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
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