In International14 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJune 15, 2020

Fox Glacier‘s Mike Sullivan has ‘the International bug‘, having operated a 1963 R190 in the past and currently owning three classic examples, including a 1970 Fleetstar and a 1982 S Line.

When the first South Island classic truck run stopped in Fox Glacier in 2007, the lineup of beautifully restored trucks caught Mike Sullivan‘s eye. Back then Mike already had a 1963 International R190 that was bought new by E F Deadman in the King Country. It had been through a few other owners by the time Mike bought it in the early 80s. “It was down at our farm at Jacobs River and a few of the guys on the run asked if they could have a look at it, and they came down the next day. I had to pull it out of the shed so they could take photos of it.” The truck was used regularly, as a tip truck as well as a transporter. “It used to get used for all sorts of stuff – the deck was taken off and it would shift the old digger around. That was our first main truck. The last job it did was putting the big gas tank in at the garage up here, in the early 90s, and then it got put out to pasture.” Mike says after he saw how well presented the trucks on the run were, it got him thinking about buying a classic truck himself.

Photo: Long Lap 2018, on SH1 in Levin.

“I thought that would be a good thing to do, so the hunt was on! I‘d always liked the look of the Fleetstar, and I ended up buying one in Dunedin but it‘s still sitting in the shed at Jacobs, I haven‘t done anything with it!” When a 1970 Fleetstar in great condition came up for sale, Mike decided to buy that as there was very little that needed doing to it. “We picked it up in May, and it sat here for a while. Most of the panel work been done on it when I bought it. I took it up to Greymouth in October that year, and it went straight to the paint shop and they got it ready to get re-vinned. It had to be re-vinned because the rego had lapsed. We had one number plate but we needed two, so we had the original number plate redone as a personalised plate.”

Photos: The Fleetstar shown here in its Uhlenberg Haulage colours (the photos are copies of ones from the Uhlenberg collection).

The Fleetstar was first registered on 6 August 1970 and was originally owned by B Cronin & Co in Hamilton. During the time they had it, Waikato trucking identity Graeme ‘Peewee‘ Phillips drove it. When new, the truck was fitted with a petrol engine, something Mike thinks may have been down to the import duty on diesels at the time. “Can you imagine how much fuel they would have burnt? Two of them were repowered from new by International Harvester here in New Zealand, either in Hamilton or Auckland. They originally had V8 549 petrol engines with automatic transmissions in them but it now has a NH250 Cummins and a 13-speed Roadranger in it.” In 1980 Cronins sold the Fleetstar, which was then a long wheelbase truck, to Mike Uhlenberg in Eltham, who cut it down to a tractor. The truck has still got Uhlenberg Haulage‘s VA up in the window today. After Uhlenbergs, the Fleetstar was sold to Beck Helicopters in Stratford, which used it for a time in their operation.

Photo: Mike had to do remarkably little to get both the Fleetstar and S Line up to standard.

“Then it went to another fella down in Wellington and it sort of went off the radar for a few years before it appeared on Trade Me. We bought it in 2010, and it made its first appearance at the 2012 South Island run.” Mike has several bits and pieces illustrating the truck‘s history, including the ownership papers and a copy of a 1998 Truck Trader sales advertisement. “There‘s something else in here too, the line setting ticket. This is the Motor Trucks Division in International Trucks in Christchurch. When we were on the 2012 run, Stu Mowat sent this up, it‘s photos of the Fleetstar brochure. His father had Mowat Heavy Haulage in Dunedin and they must have looked at buying one.” Today the Fleetstar looks stunning in red and white, but Mike says the colour wasn‘t quite what he had in mind. “It‘s actually supposed to be Harvester Red, but it‘s a lighter colour than Harvester Red. And we put the white mudguards on it and the silver front just to break the red, and the white top on it. When Cronin‘s had it, it had black mudguards.” The freshly restored Fleetstar attracted a lot of attention on the South Island run in 2012, and since then Mike and wife Eunice have taken it a second South Island and two North Island classic truck runs. “A lot of people hadn‘t seen it and it had virtually just come out of the paint shop so it did look pretty good.” The International bug had hit, and in 2014 the next to join the family was a 1982 S Line. Mike had seen it advertised on Trade Me by Don Jones of New Plymouth.

Photo: Mike and Eunice regularly enjoy using the Internationals on classic runs. *Photo by Gerarld Shacklock

“I‘ve always liked the look of the S Line, I‘ve driven them before as well. I rang a few fellas who were looking for one and they said they‘d take a look. It was on for $10,000 as it was or $12,000 with a new CoF,” says Mike. “I rang back later on that day and asked if anybody had called him about the truck and he said no, so I said, “well, I‘ll take it”. I bought it sight unseen. Well, there were about three or four photos of it on Trade Me but I didn‘t actually physically look at it.” Mike paid the extra $2000 to get the CoF and Don delivered it from New Plymouth to the port in Wellington for him. “He drove it down, dropped it at the port there and sent it over on the boat.

We went up one weekend and picked it up and drove it home.” When Mike got home he removed the mudguards and found there was just a little surface rust on the chassis. “I pulled the turntable off and the mudguards and started on it. I took a photo one day and put it on one of the Facebook truck photo pages, asking ‘what is the history of this?‘ Well, it didn‘t take too long before I found out what the history was! It was new to Burnett‘s in Ashburton in 1982, and then I think Owen‘s Heavy Haul might have got it after that. I don‘t really know, that‘s just what I‘ve been told. “And then at some stage Durham‘s in Christchurch had it, and I think they might have even had it up in Wellington. And then Keith Bradley Heavy Haulage had it for a few years, then Orbit bought it off him. Don Jones bought it off Valentine Holdings in New Plymouth. He got it for towing a caravan around on the fifth wheel but said it was a little bit big for that and he never really used it.” Mike has retained the Orbit Heavy Haul green and white livery.

Photo: Mike keeps whatever paraphernalia he can, such as this 1998 Truck Trader advert for the Fleetstar.

“That‘s what it looked like when I got it, so it wasn‘t actually too bad, it was just the clear coat had gone off a bit and there was a bit of rust, and it just needed a bit of tidying up. The S Line has been repainted but we kept it in the same colour.” Mike says it was in good running condition. Originally it had an NTC350 Big Cam with a 15-speed Roadranger, but the motor‘s since been uprated to 400. “But it‘s a heavy haul spec, because it‘s 81-tonne rated. The S Line works a little bit still, it tows the transporter and the tipulator around, whereas the Fleetstar is just a straight out toy, it gets used for classic truck runs and the odd trip from here to Franz for lunch or something on a Sunday. The S Line has also been on one each of the last South Island and North Island classic truck tours.” Mike and Eunice enjoy going on the classic truck runs, saying meeting people with the same interests is the main attraction. “And getting to see things that you wouldn‘t normally see, if you were just driving around,” says Mike. Eunice says while she enjoys the runs, she hopes Mike will get a step for her before the next one. “I get into trouble because I hang on to the handle to get into the truck and I‘m not allowed to do that, in case I pull the handle off,” she says. Mike doesn‘t find it hard to describe why he prefers the older classic trucks. “I suppose it‘s because the new ones don‘t make any noise, do they?” he says.