Showstopping C510 has all the bells and whistles

Named Moby D, this flashy yellow 2005 Kenworth C510, owned by Slingshot Haulage in the NT, is a real head-turner.

Based in Katherine in the Northern Territory, Slingshot Haulage was started by Leigh Dehne in 1996. 

A legend of the industry, Leigh has operated all over Australia, but according to many of the truckies I’ve spoken to, he’s quite the private person and usually coy about publicity. Thankfully though, when I tracked him down, this gentleman was glad to yarn about his pride and joy – his showstopping C510.

This one-of-a-kind beast is a whopping 11 metres long, complete with a state-of-the-art shower and toilet inside, and is powered by a Caterpillar V12 engine.  

“Kuchel Custom Trucks at Noorioopta SA, whose workmanship and finish are second to none, did the work,” revealed Leigh. “Whatever concept or modification I came up with, they made it work.”

Leigh Dehne, pictured centre in green shirt, with the team from Kuchel Custom Trucks. Photo: Supplied

Originally white when Leigh got his hands on it, I asked what inspired him to paint it yellow. 

“I purchased a new Mack in 1975 when I was younger and painted it yellow and white, and I liked it. I have kept the colour scheme since then. The truck is registered in the NT, just not for everyday use, as I don’t want to wear it out.”

Slingshot Haulage has seven working trucks in its fleet, including six Kenworths and a Western Star.

As with many transport companies at the moment, Slingshot Haulage is finding it hard to get enough bums on seats. “About 80 per cent of our work is heavy haulage, local and Australia wide. At the moment there is a shortage of drivers, so we do the best we can,” Leigh said.

The massive build provided a multitude of tasks and challenges for the team at Kuchels.

Over the past 10 years, the day-to-day running of the company has been taken on by Leigh’s 41-year-old son, Chad Dehne. Though Leigh says he is in “good health” and hopes to continue playing a role in his company.

“Chad grew up around trucks and is doing a good job,” he said, adding that rising fuel prices have forced costs up, as it has done to most businesses. “We just have to pass the price rises and diesel cost on.”

The rebuild includes a state-of-the-art shower and toilet.

Known as the place where the outback meets the tropics, Katherine and its surrounding areas have a population of about 12,000 people – it’s the fourth largest settlement in the NT.

Katherine is also the central hub of the great Savannah Way, a 3700-kilometre route that stretches from Cairns in Queensland to Broome in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

The Dehne family owns a cattle station near Mataranka, about 100 kilometres south of Katherine.

“The cattle are mostly live exported from Darwin to overseas destinations,” Leigh said.

Growing up, life was all about trucks for Leigh and his siblings, with their father being involved in transport and in life on the farm.

When Leigh bought his first truck at the age of 19 and began doing local work, transporting wood, hay and livestock, it seemed like a natural thing to do.

He went on to do the Melbourne to Townsville run and also worked for North Qld Express. 

It was during his time at North Qld Express that he saw some freight sitting in the corner under a Darwin Express sign. Upon enquiry, he learnt the freight would go from Melbourne to Brisbane and then Brisbane to Darwin. 

He asked the question, why not direct? And so began one of the first direct transport services from Melbourne to Darwin.

At 24 years of age, Leigh ordered a new R600 model Mack road train rated truck and the transport business got busier.

He also bought Central Salt Supply Pty Ltd, a company just outside of Kerang in Victoria, and after five years he sold it, but kept the business name, with plans to continue in the salt industry down the track.

Leigh was soon in the driver’s seat again with a move to Alice Springs. He was working for NTFS (Northern Territory Freight Services) towing fridge vans, etc from off the rail at Alice Springs to Darwin. Back then, there was no rail line from Alice Springs to Darwin. 

Then Leigh bought another new truck, this time a Series 2 Mack Super-Liner. While he was the first to own this beauty, it was sold to Neville Dobbs soon after.

Going further north, saw Leigh and his family move to Darwin.

Here he went back into the salt game, starting up NT Salt Supply Pty Ltd in 1987.

This involved transporting top-quality salt from Port Hedland to Darwin and supplying local businesses, stations and abattoirs with their salt needs.

With the majority of salt being supplied to the Katherine area, it made sense to relocate the business there. 

And so NT Salt Supply set up its operation in Katherine and it has remained there ever since.

As the salt transport task got busier and interest for other transport needs grew, Leigh made the decision to establish Slingshot Haulage.

