Jour­ney to the STARS

Deals on Wheels - - News & Reviews -

There’s noth­ing like putting two trucks head-to-head to judge the dif­fer­ences. But when those two trucks are 40 years apart and share the same an­ces­tral threads, well, time travel takes on a whole new mean­ing. In this far-reach­ing re­port Steve Brooks re­flects on the fas­ci­nat­ing evo­lu­tion of Western Star from the ashes of White

Sure, I have a soft spot for old bangers, the he­roes of yes­ter­year. I guess most truck nuts do! There is, after all, noth­ing like a trip down mem­ory lane to re­call the path to the present, to gauge where we’ve been, how far we’ve come, and in the process gather the fer­tiliser for sto­ries of great deeds done.

Be­sides, per­son­ally and pro­fes­sion­ally I owe a great deal to the past and specif­i­cally the men who by ac­tion and ad­vice taught me so much about the right way to treat a truck and the in­es­timable value of a soft touch on a heavy ma­chine. In my ex­pe­ri­ence there have been sev­eral such peo­ple, the stand-out be­ing an aged vet­eran and Hall-of-Famer named Don McGlinchie. That, how­ever, is a yarn for an­other day. Even so, I don’t mind ad­mit­ting my real soft spots nowa­days are for the trap­pings of more modern ma­chines with spa­cious cabs and splen­did seats, big­ger bunks, cosy air­con, friendly steer­ing, softer ride, mir­rors and win­dows that move by the flick of a but­ton, and yes, thanks to the march of tech­nol­ogy I’m ac­tu­ally start­ing to pre­fer gear­boxes un­at­tached to a stick. In a per­fect world my modern truck would even come with a Dis­abled Parking sticker for spe­cially re­served lanes at load­ing docks and road­houses. (Par­don me, I just need to duck into the bath­room again.)

The same goes for trail­ers. I still know how to tie a rope and I’m rea­son­ably sure I haven’t com­pletely for­got­ten how to roll and tie a tarp with some de­gree of vis­ual re­spectabil­ity. But that said, give me a cur­tain-sider any day, es­pe­cially one like the Freighter drop-deck trailer equipped with the sen­sa­tional Auto-Hold sys­tem hooked to the Western Star 4964 model in this story.

The thing is, I reckon the life of a long dis­tance truck driver prob­a­bly hasn’t changed much at all. It’s still long hours and short shrift. What have changed most spec­tac­u­larly are the stan­dards of driv­ers and trucks, with the lat­ter com­pen­sat­ing more and more for the for­mer.

So the way I see it, the past is where it be­longs and should only be brought out for spe­cial oc­ca­sions … like vin­tage truck shows and giv­ing Matt Wood an ex­cuse to sat­isfy a spir­i­tual so­journ into the myths of time. Or as some sug­gest, a time when real men drove real trucks, not these big sooks of to­day with all their quiet com­forts, pre­ten­tious power, eru­dite ef­fi­ciency, and gag­gle of gad­gets and giz­mos. And dare I say it, greater re­li­a­bil­ity.

Nah, none of this soft stuff for Woody. At least, not on this oc­ca­sion. He wanted the smell, the sound, the ro­mance of yes­ter­year. His­tory in the roar, so to speak. A man’s truck, where gearshifts are an art, where steer­ing builds bi­ceps, where com­fort is a con­cept, where the dark haze of un­burned fuel belch­ing from twin soot­ers is the stuff of leg­end and lore.

And over a few days on the old Hume High­way he got it all at the helm of Trevor Ell­wood’s lov­ingly re­stored White 4000. Forty years young, a two-stroke screamin’ de­mon un­der the snout, the trick­ery of a 15-speed over­drive box, all the torque of a yo-yo, the turn­ing cir­cle of a Syd­ney ferry, and a claus­tro­pho­bic box for a bunk. Ahh yes, folk­lore at its finest on a strip of road fully de­serv­ing of its Sesame Street so­bri­quet.

Yet to his im­mea­sur­able credit, Matt con­quered it all with skill, ded­i­ca­tion, calm ci­vil­ity and sweaty palms. He had vis­ited the past and emerged proud and pumped. A changed man … un­til!

