Restoration Projects

Seven Passenger Imperial Limousine

1929 Buick 29/X50L – Project by John Donaldson
Engine:  Six cylinder, 309.6 cu  (5 litre) overhead valve. 91 h.p. at 2750 r.p.m.
Transmission:     Three speed
Rear axle:           4.6.6 to 1 ratio
Brakes:               Four wheel mechanical linkage.
The car was fully imported from the USA, reputably for the use of the NSW Governor, Admiral Sir Dudley de Chair.
This car was the 76th of a total of 169 29/X50L Imperial Limousins built by Fisher body works in Detroit USA. It was the largest and most expensive Buick available at the time with a listed price of $2,145.00 USD. This is the only known example of this model Buick still existing in Australia.
The history of the car is not known until it was purchased from Ben Bronk’s Vintage Car Museum, Watsons Bay, Sydney, some time prior to 1976 when the museum closed down. A restoration had been started on the car with the body removed and some of the mechanical overhauled. The car was then loosely assembled so that it could be sold.
In the late 1970’s it was passed to a new owner who kept it in dry storage with the intentions of completing the restoration.
In 2019 it was passed into the care of John Donaldson as the previous owner had too many project to complete and had come to the realisation that they would never get to the Limousine.
Due to the rarity of the car John decided to retain as much of the original car as possible
The body had been left in undercoat in the 1970’s and moisture had consequently formed a layer of surface rust on the metalwork. This required the body to be removed and stripped to bare metal. Some of the timber work had to be replaced at this time due to rot.
The car was stripped to bare chassis for painting.
The mechanicals were striped and repaired as necessary, including replacing all the brakes that were missing off the car.
The interior, dash, wiring etc. had been removed from the car and had to be replaced.
New seat backs had to be fabricated and then the upholstery was sewn together with the assistance of John’s wife Tracey. New upholstery boards were also fabricated.
The full restoration was completed by John (and Tracey) with the exemption of the paint work. Painting was completed with the expertise of one of John’s friends who is a professional spray painter, using John as his “Apprentice Assistant”.  John had a good basic working knowledge of body work and spray painting, however, during this project he was taught the finer points of body work and spray painting enabling him to fully complete his next restoration project himself.

