Blitz is still a battler
This war machine just keeps on trucking, writes James Stanford
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.