A year after the torture and deprivation of Benito Mussolini’s facsist regime came to a blood-curdling end, Sardinia-based Mario Bertuzzi successfully tendered for 1,000 surplus military vehicles, planning to refurbish them and ship them to the mainland for a new life.
Not all made it as many needed to be scrapped, although that meant spares weren’t an issue for those that started in civilian life.
The acronym for his company was A.S.T.R.A. After 40 years of twists and turns, and engineering its own truck when the surplus ran out, the nearly bankrupt company was acquired by Iveco. Because the brand was so closely associated with extra heavy duty off road work rigs, the name was left in place. It remains, standing out where the chromed Iveco badge sits on every other Iveco product.
So I felt a sense of history as I was delivering an Astra for an earthmoving contractor in Port Hedland who wanted something even more unbreakable than the Iveco Trakkers he already had. Some 1,632 kms later I’d had my dose of history after enjoying a faultless run through WA’s busy inland highway.
My first key objective was on the second day. There’s a sweeping left-hand bend that eases into a gently sloping rise between red-rock ridges, just out of Mt. Newman after the Cathedral gap. I wanted some drone shots of the truck and this was ideal.
Although I got out of the airconditioned cab into 40 degrees there was a stiff breeze blowing to take the edge off, but I also knew it would give the drone stabilisation software a run for its money.
Except for the persistent buzz of flies, the norm in these desert areas of the North West is silence, particularly as there’s no ticking from the truck cooling down after engine stop. The ground was red but soft, as recent heavy rains with the usual flooding had soaked everything. I made sure I didn’t get too far off the bitumen.
These trucks were specced as water trucks for outback road and mine access construction. The 22,000-litre water tank will be supplemented by a water trailer with another 32,000-litres on board. That truck’s 130-tonne rating means it can tow two 32,000-litre trailers if required.
The drive was extra long time-wise, as the operator requested the speed limiter set to 90km/h. I was ok with that, however I had to keep my eye on my mirrors and stay on the CB to make sure a procession of triple road trains rumbling along at 100km/h could get past me safely.
Further up the track I met the stream of quad tippers that pass every couple of minutes. They deliver several hundred loads into Port Hedland each day – the drivers are on a 16-hour rotational shift, including rest breaks – and were good for 100km/h on the flat. But they got in my way on slopes as they faded back to 70-80km/h. No wonder, with up to 156-tonnes of ore on board.
Just past the Auski Roadhouse at Munjina I rolled through country where healthy deep green weeds had broken through layers of stones on the gibber plains, transforming the country into an unexpected lusciousness, stretching for dozens of kilometres.
All the way the Astra drilled along comfortably on 1,490rpm, with the Allison 4700 7-speed auto box locked in overdrive. With nothing in the water tank, the Euro V Cursor 13-litre engine used a fraction of its 520hp and 2400Nm and hardly made itself known the whole trip.
Astra’s cab interior and controls are straight out of the Stralis/Trakker and were easy to operate. Suspension seat, aircon, storage nooks, cup holders, and a small fridge/freezer made the trip comfortable, but they didn’t take anything off the 24 hours driving time across two days.
Astra’s chassis is 320x90x10 C section with riveted cross members. Rail Bending Moment (RBM) is 202.02Nm, a significant toughening up over other Iveco off-road products, making the package ideal for the fully-loaded North-West work that the contractor has planned.
Astra is by no means a high volume part of the Iveco line-up. But when ‘fit-for-purpose’ demands bullet-proof off-road engineering with a proven driveline and solid spares back-up, the Astra makes a good case for at least being on the shopping list.