Classic Deals: Mack-nificent

By: Warren Aitken


The spirit of adventure is embodied by a 1976 R700 Mack. Lovingly restored to its former glory, this truck – the star of many a yarn over the decades – isn’t finished yet.

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Do you want to know the best thing about Roger Preston’s 1976 R700 Mack? It’s the people; the family that now own it again and the man who restored it. Actually, if I’m really honest, the best thing about it is the standard of work that’s gone into the restoration – it’s absolutely top shelf.

Nope, sorry, let me change my mind again. It’s not the people or the quality of work; it’s the fact that a 43-year-old truck can still have that ‘new truck’ smell. That is incredibly impressive.

There was an enterprising approach to loading trucks back in the ‘70s

Oh who am I kidding, the best thing about Roger Preston’s R700 is the unforgettable sound of the air start – every truck fan knows it, every Mack fan yearns to hear it and on the day I shot this beauty I unashamedly got Roger to move the truck more often than I should have, not to ‘chase the light’ or ‘get a better angle’ as I told him. It was just to hear that Mack-nificant air start whistle. So yes, the best thing is definitely the air start. For the record though, the people, the quality of work and the smell all make the top five.

Enough about the reassuring resonance released every time an old Mack starts up (sorry but it really does do it for me). Let’s move onto the people behind this immaculate rig – the man who has restored it to a condition that defies the truck’s 43 years of hard living, Glen Beutel, and the family who’s trucking empire was built on the back of this 375hp (280kW) Trojan of a workhorse: the Prestons.

A rebuilt 866 375hp engine was part of the restoration

If starting at the very beginning was good enough for Mary Poppins, it’s good enough for me. Roger Preston is the man behind Sydney-Darwin Heavy Haulage, a company he started back in 1974 when he found being a ‘copper’ in the ‘70s just wasn’t challenging enough.

Before the police force relocated him to Sydney, Roger had been keeping the folks in Dubbo under control. He supplemented his income in those days by driving trucks for local companies after hours, even using his holidays to run to Darwin occasionally in an old Deutz (you may want to Google those, they do not look comfortable). This little dose of the trucking life was enough for Roger to put some serious research into starting his own company when the decision was made to leave the police force.

The Spirit of Adventure II passed through several hands over the years before ending up with Glen Beutel

One of the factors behind not just Roger’s, but the Preston family in general’s, success over the years is preparation. Roger investigated everything about the industry, running a truck, running a business, running from Sydney to Darwin, everything. So when he went to the bank for a loan to purchase a brand-new Mack truck and 36-foot Fruehauf trailer, they had no problems fronting him the money.

SPIRIT OF ADVENTURE

In 1974, with a brand-new 237hp (177kW) R600, a toolbox full of canned food and a single trailer stacked with timber, Roger headed for Darwin.

"After I’d been at it for about three weeks," says Roger, "I realised honestly I knew f#@k all! So, I had to learn, really quick." And he did.

Crediting the likes of Ray and Dudley Miller of Sydney-Mt Isa Transport, and Harry Daniels in Sydney, for helping him with lots of answers to his questions, Roger dove head first into his trucking dreams.

The arrival in 1976 of the 375hp R700, named ‘Spirit of Adventure II’, came about because of Roger’s inability to count. Now I’m not trying to get anyone into trouble as there were a lot of people in the ‘70s that couldn’t count, especially when it came to addition and the adding up of weights that were going on their trailers.

Note the vertical stereo, which Glen searched around the world for

Roger’s poor addition skills meant the 10-speed box behind the 275hp engine was about two gears short of getting Roger over the hills between Katherine and Darwin. Mack got involved and said they would build a truck that would get the job done for Roger and so the R700 arrived.

It was this truck that Roger credits as the foundation on which he built his trucking empire and that would eventually lead to his induction into the Transport Hall of Fame.

More than that though, it was a symbol of the strength of his family. When school holidays rolled around the first one in the truck was always Roger’s son, Rod.

"It’s a symbol of a lot of things for our family," Rod tells me, 43 years after he first joined his dad in a two-week journey to Darwin. "He was the best provider, the best dad. We never went without because he worked bloody hard!"

Rod adds that it’s not just what Roger did in that truck, but it’s what he taught the kids. "He taught us all a good work ethic. That’s a Preston trait. We all know how to make a mile."

The Prestons were featured in the Mack Trucks Bulldog Bulletin with their new R797RS

It was those school holiday trips where Rod learned the ropes and earned his stripes. He learned everything from exhaust brakes to maxi brakes, rolling tarps to tying ropes on his trips in the R700. He also admits his dad took every opportunity to stitch him up as well.

"He would say ‘on this trip all the tyres down the left-hand side of the road train are yours, I’ll look after the right-hand side’. I thought that’s a fair deal, trouble was all the potholes and shit were on the left side." A hearty laugh comes from Roger as Rod recalls this tale.


 Read about the inaugural Tranzmile Truck of the Year, here


It wasn’t all grunt work though; Rod also learnt to drive in the R700. Though that tale also evokes another burst of laughter from all of us. While Rod had his fair share of moving the truck around the yard in Sydney it was the seven lane-wide sand track out of Cunnamulla where Roger finally let Rod scratch the driving itch and get some road-train experience. Not old enough to drink and hardly able to see over the dash Rod got his chance and after cleaning a few teeth he had the V8 purring. All went well until Rod cried out, "shit dad, here comes a police car what do I do?" In typical Roger fashion he instructed Rod to give him a big wave. He did, so did the cop, and Rod relaxed!