The re-birthing of Betsy

Back in 1992, Greg (Jerry) Murray purchased this 1924 Graham Bros 1 ½ ton Truck from a farm at Hartley Vale in Lithgow. After first visiting the truck with a car trailer, I thought to myself “she ain’t gunna fit, and might be a bit too heavy”. I decided to organize a tilt tray to pick it up.
When the driver arrived at our address, the wife was a little surprised and said to the driver “You have got the wrong address”. He replied with “I am sure I have the right place” The wife replied “No, are you sure it’s not meant for the local tip?”
When the truck was moved from its resting place, some of the wooden spoke wheels collapsed so the truck was dragged onto the flat bed making it difficult to unload at her new beginning.
And so the journey began of completely re-building from the ground up.  It has taken some 18 years to complete, with lots of parts having to be made and sourced from swap meets, Internet and word of mouth. Some of the missing parts like the starter carburetor; horn, lights, rims, badges, hubcaps etc became difficult taking time to find.
Stripping out the old parts became a challenge as rusted bolts and broken components like the entire diff and gearbox had to be completely rebuilt as it looked like they drove it into the ground. The crown wheel had sheared all the rivets off and then replaced with bolts that were all ready to shear off again. The gearbox main shaft bearings had completely collapsed and were just floating around.  The king pins and bushes were worn that bad you could have throw them from 5 paces and still managed to fit them. The motor had no crank handle plug and when I removed the sump the glug in the bottom was so thick it was like grease and had to be scrapped out. In doing so, I found 3 baby bats that had been preserved in this oily grease. They must have entered through the hole and got stuck in the grease.  When I started to strip the engine, it took a week to get the head off because it had rusted itself to the studs.
Once removed it was evident it needed to be bored out 40 th oversize. I organised Neville Butler from Cardiff to do the machining. He bored the engine and all the valve guides and seats as I had new valves I sourced from a chap in South Australia along with new piston and rings from J P Pistons.
A work colleague who is a plant mechanic, was working on a machine in Sydney when they were doing the M7 motorway came across a heap of old machinery and cars and in amongst all the rubbish he came across an old Dodge motor like my truck. He rang me and said it is only going to scrap would you like me to get it for you. So he brought it home. I stripped the crankshaft section and found all the bearings to be in much better condition than my original motor, so I used them in my engine. 
I happened to meet up with a chap from Smithtown up Kempsey way at our swap meet at Cessnock who had some parts for sale and I got talking to him and he had a lot of 1 ½ ton parts for my truck that he was not going to use as he only had a 1 ton himself. So I traveled up to Smithtown some weeks later and purchased 2 complete gearboxes, a diff and some engine parts that would come in handy for the restoration.
Once the chassis was bare It was sent to be sand blasted and primed ready for repair where rust was excessive. Once painted, engine transmission and diff were fitted.
This section layed idle for some time as the bonnet guards and cowl which needed major rust repairs, the running boards were non-existent.
I made new running boards and valances, repaired the rust sections and sent to be sand blasted and primed.
With these sections ready to start final preparation I assembled all these sections onto the chassis to make certain everything fitted and the motor ran ok.
The next section I tackled was the wheels and rims. The wheels that did not get damaged during the move looked ok but under close examination were found to be full of dry rot, so new spokes had to be made. It took me several months making new spokes using the best of the old spokes as a pattern. This itself brought on another challenge of knowing what timber to use and how I would fit them. The choice of timber was brushbox for its hardness and durability.
Luckily we had a large press at work that I could use to fit the wheel together. On first attempt the spokes were too tight so I had to shave some off the tapered section. Once this was done, the wheel went together ok and was ready to be bored for the hub section to be pressed in. I was lucky my brother on a farm west of Wauchope has a large lathe that I could fit the wheel in the chuck and the hole was machined out to accommodate the hub. With all the wheels now together they only needed to be painted.
The next stage was to find some rims as the originals were completely rusted. I found 2 from a chap at Mount Hutton who had an unfortunate situation where a fire had taken the life of his Garford Fire Engine in 2003. The only surviving remains were the diff and wheels, which were located in another shed. I purchased these rims, which had solid centers so I cut the center out and machined the rims to match my wheels. I then found another 2 rims that a chap had in Wagga Wagga that actually fitted my truck and were in good condition with minimal repairs needed. So I saved myself a lot of work. These only needed to be blasted and painted. This made the chassis easy to move around once the wheels and tyres were fitted. And so began another phase for the restoration.
Before the cowl had its final colours I started the arduous task of making the cab. The timber of choice seemed to be coach wood.  So I rang around and found enough to complete the job at Wes Hughes Timbers, now Hudsons at Glendale. I had an idea in my head how I was going to make the cab and looking at old photos and information on the Internet I drew up a scaled drawing.  Once I started cutting the timber I knew I was in for a treat when it would grow or shrink 8-10mm in a length of 1.5mtrs depending on the weather. The only way to overcome this was to lacquer it as soon as I cut it to seal it up. After months of patience, cursing and frustration it finally came together.
The next step was to finish the final painting of all the steel panels.  This was taken to Ace Paint & Panel at Kotara for final colour.  With most of the mechanicals, electrics and wiring harness completed, the next stage was to build the tray. Again, my brother came in handy on the farm as he has a portable Lucas Mill so cutting the timber for the sides was made easy. I used Merbau for the main runners and cross members, as it is very durable then screwed on the spotted gum flooring. The drop down sides and front headboards are made from Ironbark found on the farm.  In keeping with the age of the vehicle all the hinges and latches were hand made along with the toolboxes.
Some of the other parts that I had to make were rear tail light brackets, spare tyre carrier, front bumper, battery box, window frames, crank handle plug, fuel tank and seat frame.
As recently awarded “Restorer Of The Year”, I would like to thank the people that nominated me. This restoration would not have been possible without the support and tolerance of my wife Jenny and family for the last 20 years.
Betsy is now standing proud alongside the other two vehicles I have restored.

