Bird Brothers’ 1967 Benz flies high

Along with other trucks of years past such as the Mack R-Model and the International ACCO, the venerable Mercedes Benz 1418 has earned a spot in the annals of Australian trucking history, with the model a mainstay of many fleets in the 1960s and 1970s. 

While the rounded shape of the bonneted 1418 is familiar to many, the model was also produced in cab-over form, with one beautifully restored example being that owned by Les and Greg Bird of Orange in NSW.

The 1967 model was a long-term restoration project for the brothers, who operated a variety of Mercedes Benz trucks on livestock haulage in their 35 years of transport operation. With the overhaul and restoration finished last year, the brothers ventured south to the annual Urana Vintage Machinery Rally late in 2022, where the truck was a popular exhibit, with Mercedes Benz being the feature brand at the event.

“We purchased it around 2010-2011 and we were still working then, so it wasn’t until around 2016 we started the restoration as time and funds permitted. We shared the work – I paid most of the bills and Greg did most of the work!” said Les Bird with a smile. “I had accumulated a few old trucks as possible projects and that’s how we started. We stripped it all apart, blasted and cleaned it up and we progressed from there,” he continued.

With the restoration underway from the chassis rails up, the motor that had been in the truck was beyond salvaging so Les acquired another overhauled unit at a clearing sale. Upon commencing the project the original cab was found to be in a poor state so for the cost of a box of beer, another donor cab was sourced, and from there the project carried along with the truck finished off in a striking brown and beige paint scheme. 

The 1967 Mercedes has been beautifully overhauled by Les and Greg Bird.

“It had been fitted with a ZF gearbox at some stage and we rebuilt the rear diff out of two we had. We put a new floor in it also. There was a fair bit of work in it as we tried to keep it as authentic as possible,” he explained.

Unlike a lot of other restorations where the vehicle’s history can be a little clouded, the brothers were able to trace most of the truck’s lifespan since rolling out of the factory in 1967, as Les detailed, “We looked at the cab and chassis numbers and we were able to determine it was one of the very early cabover 1418s, number 64 right-hand drive cab out of the factory. It was owned originally by Scott’s Refrigerated Roadways and it was the truck used for a road test by the Truck and Bus magazine in 1968 – they road tested it from Goulburn to Sydney with a load of meat.  

“After Scott’s we don’t know who operated it, but Hilder’s of Trangie had it for a number of years in the 1970s, into the 1980s, on country work hauling wool, grain and sheep. From then it went to Ron Shanks in Dubbo delivering new stock crates.”

While the trucks’ specification and comfort levels would be considered modest when compared to today’s trucks, the 1418 was a solid performer in its day and Les reckoned that the power output of his restored unit is similar to his original bonneted 1418. “It is putting out around 205 horsepower. In the old days the fuel pumps were opened up a bit more than the spec sheets showed. I think back then there was a bit less concern about the black smoke coming out of them. Ours used to throw a flame out of them in the night time!” he explained with a grin.

Also making the trip to Urana was a 1986 V-Series 1925 which was purchased new from West Orange Motors, the local Mercedes Benz dealer, and driven exclusively by Greg Bird until it was retired in 2012. Coupled to a 2×1 stock crate, Greg covered 1.9 million kilometres in the Mercedes with the truck’s original brake linings and drums only 50 per cent worn over that time.  

Over the span of the business the Birds’ trucks covered quite a bit of territory on haulage of sheep and cattle and, in particular, pigs. “We were a bit of a niche operator as we fitted in between the farmer’s trucks and the bigger operators with our 2×1 crates. We would run pigs into meatworks at Homebush, Berrima, Woy Woy and Blayney. In the 1980s and 1990s we would go to Canberra and Melbourne and also to Cobram and Benalla and up as far as Tamworth. We also did a couple of loads over to Adelaide in 1989 when there was a meatworks strike,” said Les.

While the brothers are looking at keeping Greg’s V-Series truck unrestored in its ‘retired’ condition, Les believes there are still a few projects waiting to be tackled, and needless to say, they all involve the ‘three-pointed star’. 

“We still have a couple of donor 1418s so we have enough bits to do another one. I also have a 1924 as a future project, a 2244 original and a 338 which was the predecessor to the 1418. “We have got the shed and the gear. We have made a few mistakes and learnt a lot with this project, but I think it turned out alright in the end!”

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