The original bull-bar, bonnet and dash were used

The next trip up, however, Roger ran into the local at Wyandra where the cop politely asked if Roger had had any issues with his air-ride seat on his last run.

"Christ you’ve got good eyes," Roger replied, "yeah the valve shit itself and I couldn’t pump it up." The cop’s reply was a knowing "yeah, I thought something like that must have happened."

ON THE TRAIL

There were countless stories like these that flowed freely as we discussed the era that formed the Preston legacy, everything from the rolling apple and inconsiderate cow that resulted in ‘The Spirit of Adventure II’ being rebuilt in 1978 after a rollover, to Roger’s ingenious four-axle flattop that eventually got ordered off the road for being well ahead of its time. There are the MasterChef concoctions that were created after all Roger’s tinned food had their labels worn off bouncing around in the toolbox, and the tour of the transport office in the Northern Territory to show Roger his photo in the 10 ‘most wanted’ list. The stories are endless and the one thing that binds them all is the R700.

The Preston legacy lives on. Left to right: Glen Beutal, Roger Preston, Rod Preston with Warwick Preston

The truck was eventually released from its hard life and headed off for more adventures. Its whereabouts changed as often as its configuration. In 2009 the hunt for the old girl began after a few beers on a Friday night. A bit of a nostalgic night ended up with a plan to find the R700. Like all beer-fuelled plans they sound easier than they are and it was another three years before a lead finally panned out and the truck was located in Alpha, Queensland.

Due to unforeseen circumstances it was another year before Roger and Rod made it up there to check out their old ‘Spirit of Adventure.’ As expected, plans went array again. When the Prestons arrived they found it had been sold to a chap in Toowoomba. That chap was Glen Beutel. While originally disappointed Rod quickly informs me, "it turned out for the better because Glen is the best restorer that I’ve ever seen".

The new sleeper was sourced out of Windora

And so we introduce the main instigator in the resurrection of this stunning R700: Glen Beutel. Glen was bitten by the Bulldog passion at a very young age and thankfully never recovered. His dad had Macks, his brothers and uncles all had Macks. With his road train he drove his share as well.

At a young age he applied for an apprentice role at Mack in Brisbane but missed out as they’d already filled their quota, so instead Glen opted for a carpentry apprenticeship. With a knack for, and an interest in, restoration Glen was always on the hunt for projects. His self-taught skills grew with every project he undertook. Starting with the rebuild of a genuine Flintstone Mack and working his way through to the restoration of an original Bicentennial Mack. It was this truck that began the rapid interest in Glen’s skills, and it wasn’t long before he was called on for more customer restorations. In fact, three Bicentennials later, including one for Mack Tucks itself, and Glen was the go-to man for Mack restorations.

At Roger’s request the interior was repainted gloss just to make it easier to clean

His love of the bulldog breed translated into a meticulous job on every build, with an eye for detail and passion for perfection resulting in some outstanding builds. You now understand why Rod was pleased to hear the old family truck had been bought by Glen.

Glen’s purchase of the R700 was a must for him, he’d always wanted to restore one but they’re harder to find than a straight banana. When he finally tracked one down, he confirmed that the build number and chassis was the same one that had rolled off the assembly line in 1976 and had been delivered to Roger Preston. Glen was sold, actually the truck was sold, but you get the point.

It came to be that not long after Roger and Rod Preston found out they’d been beaten to the post at Alpha they received a phone call from Glen, introducing himself and informing them of his desire to restore their old truck. The Prestons were stoked to say the least and offered to assist Glen anyway they could as Roger still retained all the paperwork associated with the truck since its purchase. Build sheets, purchase orders, parts information, it was all there for Glen to borrow and use to make the restoration accurate.

Bear in mind, this was a mammoth effort. In fact, the project took close to three years. The poor ‘Spirit of Adventure II’ was a bit more like ‘Epitaph of the Overworked’ when Glen bought it. The colour was gone, the sleeper was gone, the cab had more rust than walls in some parts. Even the trusty 866 375hp engine had been removed and replaced with a Cat motor.

To see the photos now you have to admire the enormity of what Glen was able to achieve. The big jobs included having to replace the big yellow engine with a rebuilt 866 that Rod had managed to track down. The cab was so far gone it had to be replaced, as well as a new sleeper sourced out of Windora. The R700 still had the two original front fuel tanks but Glen had to find the others. The original bull-bar, bonnet and dash were used so were the original chassis rails, gearbox and diffs.

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Glen had the truck repainted in Roger’s GMH Eden blue and had it all reupholstered as new. At Roger’s request the interior was repainted gloss just to make it easier to clean and aside from Glen’s personal touch of fitting a Pearl craft steering wheel the truck looks the same as the day Roger picked it up.

Not to hammer on about the perfectionist touch in Glen’s work, because the dressed bolts right around speak for that, but I would like to point out a special interior feature of Roger’s R700. It was the first to come out with a vertical Mack stereo, a feature that Glen searched around the world to replace. That, my friends, is dedication to a task.

When Glen finished the truck in early 2018, Roger and Rod came up for its unveiling. The result left Roger, a man with more stories than a tabloid newspaper, speechless. He was awestruck. It was a great privilege for me to be there when Rod brought his father up to Toowoomba again. This time more reluctantly, as Roger was there to drive the truck one last time and deliver it down south to the customer that had bought it from Glen. Little did he know that the customer was his son Rod!  When Rod handed him the keys it was a true privilege to see the emotion that a forty-three-year-old 375hp truck can evoke from a man who’s seen and done nearly everything. The smile on Rod’s face as well as the fact that he finally got one over his old man was summed up with his comments when he passed the keys over, "Gotcha!"

 

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