Grey nomad’s ‘78 In­ter­na­tional TranStar

A re­built ’ 78 In­ter­na­tional TranStar has taken its truckie owner across to what is con­sid­ered in the in­dus­try as the ‘dark side’ – the world of the grey nomad. War­ren Aitken writes

Deals on Wheels - - CONTENTS -

Let’s be hon­est here, we all have an au­to­matic

ten­sion in­crease when some­one talks about car­a­vans, mo­torhomes, grey no­mads or just

‘that time of the year again’. We also must ad­mit, though, see­ing this amaz­ing coun­try and all its sights are on our must-do list.

The idea of pulling up to watch a stun­ning sun­set and en­joy a cold bev­er­age in a re­mote quiet place, away from the hus­tle and bus­tle of the city life, the con­stant stream of tech­nol­ogy or the an­noy­ing neigh­bours is ex­tremely ap­peal­ing. So how do you ac­com­plish that if you don’t

want to buy a four-wheel drive and do 87km/h ev­ery­where ex­cept on over­tak­ing lanes?

Well, Tony and Anne Kuchel have come up with the an­swer. Not only that, but in their 1978

In­ter­na­tional TranStar they’ve nailed it, re­in­forced it and added a high-gloss fin­ish to the whole idea of mo­torhom­ing.

Tony Kuchel is the man be­hind the wheel of this stun­ningly trans­formed In­ter­na­tional Transtar.

For those of you lucky enough to be from South Aus­tralia’s stun­ning Barossa Val­ley, the Kuchel name will be ex­tremely fa­mil­iar.

Kuchel Con­trac­tors has a huge de­pot just off the Sturt High­way in the cen­tre of the Barossa. In­side the de­pot you will first no­tice the iconic red, white and blue Western Stars the com­pany has be­come known for. How­ever, you can also grab a truck or trailer-load of a va­ri­ety of land­scap­ing sup­plies. There’s also a pub­lic li­censed weigh­bridge on site and, most im­por­tantly, there is an amaz­ing work­shop where a team of ex­tremely ded­i­cated and skilled peo­ple are turn­ing out some ex­tremely cool re­builds. A case in point – the Kuchel’s TranStar mo­tor home.

Born and bred in the Barossa, Tony Kuchel has been knee-deep in the fam­ily busi­ness for as long as he can re­mem­ber. His dad Max be­gan Kuchel Con­trac­tors in 1950 with a KB6

In­ter­na­tional tip­per, haul­ing what­ever he could to pay the bills. The work ethic Tony Kuchel learned from his fa­ther had him itch­ing to leave school and start get­ting his hands dirty as soon as he could. “Dad told me I can’t leave school till I get an ap­pren­tice­ship,” he re­calls. “So I rode my bike into town and got one.”

At that time his push­bike got him as far as the lo­cal panel beat­ing shop, where he com­pleted his ap­pren­tice­ship. His down­time at that stage was filled up work­ing with his dad. Even­tu­ally

that work sched­ule was re­versed and Kuchel was driv­ing full-time for Kuchel Con­trac­tors, as well as do­ing paint and panel work in his own down­time. Even­ings and week­ends were spent do­ing odd jobs for peo­ple in­clud­ing the lo­cal In­ter­na­tional deal­er­ship that the Kuchels reg­u­larly fre­quented. “I’d bring one home in the week­end, work on it

for a few weeks, take it back and they’d give me an­other one,” Kuchel ex­plains.

“A bit of ex­tra pocket money. I was young; I just worked all the time.”

It’s still my favourite truck to drive, ahead of the Ken­worths and ’Stars.


Kuchel Con­trac­tors’ for­ma­tive years saw it cart­ing any­thing, any­where it could. The com­pany’s ver­sa­til­ity and adapt­abil­ity kept the wheels turn­ing. How­ever, there wasn’t a lot of di­ver­sity in the fleet with the In­ter­na­tional brand dom­i­nat­ing the yard as it did in much of Aus­tralia dur­ing that pe­riod.

The In­ter­na­tion­als were an ob­vi­ous choice for the work Kuchel was do­ing, not just be­cause there was a lo­cal dealer up the road but be­cause they were a tough, hard-work­ing truck. Kuchels were able to set them up how they needed them as well.