After about three days, dull­ness in his eyes, left arm hang­ing like limp rope, a wist­ful and some­what sub­dued Woody walked up be­side the Western Star, in­di­cated with the twitch of a fin­ger for the win­dow to be low­ered, looked long­ingly up to the driver’s door and asked gen­tly over the smooth hum of the 15 litre Detroit, “Hey mate, how about I drive the Star for a while?”

I looked down at the de­spair­ing fig­ure, com­pas­sion and char­ity mo­men­tar­ily meld­ing in mu­tual re­spect. “Nah, no chance!”

Poor thing. Not happy man!

Any­way, as he skulked back to the past in a cloud of ver­bal in­vec­tive, it struck me that while the sen­ti­men­tal heart of this ex­er­cise was in­deed the old White and Woody’s long-held quest for a hands-on his­tory les­son, the truly in­spir­ing story is ac­tu­ally Western Star.

After all, White is dead. Long dead, and if not for a few fate­ful in­ter­ven­tions many years ago, Western Star would have most surely fol­lowed the same path to ex­tinc­tion.

The Western Star story is, in fact, a lit­tle like road trans­port it­self; a chron­i­cle of sur­vival and suc­cess de­spite the odds and it is only through a cold, hard look at peo­ple and events of the past that an ac­cu­rate record of Star’s evo­lu­tion be­comes ap­pre­cia­bly clear.

GOOD GEAR

These days, of course, Western Star is a high­pro­file player on the Aus­tralian mar­ket and the rea­sons for that promi­nence are bla­tantly ob­vi­ous in mod­els such as the su­perbly pre­sented 4964 FXT model pro­vided for this pounce into the past and present.

The bulk of the credit for the truck’s ex­cel­lent pre­sen­ta­tion be­longs to Penske Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles’ mar­ket­ing op­er­a­tive and loyal Western Star ad­vo­cate Pat Cook. In typ­i­cal ‘Cookie’ fash­ion, there was noth­ing left to chance and more to the point, lots to like. It was, to put it mildly, spec’d to the max.

Mean­time, only those liv­ing in a cave atop a Mon­go­lian moun­tain would be ignorant of the fact that the key to the ‘star cham­ber’ is these days held by au­to­mo­tive icon and bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man Roger Penske, op­er­at­ing un­der the Penske Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles ti­tle. Fol­low­ing much spec­u­la­tion, it was Penske who in

2013 ac­quired the Aus­tralia and New Zealand op­er­a­tions of Tran­spa­cific’s com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle group — Western Star trucks, MAN trucks and

buses and Den­nis Ea­gle trucks – for a re­ported $219 mil­lion.

Since then, the re­doubtable Mr Penske has also moved into the truck rental busi­ness and taken con­trol of Detroit Diesel in­ter­ests in Aus­tralia and New Zealand, re­nam­ing the engine en­tity Penske Power Sys­tems.

This is, of course, the same Roger Penske who in 1988 took con­trol of Detroit Diesel from Gen­eral Mo­tors and with the then revo­lu­tion­ary Se­ries 60 as the launch pad, mas­ter­minded the engine brand’s spec­tac­u­lar rise to mar­ket might and pro­found prof­its be­fore sell­ing to Daim­ler lit­tle more than a decade later.

We’ll get to a tad more de­tail on Roger Penske’s rel­a­tively re­cent in­volve­ment in Western Star a lit­tle later but for now it shouldn’t sur­prise any­one that the power un­der this par­tic­u­lar Star came from a 14.8 litre Detroit DD15 EGR engine dis­pens­ing a healthy 560hp at 1800rpm and 1850ft-lb of torque at 1200 revs.

At this point it’s worth point­ing out that the lively Detroit ac­tu­ally dis­penses 585hp at the same engine speed as peak torque which sug­gests, of course, that a high level of tenac­ity comes on stream as revs slide back through the range. On this oc­ca­sion though, haul­ing an empty trailer for the en­tirety of the ex­er­cise, the out­fit didn’t even come close to rais­ing a sweat.

