Restoration of an iconic piece of Australian road transport history, the Mean Machine, is now complete.
The B Model Mack race truck was previously owned by the legend himself, Billy Gordon, for well over 50 years.
Well, I finally got the call to travel north to meet Bernie Tobin and the rest of the resto crew at his Griffin home in Queensland, where the Mean Machine has been now for well over two years.
When I drove into Bernie and Beth’s place at Griffin, I was greeted by the sight of that legendary truck and how good it looks now.
The truck has had so much work done on it over the two years, a full restoration. It looks like it had just come off the showroom floor, but better.
Quite a sight from when I did the first story on the Mean Machine back in 2016 for Big Rigs, when it was in the middle of a paddock looking graceful, but in urgent need of repair, and again just last year when I did the first part of this story for the October 13, 2023 issue.
I always say, and will keep saying, that trucks like this are iconic to Australian road transport history and have to be saved. Thanks to Bernie and his crew, that’s exactly what they have done to this truck.
I got to sit down in one-on-ones with Bernie, Tim Wall (motor builder), Neil Conway, Geoff Mcgregor, the lead builder, and Billy, who had his two sons and daughter on hand for the big unveil, to find out more.
I would call quietly spoken Geoff a magician with what he has accomplished, even though when I called him that in front of Bernie, Bernie said don’t call him that he will cost me even more money, with that cheeky grin on his face.
Geoff was telling me that Tim Wall was the original motor builder.
He came out of retirement to work on his motor that he built some 40 years earlier.
The boys had a go at starting it at Bernie’s place, but had no luck. Tim came down and got her going. That motor had not been started for nearly 40 years and she fired up with Tim on the tools.
Glenn: What was your interest was in that truck, and did you spend years watching Billy running down the quarter mile like I did?
Bernie: Actually I didn’t know a lot about the history of this truck, but have learnt a lot about it since I bought it off Bill and Sharyn a couple of years ago.
Glenn: Was Billy and Sharyn hard to negotiate with to buy the truck?
Bernie: When I went to see them I showed them pictures of the trucks I have restored over the years and promised them I would only restore it back to the way it was, no ifs or buts. That was why they sold it to me.
Glenn: I know you saw it at Billy’s place at Norwell before you got it home. What were your thoughts when it arrived here and you unloaded it off the float?
Bernie: Well, I thought we have got a lot of problems to fix on the old girl, but with the team of guys I have to work on her I knew we could get it looking better than back in her glory days.
The cab was toast; it fell to bits as we started to tear it down. We were lucky we had another cab here which fitted perfectly. We fully rebuilt it from the chassis up, sand-blasted what we could and replaced what we couldn’t.
Glenn: I know everyone wants to know what you paid for it and how much you have put in to make this truck look like it does today, but I’m not going to ask those two questions because I think those questions belong between you and Billy and no one needs to know.
Bernie: I appreciate that Glenn.
Glenn: The boys in the crew have done a marvellous job restoring the truck Bernie. You must be very proud.
Bernie: The boys have exceeded expectations; they are a great crew to work with.
Glenn: What was your role in the restoration?
Neil: I have been a good friend of Bernie’s for more years than I can remember. My role was hands on everything. Helping the boys tear down and rebuild. More like if you need a second hand I’m there. The truck was in bad condition when it rolled up here and how it has turned out is amazing. We all work great as a team here. Looking forward to our next resto.
Glenn: How long he has been panel beating for?
Geoff: I started my apprenticeship when I was 16 years old with Recar. I have had a lot of years in the transport industry on the repair side of things. I spent over 25 years at Recar. I started my apprenticeship when Roadways were turning a few over, I worked on a lot of their rebuilds, and I mean a lot.
Glenn: Were you the lead builder on this job?
Geoff: I was just a panel beater and when Bernie wants something done, they talk it through and it happens.
Glenn: How long has the team been working on the truck?
Geoff: We started working on the Mean Machine about two years ago. I actually worked on it when I was an apprentice at Recar when Billy won the prize money to get her changed from green to that racing purple it ended up racing in. That’s why I always had an interest in it.
Glenn: What did you think of the Mean Machine when you unloaded it at Bernie’s place?
Geoff: We got it home and it was in very sad condition, and the best part was that Bernie had a B model cab sitting there waiting to go on it. The old cab was too far gone to save it. The old cab never got scrapped. Bernie got all the pieces he replaced, (doors, cab, bonnet, front grill and dash) and put them on his man cave wall. It looks great up there and he has saved another part of history.
Glenn: What was it like getting the call up to come and work on the motor you built over 40 years ago?
Tim: It was great to hear that she was going to get a new life. I have spent a lot of hours on that truck over the years. I first built the race motor (8-71 GM) the same 8-71 Billy had in it while he ran interstate. It was back in 1980-81 when we built the standard motor into a race motor.
Big injectors, the motor had to be balanced, pistons and rods; it still has an 8-71 cam in it. The 92 cam never worked for that motor. We talked to Precision Nitrous who put a 350hp kit on it and it worked a treat. It has a 13-speed overdrive gear box, 8-71 Supercharged GM 620hp and Nitrous 350hp injected.
Roughly rated at around 1000hp at the back wheels and for a truck of her age, that says a lot. I used to love watching Mean Machine at night with the nitrous running and the flames shooting out the exhausts. Looked even better when it had the Zoomies as pipes. I have enjoyed working on the truck again after all this time.
Glenn: I don’t think I have seen you smile so much in ages Bill. What do you think of your old truck?
Billy: Bernie is a man of his word. He told Sharyn and I he would restore it back to the way it was, that’s why we sold it to Bernie. He has not only done that but made her three times better than when I had it. She looks so good. Sharyn would have loved to have been here today to see it. [Billy’s wife Sharyn passed in early 2023]
Glenn: Was there anything on it that really stood out?
Billy: That paint work is immaculate, the exhaust pipes up the back of the cab look great. Inside the cab looks like it just came off the Mack showroom floor. I’m very impressed with the standard of workmanship they carried out on it. It was good of Bernie to give me a drive of it again, still sounds great. No doubt in my mind it will be around now for another 100 years thanks to Bernie and the team.
Bernie has put a sign-written piece under the rear wing of the truck, that reads:
Mean Machine 1961 Mack B 61
Powered by Detroit 871 (1000hp)
Owner Bernie Tobin
Originally owned + raced by Bill and Sharon Gordon
Restoration By Geoff Mcgregorwith assistance from Neil Conway
Detroit Specialist Tim Wall
Painter Ken and Jarl Turnbull
Electrical work Skep Wren
Sign Writing Mista Signs.
The Mean Machine will live on for everyone to see, not as I did, racing down the quarter mile with that mad man, Billy Gordon, behind the wheel, but to see her in a different light as she is today.
If you would like to see and stay in touch with what the Mean Machine will be up to, follow along on the truck’s dedicated Facebook page.
Another piece of Australian transport history saved thanks to Bernie Tobin and his resto crew.