Dobbsy revisits Churchill’s head

In August 2023, Mini Big Rigs5 MinutesBy Carl KirkbeckSeptember 18, 2023

Some images and photos leave lasting impressions, stir emotion and even evoke pilgrimages. The 1987 Truckin’ Life magazine Rig of the Year poster was one such image.

In the February 2021 issue of New Zealand Trucking magazine, during one of the Covid-19 lockdowns, I wrote an article about model trucking on a budget. We featured a project I had on the go and the processes associated with working with a diecast model. It involved heavily modifying a 1:50th scale Highway Replicas Northern Territory Freight Services (NTFS) company Mack Super-Liner into a representation of Blue Thunder, the Super-Liner owner-driver and Kiwi expat, the late Neville Dobbs, ran on contract between Adelaide and Darwin in the late 1980s.

By the end of that article, the model was mostly complete. We had finished the heavy construction and applied the topcoats of paint. All we needed to add was the NTFS blue to the cab, sleeper and bonnet assembly and to manufacture a set of oversized exhaust stacks and a pair of Hadley air horns. It’s fair to say that after the article, all of this went on the back burner, and the project stalled.

It was a text from our editorial director, Dave McCoid, a few weeks ago that initiated the resuming of works on Dobbsy’s Blue Thunder. The deal was that McCoid and a few good mates were about to head to the red centre of Australia to chase roadtrains, and they were planning to visit the very site where the famous Rig of the Year poster was snapped back in 1987. The lads mooted the idea to me: How cool would it be to finish the model, take it to that location and recreate the poster photo in 1:50th scale?’ Mission accepted.

The first task was to apply the NTFS blue with an airbrush, then the orange pinstripe. Had there been more time, I would have applied this using a digitally printed transfer as it’s far more accurate and results in a crisp, tidy finish. But with time against me, I applied this the best I could using thinned Tamiya acrylic paint and a brush.

The next steps were to construct the pair of exhaust stacks and the Hadley air horns. These jobs were achieved with Evergreen extruded plastic rod and sheet plastic. Carefully using the heat of a candle flame, you can gently bend the plastic rod into shape. Take your time to keep the plastic near the heat but away from the flame. You don’t want the plastic to start burning, as the fumes are toxic – a well-ventilated area is a must. Once these parts were completed, a coat of Tamiya X-11 Chrome Silver was applied by brush.

The Highway Replicas NTFS company Super-Liner as it arrived out of the box.

Final assembly was now ready to begin. I first reinstalled the windows and interior into the cab, then reattached the completed cab assembly to the chassis. From here, it was a lot easier to refit the air cleaners, mirrors and exhaust stacks. Finally, it was time to reapply the painted detail features to the likes of the bullet lights on the roof and the plumbing up the back of the sleeper cab to the air conditioning unit.

Wiping the sweat from the brow, and with the glue still setting, we packed the mighty Super-Liner into a padded click-clack container for its 6000km return journey to Churchil’ls Head for an appointment with the camera. Fortunately, the trip was successful, and old Dobbsy made it there and back without a mark. And, yes, the boys got the all-important photograph to prove it.