Kuchel in­forms me that back in those days, when you or­dered a truck, “all you got was the cab and chas­sis, not even mud­guards. Any­thing else you wanted you had to or­gan­ise.” So fit­ting up and paint­ing be­came an in-house op­er­a­tion. Work­ing on the In­ter­na­tion­als, as well as driv­ing them, was where Kuchel’s love for the brand flour­ished. Even now, 40 years af­ter he got be­hind the wheel of a brand new 1978 Transtar, he con­fesses “it’s still my favourite truck to drive, ahead of the Ken­worths and ’Stars”.

He also ad­mits that un­like the lux­ury that is his Transtar now, the new one in 1978 came only as a day cab.

“Ev­ery­thing was day cab then; if you went away you just slept across the seat,” he re­calls.

Kuchel spent a lot of time with his 4200

Transtar in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Even af­ter he took over the man­ager’s role when his dad re­tired, he con­tin­ued to lead the race for kilo­me­tres cov­ered.

As the years evolved, so did the struc­ture of the com­pany. One change was the demise of the In­ter­na­tional brand within the fleet and the rise of the sim­i­larly staunch Western Star bon­net. An­other change was the busi­ness model the com­pany changed to, from just a trans­port com­pany to a land­scape prod­uct sup­plier, and to a work­shop

and restora­tion spe­cial­ist. All this evolved as Tony Kuchel adapted to the chang­ing mar­ket as well as the in­tro­duc­tion of more of the Kuchel clan.

Tony and Anne’s three kids have all be­come an in­te­gral part of the fam­ily busi­ness and its suc­cess. All three have brought a dif­fer­ent yet ex­tremely use­ful skillset to the team. Like their dad, they mas­tered their own spe­cial­ties.

Ja­cob is a qual­i­fied diesel me­chanic, hav­ing done his ap­pren­tice­ship at the lo­cal Western Star deal­er­ship. He then moved to the fitout side and was set­ting up all the new Stars for de­liv­ery. Jor­dan is the bright spark of the trio (sorry, ‘sparky’ is what I meant to say). Jor­dan’s

ap­pren­tice­ship was in the auto elec­tri­cal side of the work­shop.

For those wor­ried that with Tony on the road or in the of­fice, the paint­ing side of the fam­ily skill list was va­cant, that’s where daugh­ter Ken­dall steps in. If you check out the fan­tas­tic air­brush work on the doors of the camper, you will see she hasn’t just fol­lowed in her dad’s foot­steps, she has over­taken him when it comes to the cre­ative side.


With the com­pany in ex­tremely ca­pa­ble hands, the keys to the big comfy of­fice seat were handed over to Ja­cob re­cently as Tony Kuchel be­gan look­ing at semi-re­tire­ment.

Kuchel had al­ways wanted to re­store the orig­i­nal 1978 In­ter­na­tional that he had. Un­for­tu­nately, af­ter a great deal of hunt­ing, he dis­cov­ered it had been wrecked. In­stead he found an iden­ti­cal one. Although it too was a wreck, it was per­fect for a restora­tion. The truck

had only just been dereg­is­tered and re­tired in the mid-2000s, show­ing just how tough the old In­ters were. The truck was pur­chased and taken back

to Kuchel’s work­shop where the restora­tion took place. All three kids had a hand in the job, as well as Tony.

The camper body is also a Kuchel build. Orig­i­nally it had been built to sit be­hind the

Kuchel C600 Ford which was used when the team went to shows or for pro­mo­tional out­ings. It was re­mod­elled and moved af­ter Tony’s pro­posal to Anne of “just a sleeper bunk be­hind the C600” about 12 years ago was met with a firm “umm, no!”

The idea was to make the setup com­pletely self­suf­fi­cient. Although the in­ten­tion was al­ways to use it to travel the coun­try vis­it­ing fam­ily, friends and cus­tomers, Tony Kuchel wanted some­thing where he wasn’t re­liant on camp­grounds. He openly jokes, “I don’t like car­a­van­ners.” His

truckie roots may play a role in that.

The in­te­rior is equipped with a fully fit­ted kitchen, bath­room and laun­dry, dou­ble bed as

Above: Tony and Anne Kuchel and their mo­bile mo­tel room-haul­ing ’78 In­ter­na­tional TranStar

Above: The Kuchels have al­ways pre­ferred In­ter­na­tion­als be­cause they’re tough, hard­work­ing trucks

Above: Tony wipes the last bit of dust from the re­built De­troit Diesel se­ries 71 engine be­fore the photo shoot

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