Graham Bros 1927 1.5Tonne Truck.  

The NDVCCC has a very important award that is given only to the most deserving of its members. It is the Restorer of the Year Award and is not necessarily awarded each year.

To be illegible to be nominated for this award the vehicle:
            – Must be at a state where it is ready for registration or is already registered.
            – The majority of the work completed for the restoration must have been completed by the individual.

In  2011 the trophy was awarded to John Donaldson for his restoration of a Graham Bros 1927 1.5Tonne Truck.   John found the rusted body of the truck in the outback region of Western Australia. He trailered it home to use as garden art on his 2 acre property, never believing it could actually be restored.
All the woodwork had been consumed by the white ants and the body and engine had been stripped of all accessories such as lights and radiator etc
A visit to the Vehicle Museum outside Perth showed him a restored version of exactly his truck and an idea was planted in his head that perhaps one day he could restore his truck to its former glory.
Over the next few years while working in the outback he managed to scrounge the basics together from old wrecks in farmers paddocks
After relocating to NSW a number of years later he joined the NDVCCC and John started to actually believe that he could restore the old truck – and so it began. The restoration process took almost 5 years and began with striping down to a bare chassis.
Another engine was found in the original block was cracked. To his wife Trace’s dismay, the engine came with another complete truck and a ute and trailer load of spare parts. Another project in the making!
Every component for the truck was stripped, repaired and then rebuilt. Spares were sourced from all over Australia, the USA and the UK.
All work was completed by John with the exception of the final coat of paint on the body work which was painted by Combined Autos prior to being refitted to the truck, the chroming of the Headlight surrounds was completed by Newcastle Chromers and the two valance panel steps were manufactured by Old Era Services in Gloucester.
Tracey just loves driving around in the old truck because she feels cocooned in the bed of luxury with all the latest mod cons and safety equipment – isn’t she a lucky girl!!! (TIC)

Restorer of the year -Paul Bullen
1960 Morris Minor Traveller.

As many of us know Paul Bullen was in the process of restoring a 1960 Morris Minor Traveller (Woody Wagon) which was intended to be a club car for his wife – Paula. Paul and Paula purchased the Traveller in June 2012. It was a fairly battered little car with major panel damage to the right hand side, the wooden frame was totally rotted away in places and the interior was in a sad way with springs hanging out of the seats aftef 50 years of hard use. Paul stripped the car to its bare shell and put it onto a rotisserie so that the underside rust could be removed. After completing repairs to the main body it was undercoated and the underside was painted gloss black. Paul then proceeded to overhaul the mechanicals, a full new brake system was installed with upgraded brake shoes, suspension and steering refurbished and all painted in gloss black. Paul then proceeded to paint the engine bay in Cotswold Blue and started installation of the engine and gearbox. The engine had been upgraded to run an alternator and a sports air cleaner. All bolts and hardware were replaced with stainless where possible. Unfortunately Paul passed suddenly in 2014 and the project was left unfinished.  After sitting for a year in Paula’s shed, Paula decided that she wanted to complete the restoration and use the Traveller on club runs as per Paul’s original intentions.

June 2015 the restoration was taken on once more – this time by John Donaldson. The restoration is for Paula and is being completed as per Pauls restoration plan – as an original restoration – with some modern safety upgrades. Paul had completed the majority of the body work and mechanicals and was in the process of fitting the engine and gearbox when he left us. After taking over the project – Mechanical restoration was completed, mainly involving connecting engine and gearbox componentry and fitting the braking lines and master cylinder. Doors and guards had weld repairs completed and were trial fitted to the car, ready for painting. By August 2015 the car had been made car drivable and ready for painting. The car was taken to the painters early November and was returned to Johns shed in February 2016. A new wooden frame had been sourced from England as the old frame was rotted beyond repair.  The frame pieces were assembled and 4 coats of varnish applied, completing the building process. When the car returned from the painters the frame was fitted as an assembly with the glass and panels fitted later. The wiring loom was replaced with a new system, the interior replaced with new or upholstered parts and all other trim, doorhandles and latches etc. were replaced or refurbished. As the rest of the panels were returned from the painter (Wayne Thomas Smash Repairs in Warners Bay), they were assembled and fitted  The last panels, the four guards and bonnet, were returned from the painter in June 2016. After final fit up, the car was finally registered on the 6th July 2016.
Another beautiful classic car brought back from the brink. Hoping Paula has many years of happy motoring in front of her. She truly deserves the Restorer of the year award in honour of Paul.