What­ever, you don’t need a loaded trailer to ap­pre­ci­ate the finer fea­tures of a truck. It had, for in­stance, been a few years since I’d last been in­side Star’s Strato­sphere sleeper and in the space and com­fort of this 54 inch ver­sion, it took no time at all to re­alise why it re­mains widely re­garded as one of the best bunks in the busi­ness for long dis­tance work.

Like­wise, the over­all fit and fin­ish of the truck were noth­ing short of out­stand­ing while road man­ners and steer­ing qual­ity were sec­ond to none. With Ea­ton’s Ul­trashift-Plus au­to­mated 18-speeder tak­ing care of shift du­ties it was sim­ply a case of sit back and en­joy the ride. Lit­er­ally!

Still, there were some as­pects of this unit which from a per­sonal per­spec­tive smacked of overkill. The truck, for in­stance, was fit­ted with a broad ar­ray of ad­vanced mul­ti­me­dia and telem­at­ics wiz­ardry which may ap­peal to some tastes yet de­mand a vast amount of sys­tem fa­mil­iar­ity.

As for a push but­ton start/stop func­tion, why cre­ate more elec­tronic com­plex­ity when the turn­ing of a key is hardly a fa­tigue-in­duc­ing or phys­i­cally com­pro­mis­ing ef­fort? In ef­fect, where’s the ben­e­fit?

Ben­e­fits were, how­ever, at least ap­par­ent with ex­ter­nal cameras at the back of the cab for hook­ing up, an­other at the front to sight ob­jects hid­den by the ex­pan­sive hood, and blind spot cameras fixed to each side of the hood, all viewed through a screen mounted on top of the dash.

With Ea­ton’s Ul­trashift-Plus au­to­mated 18-speeder tak­ing care of shift du­ties it was sim­ply a case of sit back and en­joy the ride. Lit­er­ally!

TIME­LINES

No doubt about it, Western Star has sure come a long way since the brand was cre­ated in 1967 as the Cana­dian off­shoot of the White Mo­tor Cor­po­ra­tion. It was a clever move by White. Even back then, Cana­dian truck­ers ran big­ger and heav­ier than their US coun­ter­parts and with the ob­vi­ous in­ten­tion of cap­i­tal­is­ing on Canada’s bur­geon­ing min­ing and con­struc­tion tasks, White built a ded­i­cated Western Star fac­tory in Kelowna, Bri­tish Columbia. It wasn’t big by US stan­dards but it was cer­tainly big enough to ser­vice a Cana­dian mar­ket ea­ger for a tougher truck than those com­ing from fac­to­ries be­low the bor­der.

For a decade and more, ev­ery­thing ran along smoothly with Star recog­nised as Canada’s own truck and apart from tak­ing the lion’s share of sales in the heavy end of the busi­ness, build­ing an en­vi­able rep­u­ta­tion for de­pend­abil­ity and strength.

South of the bor­der, how­ever, the news was in­creas­ingly bleak. White was slid­ing deep into an eco­nomic abyss from which there would be no es­cape and by 1980 the once proud and pros­per­ous White Mo­tor Cor­po­ra­tion was ac­quired by Volvo. It was a huge gain for the Swedes, pro­vid­ing an en­trée into the vast

North Amer­i­can mar­ket. It was a death sen­tence for White.

Of course, the news wasn’t great for White in Aus­tralia ei­ther and de­spite the brand’s solid rep­u­ta­tion forged by con­ven­tional mod­els such as the 4000, 9000 and ul­ti­mately the hugely pop­u­lar Road Boss, Volvo had nil in­ter­est in the Aus­tralian op­er­a­tion.

Some Bris­bane-based peo­ple tried valiantly to keep the brand afloat in Aus­tralia but ul­ti­mately, White slid quickly into obliv­ion here as well as the US. Oth­ers, how­ever, had other ideas but we’ll get to that in a mo­ment.

