Blitz is still a bat­tler

This war ma­chine just keeps on truck­ing, writes James Stan­ford

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Big Wheels -

SOME in­ter­est­ing things were left be­hind in Aus­tralia af­ter World War II. If you be­lieve the sto­ries, sev­eral gi­ant black cats the Amer­i­cans kept as mas­cots were set free and their de­scen­dants still roam parts of the coun­try.

A huge num­ber of mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles were also left here be­cause it just wasn’t worth the ef­fort to take them back across the Pa­cific to North Amer­ica.

One of the most plen­ti­ful mil­i­tary ma­chines was the Chevro­let Blitz, a multi-pur­pose wartime in­fantry truck made in Canada. They were built to Bri­tish stan­dards, which in­cluded a snub nose in or­der to fit more on each ship.

Built by Chevro­let and Ford, these trucks pro­vided a cru­cial troop-mov­ing role dur­ing the war and were used in the Bat­tle of the Philip­pines, the Rus­sian front, the in­va­sion of Italy and Ger­many, in Burma and Aus­tralia.

They were rough and rugged and sold off at auc­tions in great num­bers af­ter the fight­ing was fin­ished, which meant you could snap one up at a good price. Log­gers were par­tic­u­larly fond of the Blitz trucks.

One par­tic­u­lar 1944 Blitz that came to Aus­tralia might not have seen ac­tive duty dur­ing the war, but it cer­tainly worked hard af­ter­wards.

Den­nis ‘‘Slim’’ Francis found the bat­tered old truck up north of Rock­hamp­ton in Queens­land four years ago, where it was still be­ing used to cart wood.

‘‘This bloke in the tim­ber game was us­ing it to cart sleep­ers and it still had a winch and ev­ery­thing on the back,’’ Slim says.

‘‘It was driv­able. It was rough but still solid. I knew I could still do some­thing with it.’’

Slim, 76, was look­ing for a new project. He’d done-up old cars, but thought a crack at restor­ing a truck would be nice.

‘‘When I was a young bloke I was in the tim­ber game and we used a Blitz, so I thought I’d do up one of them,’’ he says.

Slim’s Blitz is a good-look­ing ma­chine fit­ted out true to the orig­i­nal, which means it is re­mark­ably ba­sic but neat and tidy.

It took a fair bit to bring it back from the brink of be­ing scrapped.

‘‘I had to do a lot of work, a few new pan­els. Some of the pan­els sur­vived. They were badly dam­aged but a sheet­metal place was able to straighten some of them out.’’

The orig­i­nal petrol Chevro­let en­gine is happy lug­ging away but isn’t keen to rev. The orig­i­nal four­speed gear­box has been re­placed with a more mod­ern five-speed. There are no crea­ture com­forts in the cabin and it is hard work.

And what’s the Blitz like to drive?

‘‘Aw­ful,’’ Slim says. ‘‘It’s rough, re­ally, re­ally rough.’’

The Blitz is semi-re­tired af­ter all that hard work. Slim takes it out to var­i­ous shows in Queens­land, usu­ally cart­ing it on the back of a more com­fort­able Ja­panese truck.

He did take it re­cently on a 24km pa­rade run as part of the Na­tional Road Trans­port Hall of Fame Re­union in Alice Springs, which was quite a chal­lenge.

‘‘I was a bit concerned tak­ing it on that trip. That is the long­est I’ve been in it, but it made it back all right,’’ Slim says.

Slim has set up his Blitz with a full suite of cross-saws, early chain­saws and axes. When he started off ev­ery­one used cross-cut saws, so you can imag­ine his re­lief when chain­saws were in­tro­duced— even if they weighed up to 60kg and took two blokes to work them.

The Blitz trucks were of­ten used to col­lect trees that had been felled and take them ei­ther to a cen­tral col­lec­tion point in the for­est or to a lo­cal mill.

‘‘We never had brakes. Go­ing over all the branches would pull all the hy­draulic lines off, so you would keep your ( drive­shaft-mounted) hand­brake in re­ally good or­der,’’ Slim says.

‘‘The trailer had vac­uum brakes, but they weren’t great. There was no dan­ger out in the bush be­cause there was no one else there, but you did have to keep your wits about you on the high­way.’’

Old troop­ers: Den­nis ‘‘Slim’’ Francis (be­low) re­stored this Chevro­let Blitz.

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