The restoration of a piece of history – NSW Fire Engine #144. A 1924 Garford Fire Engine by John Donaldson

This is the story of both my restoration project as well as the history of NSW Fire Brigade Engine #144 which was purchased by me in Oct 2012 as a wreck.
History of appliance 141
Garford truck imported from USA as bare cab chassis. Hale pump and body work fitted by the Fire Brigades workshops in Sydney. Commissioned at Eastwood, Sydney May 1924

Eastwood council requests from the Board of Fire Commissioners the Garford engine be replaced by a faster unit to suit Eastwood’s conditions
The Garford fire engine is removed from Eastwood, due to being too slow for conditions
Garford fire engine stationed at Windsor March 1938
Has new Pneumatic tyres fitted. This was an upgrade performed across the fleet by the Fire brigade workshops
March 1942 the Fire engine is involved in a fatal accident with a pedestrian at Windsor

New fire engine put into service at Windsor. Garford Fire engine departs
Garford fire engine stationed at Coonamble
Garford Fire engine decommissioned at Canowindra June 1960

The Restoration

I “Found” this old girl For Sale as part of a deceased estate at the Maitland Truck Muster. Isn’t it every little boy’s dream to own a fire engine?

Engine – July 2015
The first job was to sort the engine as replacement parts are not available. The truck uses a 4 cylinder Buda engine. Buda was an American company who only manufactured industrial engines for Trucks and Marine use. They are very scarce and it is almost impossible to source any parts or information. (When Googeling Buda all I found were pictures of a little fat man sitting cross legged!)
I managed to source another engine that had been sitting in the weather; it had a cracked cylinder head which had been removed. The head and barrels were beyond use but the crankcase unbolts from the cylinders so between the two engines there were enough serviceable parts that I managed to make one good engine.
The engine was fully overhauled and assembled with the best parts from both engines. A Magneto was sourced from a mate in Victoria and a few parts had to be manufactured on the lathe. The engine is now complete and ready to run.
Gearbox and clutch – August 2015
The gearbox was in fair condition although the shift leaver was seized in its housing and the forward reverse gears where fairly worn. The duel plate clutch plates were broken and needed replacing. As luck would have it the spare engine came with a gearbox attached. Once again there where good parts in the spare box to overhaul the original box and the clutch plates were in good condition.
Rear axle – November 2016
The rear axle was stripped and was found to be in good condition with the exception of the pinion shaft and seal retainer that had fencing wire wound around it. This had cut the housing out. I repaired the damage and replaced all the original leather seals with modern lip seals.
Brakes (rear only) – December 2016
The truck has mechanical internal brakes on the rear axle only. Two shoes per wheel are operated by the foot pedal and two shoes by the hand brake. These were all stripped and overhauled.
Front axle and steering – January 2017
The front axle and steering were all stripped and overhauled as required. Not a lot of work was required here as the vehicle had done very few miles. A lot of this work was simply stripping and cleaning. However, as luck would have it, the tie rod was bent like a banana and had to be replaced.
Wheels and rims – February 2017
The original wheels and rims where missing and sourcing the origan items was not an option as the fire service replaced the original solid rubber wheel in 1945. A set of similar Chrysler heavy duty wheels and old new stock rims from the same era were sourced from Daryl Anderson in the club. Daryl has been very generous with supplying parts for this project and I thank him for this. These wheels had to be machined to fit the original Garford hubs and are as close to the original specs as I could get them but having period Pneumatic tyres in place of the original solid rubber tyres.
Fire pump – October 2016
The fire pump was stripped and overhauled; the pump was in remarkably good condition internally and required no new parts in order to be made fully serviceable.
Chassis – February 2017
The chassis was fully stripped and repainted in Monza Red after minor repairs and refurbishment.
Assembly of Mechanicals – March 2017
The suspension, front axle and rear axle were first fitted to the chassis and then wheels and rim/tyres were fitted. Thanks to Stewart Swords from our club for the use of his rim expander, this made a very difficult job very easy and stopped the newly painted rims from getting scratched and damaged. With the chassis back on its wheels, the engine and gearbox was the next to be fitted.