Back in North Amer­ica, Western Star held no ap­peal for Volvo and ef­fec­tively stripped of funds, the Cana­dian op­er­a­tion was sud­denly stranded with de­cid­edly dim prospects. Un­til, that is, a cou­ple of Cana­dian re­source com­pa­nies — Bow Val­ley Re­sources and Nova-Al­berta — saw po­ten­tial in the brand and took con­trol. The truck man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­ness was, how­ever, far out­side their realms of ex­per­tise and over en­sur­ing years Western Star’s ex­tinc­tion was again look­ing likely de­spite the Cana­dian Gov­ern­ment’s on­go­ing ef­forts to find a buyer and pro­tect jobs at the Kelowna fac­tory.

Mean­time, a group of eight for­mer White work­ers in Bris­bane firmly be­lieved Western

Star was a path to a new fu­ture founded on the rep­u­ta­tion of trucks like the Road Boss.

So, in 1983 this col­lec­tion of White-minded men formed Western Star Trucks Aus­tralia with the de­ter­mined ob­jec­tive of as­sem­bling Stars from kits im­ported from Kelowna, putting the trucks to­gether in the same Wa­col fa­cil­ity which even to­day re­mains home to Western Star’s Aus­tralian op­er­a­tion.

Still, it was a slow start. Very slow. The

Aus­tralian mar­ket for heavy-duty trucks was down, com­pe­ti­tion was typ­i­cally fierce and as a com­pletely new name in the game, Western Star strug­gled for busi­ness de­spite its White her­itage. How­ever, the seeds had been sown and as time would re­veal, sur­vival was the first step to ul­ti­mate suc­cess.

In Western Star’s case, the key to both — sur­vival and suc­cess — came to lay in the hands of Bris­bane-based busi­ness mag­nate and Tran­spa­cific founder Terry Pe­abody. A fierce busi­ness­man with a rep­u­ta­tion for bru­tal deal­ings, Pe­abody was an early sup­porter and even­tual owner of the Western Star ven­ture in Aus­tralia and like or loathe him, he would ul­ti­mately be­come the brand’s saviour both here and in Canada.

By the early ’90s Western Star’s Cana­dian op­er­a­tion was in dire straits. No doubt keen to pro­tect his Aus­tralian in­vest­ment, Terry Pe­abody pounced with split sec­ond tim­ing on the eve of

to­tal col­lapse to buy the Western Star busi­ness in its en­tirety at what was re­puted to be a bar­gain base­ment price. In­deed, word has it the Cana­dian Gov­ern­ment and Terry Pe­abody each con­trib­uted $10 mil­lion to save the busi­ness, with Pe­abody tak­ing full own­er­ship and quickly re­coup­ing his out­lay in op­er­at­ing in­come.

Crit­i­cally, the deal also came with stel­lar guar­an­tees of sup­port from the Cana­dian Gov­ern­ment. Nice!

From here on, Western Star was on a roll and by 1992 the Aus­tralian assem­bly op­er­a­tion was be­ing grad­u­ally re­placed by fully im­ported trucks built with full ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the de­mands of the Aus­tralian mar­ket.

Sur­pris­ing to some, Terry Pe­abody re­vealed a de­tailed un­der­stand­ing and in­tense pas­sion for truck man­u­fac­tur­ing, turn­ing the en­tire Western Star op­er­a­tion and par­tic­u­larly the Kelowna man­u­fac­tur­ing plant into an in­cred­i­bly ef­fi­cient and prof­itable en­tity. Im­por­tantly, re­search and de­vel­op­ment in­vest­ment were high on Pe­abody’s agenda, cli­max­ing with the 1998 de­but of the much-ap­plauded Con­stel­la­tion cab and later, the first of the Strato­sphere sleep­ers.

Per­haps most im­por­tant of all though, he recog­nised prod­uct qual­ity and pro­duc­tion ef­fi­ciency as the keys to the brand’s on­go­ing vi­a­bil­ity in North Amer­ica and vi­tal ex­port mar­kets such as Aus­tralia.

So whether he’s revered or re­viled, there’s no es­cap­ing the fact that Terry Pe­abody’s skill at not just sav­ing Western Star as a cus­tom-builder but mak­ing it an en­tirely vi­able busi­ness was a phe­nom­e­nal achieve­ment.

