for parts for other machines on the farm.
Fast forward to August 2006 and walking through the paddock past the ute, I stopped and took a more thoughtful look at the old girl. It struck me that although it would be a lot (and I mean A LOT) of work, it would be something completely different and original to restore. I asked my father if I could have it and of course he was more than happy to have one less piece of old machinery sitting about the farm. And that's how she came to be mine...
21 September 2006
Returning to the farm a few weeks later with car trailer in tow, we pumped the tyres up and once we 'snapped' her free with a 4wd ute (all brakes seized on), she was rolling again. First step was to remove the 179 motor as it wasn't needed for this project. Dad's crane made easy work of that! From there, we winched her onto the car trailer and then towed her back to Canberra with the Navara. It was wierd to see her moving again after all those years and not occupying her usual spot in the paddock (the imprints of the tyres in the paddock where she sat are still there over a year later!).
26 October 2006
The original plan for the ute was to do a complete restore job with the exception of the motor, which would of course be a rotary. Straighten the dents out, nice new paint, new interior, a nice little steel tray, etc etc. Somewhere along the way though, this plan didn't seem to sit comfortably with me. First because it's what everyone else would do and secondly because this little ute has a proud working heritage and somehow 'prettying' her up didn't seem to be doing her justice. So the idea of a 'ratrod' ute came into play. Leave the moss, the dents, the scratches, the faded paint and make it into an old working truck ratrod. This plan felt much better, although I still had one problem. What to put on the back?
Enter the tow truck unit that has sat in the same paddock as the old ute for almost 30 years. It used to reside on a '56 Ford F100 and Dad used it to tow power poles through the bush. One particular day though, coming round the side of a hill and dragging 5 power poles, they all slid down the hill and pulled Dad down with them. End result? Completely trashed F100 and a slightly bent tow unit which was put in the back paddock and forgotten about. The thought of a jap ratrod tow truck however was perfect and so Dad allowed me to 'borrow' the tow unit for the project. This is how it sat in the paddock for so long. See later photo's and text for a minor overhaul of the unit itself.
28 October 2006
Unfortunately I went like a bull at a gate as soon as I got the old girl home and started stripping the engine bay for the new paint idea. I wished I hadn't touched it now. Even with the completely different colour firewall that will be welded in (see 7 November 2007), it would still have suited the whole ratrod theme. Not much I can do now, even though I kick myself every time I look at it. I'll just paint it a non-standout colour and try and keep it 'unfussy'.
16 December 2006
It was evident that the B1500 needed a lot of spare parts to get her up and running again. Chiefly among those was a disc brake front end as I wanted to get away from the old front drum setup. Quite by chance, a member of my car club had a Mazda B2000 sitting in her yard. It was only minus a motor and came with the disc brake front end, the original bench seat (which I wanted for the B1500) and a 5 speed gearbox which could come in handy. I parted with the exorbitant price of $50 and tilt trayed the B2000 home.
Getting it home, I started to have a really good look at what would fit into the old ute. It turns out that a lot more than I originally thought would fit, including the firewall/tunnel that I need to patch the B1500 after the Holden motor was extracted. Buying the B2000 was a huge win and has provided me with so many bits and pieces, it's been invaluable to say the least.
25 March 2007
The work could now start in earnest. I was able to start stripping the B2000 and grab all the bits that I needed, eventually sending the majority of the body to the metal recyclers (much to my wife's joy). I decided to change the axles from the B2000 to the B1500 rather than just change the backing plates. The newer backing plates were in better condition and enabled me to run the finned drum covers as well. I put the old axles back in the B2000 diff in case I ever need them as spares. As you can see from the photo's, a lot of water came out of the B1500 diff. It was the coldest, clearest water I've ever seen!
6/7 April 2007
In April, I went to the farm and retrieved the old tow unit from the back paddock. Dad then cut the bent arms off and cleaned it up ready for new arms to be put on.