Where's the steering wheel? Mal Browns LHD Peterbilt.
Where's the steering wheel? Mal Browns LHD Peterbilt.

Southpaw Pete is quite a treat

TRAVELLING around to historic truck shows and events the chances of seeing a restored B-Model Mack or old K-Series Kenworth are usually pretty good, but along the way you come across a truck that is unusual or different and most of the time has a pretty interesting backstory.

Such was the case back in March at the Lockhart Truck Show where Mal Brown’s single axle, left hand drive Peterbilt stood out among the other trucks on display, and naturally there was also a bit of a tale to tell as to how the truck ended up on show in the New South Wales Riverina town.

Mal’s Peterbilt is a 359 with a fibreglass bonnet and rolled off the Peterbilt assembly line in Newark, California in 1975 and spent its working life as a farm truck hauling potatoes in Kentucky, towing two trailers.

Mal with his 44-year-old Peterbilt 359.
Mal with his 44-year-old Peterbilt 359.

Along the way it, along with a few others were imported into Australia, via Melbourne and then up to Sydney where Mal purchased it, despite at the time looking for an International to buy as a project truck.

“My son Luke saw it for sale down the road, at the time I was on the lookout for an International Loadstar to do up but Luke said ‘you have to buy something a bit different to take to the shows’, so we went and bought it,” Mal said.

Having clocked around 800,000 miles over its working life, the Peterbilt had just received a new engine and gearbox prior to being shipped out to Australia, but the cost of changing the steering wheel to the other side of the cab proved a bit of a hurdle financially.

“To convert it to right-hand drive would have cost around $25,000 which was more than what I paid for the truck - the fella I went to reckoned I should leave it as original as it could be so that’s what I have done. The motor in it is a 350 Cummins and a 13-speed box and we have tidied her up and here we are,” Mal said.

Short and sweet- The Pete travels bobtail and the ride can be a bit rough.
Short and sweet- The Pete travels bobtail and the ride can be a bit rough.

With Mal’s mechanical knowledge and Luke using his skills as a truck body builder, the pair have given the blue machine a good overhaul and have fitted the truck out with a genuine Peterbilt sleeper cab which was found in west NSW.

“We got the sleeper cab out in Dubbo, its off a 1962 model which apparently was originally the 11th Peterbilt that came into Australia - it was red in colour but we restored it all and Luke painted it up to match the cab,” he said.

“The cab and all inside are original, other than a pair of Iveco seats I put in because the old ones were a bit of a basket case.”

Like many in the industry Mal got his start working as a mechanic before spending more than 30 years on the highway, first taking to the road in a Commer, then a variety of Internationals and Kenworths before finishing up his long distance steering a Volvo driving Toll.

With his home at Thirlmere on the south-eastern outskirts of Sydney today he works for Sydney Trucks and Machinery, delivering new Iveco, International and Fuso trucks out of their Narellan dealership. Along with the Peterbilt he also has a Dodge D5N which was finished just prior to the end of 2019.

Being only a single drive configuration and having the sleeper cab attached leaves little room for a trailer to swing off the back, with Mal running to a few shows around the place bobtail - within reason as he said with a grin: “With no trailer and the short wheelbase she bounces pretty well - they asked me to take it to Alice Springs but if I drove it all that way there would be nothing of me left! She rode pretty rough coming over here to Lockhart, but it sailed down the Hume all right to Gundagai last week.”

The Peterbilt has fulfilled Mal and Luke’s aims in having a truck that is somewhat different to the usual historic trucks, and taking on the truck as a project has been a rewarding experience.

“I didn’t want to buy a truck to take to some bloke to get restored … that’s probably what gives me the most satisfaction, the fact we have done all of the work on the truck ourselves.”

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