Even so, Western Star’s Pe­abody era wasn’t with­out its wob­bly bits, the most ob­vi­ous be­ing a cou­ple of failed at­tempts in the early to mid ’90s to cash in on the lo­cal de­mand for B-dou­ble cab-overs. Util­is­ing his short-lived re­la­tion­ships with DAF and later ERF, lo­cally de­vel­oped mod­els known as the Western Star 1064 Se­ries (DAF) and Western Star Com­man­der 7564 (ERF) came and went with­out rais­ing much more than a rip­ple of in­ter­est. To some, in­clud­ing me, they were an in­sult to the brand.

Be­hind the scenes though, far big­ger busi­ness was brew­ing. Terry Pe­abody is a busi­ness­man first and fore­most and with the cen­tury draw­ing to a close, ru­mours cir­cu­lated that Freight­liner’s enig­matic US chief Jim Hebe had Western Star on his shop­ping list. In an ex­clu­sive in­ter­view in his Kelowna of­fice late in 1998, Pe­abody told me that yes, he had dis­cussed the sale of Western Star to Freight­liner but right at that mo­ment, Hebe hadn’t come up with the right sort of money.

With­out too much sur­prise given Jim Hebe’s seem­ingly in­sa­tiable ap­petite for ac­qui­si­tions, the right money even­tu­ally ar­rived (a cool US$690 mil­lion) in Septem­ber 2000 and from that point on, Western Star was part of Daim­ler’s bal­loon­ing North Amer­i­can em­pire.

There was, how­ever, one gi­ant ad­den­dum to the deal which still shocks the socks off some Daim­ler ex­ec­u­tives: Pe­abody was al­lowed to re­fund a rel­a­tively small per­cent­age of the pur­chase price — said to be be­tween five and 10 per­cent — to keep con­trol of the Aus­tralian and New Zealand op­er­a­tions of Western Star. From any an­gle it was a ridicu­lous de­ci­sion by Daim­ler, ef­fec­tively mak­ing Star a com­peti­tor rather than col­league of Freight­liner in Aus­tralia. The only one laugh­ing was Terry Pe­abody, all the way to the bank.

That aside, Daim­ler didn’t waste any time ra­tio­nal­is­ing Western Star’s North Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ing op­er­a­tion. Fore­most on the hit list was the Kelowna fac­tory. This re­mark­ably ef­fi­cient fa­cil­ity had been the brand’s body and soul since the late ’60s but was even­tu­ally aban­doned in favour of an ex­ist­ing plant at Freight­liner’s home base in Port­land, Ore­gon.

From here on the Western Star story set­tles into chap­ters char­ac­terised by sta­bil­ity and steady growth, with the Aus­tralian mar­ket con­tin­u­ing to play a crit­i­cal role in the brand’s suc­cess. Yet with Freight­liner as the high vol­ume flag­ship of Daim­ler’s con­ven­tional truck range and the sub­se­quent cre­ation of the Ster­ling brand fol­low­ing Daim­ler’s pur­chase of Ford’s heavy truck busi­ness, it was easy to form the scep­ti­cal view that Western Star was be­com­ing some­thing of a poor cousin.

That view, how­ever, was smashed into obliv­ion in late 2008 when Ster­ling was dumped from Daim­ler’s ar­moury and Western Star re­tained. Again, the Aus­tralian mar­ket’s con­tri­bu­tion was a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in Western Star’s con­tin­u­ing sta­tus as a re­spected cus­tom-builder within Daim­ler. As one se­nior man­ager at the Port­land plant told me in late 2012, “We have be­come very good at right­hand-drive and there have been times when it has been crit­i­cal to the work­load of this fac­tory.”

Never more than dur­ing the Global Fi­nan­cial Cri­sis of 2007 and 2008 when, “We re­ally needed Aus­tralia then. Big time!”