April 2017
The fire pump has been overhauled and fitted and now sits happily on the truck for the first time in many years. Steering column and steering box have also been overhauled and fitted.
The Radiator has now been repaired and the radiator and radiator surround have both been painted and fitted. A new exhaust system has been fabricated and fitted. The wooden steering wheel had to be totally refurbished before being refitted as it was in a very poor condition. Work now progresses with the fire wall and dash.
June – December 2017
It has been a fairly quiet 6 months on the rebuild as I have been away on a few trips including the Bay to Birdwood Rally in SA with the Club.  The firewall and engine compartment has now been completed.  All the gauges and switches have been overhauled and fitted. The aluminium floor boards had to be repaired and polished before fitting.  The wooden frame for the seat was rotted and damaged so some new pieces of timber were crafted to fit.  The bonnet has been painted and fitted and new corner protective leather boots were sewn together by my wife Trace and then fitted.This month (December) I attempted to fire the engine up but the magneto turned out to be defective. Thanks to Greg Murray from our club for donating a magneto from his Graham Brothers Truck. As a result the engine of #144 is now purring along nicely. The fire truck has been driven in and out of the workshop a few times now. This is just as well as we are moving house in January and the truck can now be driving on/off the car trailer to its new home.  I have also bolted on the box to the back to keep all the bits in one place, ready for the big move to its new home.

June 2018
Now it was time to move the fire engine in and remove the body that was still to be restored. There was some rust along the lower body of the rear hose box and the floor boards where quite soft. Years of having wet fire hoses transported inside had had its effect. The original flooring was retained by using a wood hardening solution that stabilised the timber. The steel sheeting was partly removed to allow timber repairs and the replacement of the lower section.
Upon removing the sheeting the original NSW FIREBRIGADE sign writing was exposed on the wooden structure. It was apparent that the metal sheeting had been fitted as an afterthought. Perhaps having an exposed wooden box was deemed to be a fire hazard on a fire engine? Stencils where made of the original sign writing in preparation for later painting of the truck.
The top deck of the body had been cut out with a chain saw, presumably so that some farmer – at some stage in it’s life – could cart equipment in the box and all the rear compartment doors were missing. I managed to acquire the correct brass hinges and handles. The doors needed to be fabricated out of some larger doors from another appliance.
The top deck was replaced and then the ladder brackets and ladders could be fitted. The battery box was missing so this was also fabricated from scratch. Next the mudguard and running boards could be repaired and fitted resulting in finally having a complete truck once more.
I completed all the body work painting as I had set myself the goal of performing the entire rebuild myself. I did utilise my wife’s sewing machine skills for the upholstery however.
September 2019
The last thing outstanding was the sign writing. Being a fire engine from the 1920’s there is extensive pin striping and sign writing. To complete this I brought a very good book on “How to Pinstripe” by Alan Johnson and after purchasing the recommended equipment and paint, set to the task. Not a job I would like to do for a living as it was very tedious and required a smooth hand. But in the end I was very pleased with the outcome.

August 2018
It has been a while since I touched the Fire Engine. After moving house there was a lot to do at the new property and I also had to fully restore an old broken down Fergy Tractor I had acquired as part of our property settlement. Trace & I have both joined the Vacy RFS as volunteers and I am now under orders from our Fire Chief to have the Fire Engine #144 ready to go on show for the Vacy RFS 75th anniversary in September 2019. 

September 2019 – Current
The engine was completed in time for our local Vacy Fire Brigade’s 75th anniversary and was given a place of honour alongside the current appliance.
Since then it has had several outings. It lead the parade at the Dungog festival.
Now every year it tours the local district where our Vacy Fire Fighters along with Santa hand out lollies and grant wishes to big and little kids alike.