The company has grown from strength to strength throughout the years and has completed some truly historic transport moves, including the specialised transport of rail for the Alice Springs to Darwin rail line between 2001 and 2003.

There were 145,000 tonnes of 27.5 metre long rail transported for this project, which resulted in the construction of the rail line between the two major cities of the Northern Territory.

Recently Slingshot Haulage also transported the largest bridge beams produced in the Northern Territory, at 35 metres long and 80 tonnes. They were carried approximately 850 kilometres from Darwin to just west of Kununurra in WA for the Keep River Project.

Always at the forefront of development in the industry, Leigh remains passionate about the transport industry and its importance in Australia. He is also enthusiastic about the future of road transport in the NT.

The Slingshot build was certainly their biggest one yet for the South Australian company, with Kuchel Custom Trucks taking approximately four years to complete.

Leigh has been a driving force at Slingshot since 1996.

Leigh Dehne of Slingshot Haulage knew what he wanted, and the task was handed to Kuchel Custom Trucks to make it happen.

Kuchel Custom Trucks has a fully equipped workshop at their Barossa Valley transport depot, has a workshop crew including mechanics, a fabricator and a handful of other skilled members.

Upholstery is outsourced to Steve and Heather of Stateside Trim, a local Barossa Valley business. 

Kuchel Custom Trucks spokesman Jacob Kuchel said the Kenworth chassis was extended to create room for the new living quarters at Slingshot’s home base prior to making its journey down south to Kuchels as a day cab where the build became serious.

“A custom 85-inch bunk was planned, designed and fabricated specifically to meet the requirements that Leigh had in mind,” said Jacob. 

“One of which was to give the driver the ability to be as far from civilisation imaginable without having to sacrifice the comfort and the amenities of a modern highway truck stop.” Kuchel’s fabricator, Darren Stewart, was the man for the job, thinking five steps ahead during the design process ensuring that everything had a home and performed its necessary task keeping durability and serviceability in mind,” Jacob said.

Jacob said the build provided a multitude of tasks and challenges for the team at Kuchels.

“The Fitment of a V12 CAT came with a list of its own – including a one-off fan hub and auxiliary component drive assembly which included an alternator, a Horton fan and two air conditioning compressors, re-location of the turbos, a custom intake manifold and all the pipe work necessary to get all that air to where it needed to go, in and out. 

“The idea was to give the appearance of something that could have come out of the Kenworth factory, and this was achieved with many factory components being modified, relocated and repurposed in various ways.”

This didn’t stop on the outside of the truck, however.  

“It wouldn’t have been complete without matching upholstery in true Kenworth style, diamonds, and a lot of them,” Jacob said.

Jacob said the truck was built with tough conditions in mind.

“Up the back of the sleeper cab between the two smoke stacks, two snorkels force cool air down and past the oil coolers mounted within to ensure those SISU’s keep cool, the custom-built cabin subframe rides on air to give the driver and occupants the much-needed comfort along the harsh Australian roads, two individual air conditioning units were fitted for in the event of a component failure, driver comfort would not be compromised.

“With a hair short of 3000 lb ft of torque and 780 hp growling away from under the hood, this thing is rightly named ‘Moby D’ and would sure swallow anything in its way.”

Jacob said that with bright yellow and white livery, it’s hard to miss a Slingshot Haulage outfit when in range but this one takes it to another level.

Leigh Dehne was glowing in his praise of Kuchel Custom Trucks and said the end result was magnificent.

“We requested modifications during the rebuild and they always did them as I wanted,” Leigh said.

Usually coy when it comes to publicity, Leigh Dehne was happy to make an exception for his C510.

Leigh said that Slingshot had placed some pics of Moby D on social media and had received responses from around the world.

“We had some people from Spain who contacted us and they are coming to Katherine in the New Year to snap some photos,” Leigh said.

I have also received numerous calls or emails from truckies around Australia I have spoke to after they saw the yellow Kenworth at Katherine.

They have all been highly impressed.

Kuchel Custom Trucks was a vision of the late Tony Kuchel, who had been building hot rods and painting trucks and cars since a young teenager. 

Tony then built a 1954 Ford COE motorhome for him and his wife Anne to travel throughout Australia, visiting customers of their bulk transport business, plus many friends.

This then led to their first custom build, an International Loadstar built in 2016 from the ground-up, for truck driver and friend, Phil Ellbourn. From there, the business has evolved to what it is today.

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