NEW ERA

Even so, from around 2010 on­wards, things started to change dra­mat­i­cally at Western Star Trucks Aus­tralia. Terry Pe­abody was los­ing his grip on con­trol of Tran­spa­cific and like­wise, the com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle group which had Western Star as its main at­trac­tion. Sure, he re­mains a ma­jor share­holder in Tran­spa­cific but these days has no op­er­a­tional or man­age­ment in­put.

For­tu­nately, he had at least gath­ered a highly pro­fes­sional and ded­i­cated man­age­ment team to guide Western Star and its MAN and Den­nis Ea­gle sta­ble­mates. The thing is though, Tran­spa­cific is fun­da­men­tally a re­sources and waste man­age­ment con­glom­er­ate, so with­out Pe­abody’s hands-on pas­sion and power to keep the com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle group within Tran­spa­cific’s do­main, the truck busi­ness be­came in­creas­ingly for­eign to the com­pany’s core ac­tiv­i­ties.

En­ter Roger Penske!

On July 29, 2013, it was an­nounced that the Penske Au­to­mo­tive Group would ac­quire Tran­spa­cific’s com­mer­cial ve­hi­cle group (CVG).

As al­ready men­tioned, ru­mours of Penske’s in­ter­est had been rife for some time but there was also spec­u­la­tion Terry Pe­abody, a bil­lion­aire buddy of Roger Penske’s, was a silent part­ner in the deal.

The only way to find out for sure was to go to the man him­self and it was an em­phatic Terry Pe­abody who de­nied any fi­nan­cial in­volve­ment in the pur­chase, though he did con­firm that he and Roger Penske had dis­cussed the deal long be­fore the July 29 an­nounce­ment.

“Roger did dis­cuss with me his plans for the ac­qui­si­tion but I have no fi­nan­cial in­ter­est,”

Terry Pe­abody told me in a phone con­ver­sa­tion soon after the Penske an­nounce­ment. “Yes, I did con­sider it (hav­ing a stake in the deal) but Roger

has his own agenda which I be­lieve will be very good for the group.”

Re­tain­ing a strong at­tach­ment to the brand (un­der­stand­able given his achieve­ments with Western Star), Pe­abody strongly en­dorsed the Penske pur­chase say­ing, “Roger Penske is one of the most ac­com­plished busi­ness peo­ple I know and I’m very pleased this trans­ac­tion has taken place.

“It puts Western Star in great hands.”

How­ever, whereas Terry Pe­abody’s tim­ing in ac­quir­ing Western Star in 1991 had been pin­point per­fect, Roger Penske’s tim­ing ap­pears to have been the ex­act op­po­site as a num­ber of fac­tors con­spired to make life ex­tremely tough for Penske Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles.

The big­gest hit of all was the Aussie dol­lar’s heavy drop in value against the US green­back, tak­ing the gloss off a Star which in sales terms had been shin­ing par­tic­u­larly bright over the pre­vi­ous few years.

Sud­denly, costs ex­ploded and mar­gins im­ploded, and it has largely been that way ever since. The stats tell the story loud and clear:

In 2012, Western Star fin­ished the year with strong sales of more than 1000 trucks and a heavy-duty mar­ket per­cent­age of 8.8 per­cent.

In 2013, the year Penske moved in, a re­spectable 950 trucks were sold for a mar­ket take of 8.5 per­cent.

The next year, a dis­ap­point­ing 658 Western Stars were sold for a medi­ocre slice of 6.1 per­cent of the heavy-duty sec­tor.

It was no­tice­ably worse last year with just 501 sales and a mod­est 5.1 per­cent share.

Un­for­tu­nately, 2016 is shap­ing up as a poor year for heavy-duty truck sales and at the end of the first quar­ter just 102 Western Stars had been de­liv­ered, an­nu­al­is­ing to a tad over 400 sales for the year.

They are fig­ures which must surely ran­kle a man fa­mous for fis­cal acu­men.

Still, only a supreme pes­simist or some­one with no knowl­edge of Roger Penske’s amaz­ing record of suc­cess in a mul­ti­tude of au­to­mo­tive and busi­ness en­deav­ours would dare sug­gest that Western Star’s Aus­tralian op­er­a­tion is in dire straits.

It begs the ques­tion though, what will — or rather, can — Roger Penske do to slow the slide?

