‘I reckon this old truck will outlast me’

Veteran driver Peter McConnell, 72, is so in love with his model A600 Leader truck that he told Spy he will never part with it.

He runs Peter McConnell Backhoe Hire based at Tweed Heads and purchased the Leader in the mid 1990s from Duce Truck Wrecker’s in Brisbane.

A truckie had snapped a pic of the Leader at Fingal Heads and sent it to Spy. “It would make an interesting story, being an Australian-made truck. There are very few of them left on the road,” my snapper said.

So I phoned McConnell to glean a history of the truck and found he was a genuine character.

“It used to be owned by Mayne Nickless picking up bones from butcher shops around Toowoomba,” he said.

“As a roller this truck had blown the engine up and had no engine and gearbox. It was an auto – that didn’t fit with me so I bought a Turbo 3208 CAT and a 6613 Overdrive Road Ranger,” he said.

“I discovered why the truck had no engine in the early days because when I was fitting the new engine there was a rattle in the muffler and on inspection I found the head chewed up.”

From a long rigid, the truck had been shortened to a bogie tipper size. “I put a turntable on it, making it a prime mover to tow my drop deck Githsam trailer, to carry my backhoe and implements,” McConnell added.

“Sometimes it would transport my race car to the racetrack too.”

Seeking more power, he decided to upgrade the engine again. “I wasn’t satisfied with the small 3208 Caterpillar motor because it didn’t provide much grunt. I was looking for more horsepower, so in 2001 I upgraded it with an 8.3 litre after-cooled Cummins engine, which has 275 horsepower and a 11x09LL Eaton gearbox. That brightened up the old girl up to no ends!”

That’s the engine that has remained under the hood to this day. “And it’s going great guns but I had to change the diff gears to a taller ratio.”

An old photo of the truck before the signs were added to the doors.

With registration becoming too expensive, McConnell made some further alterations. “In 2013, I brought it back to a long body truck with a chassis extension, so it’s back to its original length.”

He’s also added a tray, ramps and sleeper box; while the interior, bull bar, mirrors, sun visor and decals are all original, as is the interior.

“This old truck has been a good old workhorse. It’s real simple considering today’s standards. I use it every day,” McConnell added.

“We’re two old things enjoying the last of our lives together. I will retire driving this old truck but I reckon it will outlast me.”

The truckie who sent the photos of McConnell’s truck had also taken a pic of another Leader truck at Plains Station, just south of Tabulam, NSW.

“The truck belonged to (and probably still does) a harvesting contractor by the name of Wilkinson. He had other trucks but he was proud of his Leader,” he said.

The former truckie and road transport enthusiast did some research on the Leader Trucks brand, and found it was a truck-manufacturing company based in Toowoomba, Queensland. Nearly 2000 trucks (ranging from 4 to 250 tonne) were manufactured between 1972 and 1984.

Leader found a niche in the truck market, predominantly building rigid 4×4 and 6×6 models for tray, tipper and agitator applications – and so were used largely in the earthmoving and off-road construction industries.

Leader was apparently the first manufacturer to fit Caterpillar engines and automatic transmissions to diesel trucks in assembly. It was also the first truck manufacturer in Australia to offer disc brakes.

The manufacturer claimed its components were 80 per cent Australian built; with only the engine, transmission and steering box being imported.

Leader sold its 1000th truck by 1980 and had also sold its vehicles to New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong, China, Caribbean, Middle East and Indonesia.

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