It’s a crit­i­cal ques­tion for Penske Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles and make no mis­take, the re­sponse will have ram­i­fi­ca­tions stretch­ing all the way to Port­land, Ore­gon.

Un­for­tu­nately, Mr Penske has been ex­tremely elu­sive since the ac­qui­si­tion de­spite numer­ous trips to Aus­tralia and sev­eral re­quests for in­ter­view. Hope­fully, an up­com­ing visit will pro­vide the op­por­tu­nity for at least a cou­ple of ques­tions.

In the mean­time, there can be no ques­tion Roger Penske has very se­ri­ous in­ten­tions for the Aus­tralian mar­ket and equally, Western

Star will play a vi­tal part in the Penske agenda … what­ever the ul­ti­mate goal of that agenda may be.

For now, the next chap­ter in the Star story is still be­ing crafted and as al­ways, time will tell.

The only cer­tainty is that to­day’s events will soon enough be to­mor­row’s past.

Above: The Old timer and the young gun — the 1975 White 4000 up against the lat­est

4964 FXT Western Star head­ing along the old Hume High­way south of Syd­ney

Head to head: Truck driv­ing is still long hours and short shrift, but at least trucks and trail­ers have come a long, long way in the 40 years sep­a­rat­ing the lat­est Western Star 4964 FXT from Trevor Ell­wood’s 1975 White 4000

Make/ model

Engine Out­puts Trans Rear axle

Front axle

Rear susp

Front susp

Sleeper Fuel Wheels Tyre Western Star 4964FXT

DD15 EGR 14.8 litres dis­place­ment

Power 560hp at 1800rpm; torque 1850ft-lb at 1200 rpm

Ea­ton Fuller 18-speed over­drive Ul­trashiftPlus au­to­mated with hill start aid and auto trac­tion con­trol

Meri tor RT46-160GP drive tan­dem; 4.3:1 fi­nal drive ra­tio

Mer­i­tor MFS-16-122A; ca­pac­ity 7.25 tonnes (16,000lb)

Air­liner airbag 20.8 tonnes (46,000lb) ca­pac­ity

Mer­i­tor ta­per-leaf

7.25 tonnes (16,000lb) ca­pac­ity

Western Star Strato­sphere 54 inch hi-rise

Four x 473 litre round alu­minium tanks

Al­coa 10-stud alu­minium discs

Front – Miche­lin Mul­ti­way XZE 295/80R 22.5; Rear – Miche­lin Mul­ti­way D 11R22.5

Above: Shin­ing Star. Big on bling, Western Star 4964 FXT cuts a fine fig­ure on the open road

1. Terry Pe­abody. Tough busi­ness­man who not only saved Western Star from ex­tinc­tion but built it into a world-class cus­tom-builder. With­out his in­volve­ment, Western Star would to­day be like White … dead! 2. Roger Penske. One of the world’s great­est au­to­mo­tive busi­ness­men, his Penske Com­mer­cial Ve­hi­cles op­er­a­tion now con­trols Western Star’s in­ter­ests in Aus­tralia and New Zealand. But so far, it hasn’t been an easy road

Above: Smokin! Roarin’ up Ra­zor­back with twin soot­ers steamin’, Trevor Ell­wood’s nicely re­stored White 4000 is a flashback to days long gone in more ways than one

3. On the in­side. There was plenty to like and it was a case of just sit back and en­joy the ride. Ul­trashift-Plus au­to­mated trans­mis­sion makes life easy but po­si­tion of dash-mounted con­trol panel didn’t in­spire. Still, Strato­sphere sleeper re­mains one of the best in the busi­ness

4. It’s not just trucks that have come a long way. The trailer world has also un­der­gone ma­jor devel­op­ments, typ­i­fied per­haps by this Freighter drop-deck with the in­no­va­tive Auto-Hold sys­tem

White-minded men. In 1983 these eight for­mer em­ploy­ees of White were re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing Western Star to Aus­tralia. The man with the tie is Bob Shand, for­mer gen­eral man­ager of Western Star Trucks Aus­tralia

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