In Kenworth, July 2021, Custom Corner16 MinutesBy Carl KirkbeckAugust 31, 2021

Early influences on a young truck enthusiast have over time manifested into the passion and desire to build this 5/8th scale mini-Kenworth. The attention to detail would have the R&D team at Renton, Washington State, breaking their necks for a double-take.

A few months ago, I received a call out of the blue from a good mate and fellow Kenworth enthusiast. He told me about a project nearing completion that I had to see with my own eyes to believe, as well as capture the backstory behind the man responsible for it. Enter Michael Morey, aka ‘Flea’, owner of EDS Truck Shop in Pukekohe.

Flea’s story begins some years ago as a young fella. He was brought up around all things trucking; his father, Terry Morey, was a driver for local Kenworth icon Ian Spedding during the late 1970s. “I would go with Dad any chance I got, even if it meant I had to be in bed early for an early start,” said Flea. “I would also go help him on Saturdays washing the gear at the yard, and as payment, I’d get a pie and a Fanta.”

It is no surprise that in the presence of Kenworth royalty, passion for the marque would rub off on a young Flea. “I would always ask Ian for any spare Kenworth stickers he might have, then take them to school to trace around onto my drawings. I was well and truly hooked on Kenworth by then.”

Ellerslie Truck Show, a few Fantas ago, and the mini big rig that started it for Flea. Photo: Morey Collection

When visiting the Ellerslie Truck Show one year, Flea was really bitten by the bug. A locally built mini Kenworth etched a lasting impression on the young lad’s grey matter. He made a promise to himself that one day he would build and drive a mini K-Whoppa just like it.

Leaving school at 16, Flea qualified as a trade-certified mechanic. This led to jobs with the likes of Stevensons, Cummins and Detroit. There was also a stint at the wheel of a tipper. However, a return to the trade was the catalyst for change in the late 1990s, with Flea starting his own company. Contracted to a local onion grower, he maintained and rebuilt many of the International and Kenworth trucks in its fleet. One project of significance was the right-hand-drive conversion and set-up of an imported American W900L Kenworth. This impressive truck would later become some of the inspiration for the mini- Kenworth build.

Time spent working for Southpac Trucks and contracting to Northchill eventually led to the decision to go the next step and set up a workshop, giving EDS a physical address and a roof over its head. During smoko breaks, Flea began a search to see what examples of mini Kenworth rigs already existed. A couple of trips overseas also assisted in the search. Flea met with Stuart Herne in Australia, who himself had recently purchased a T600 Lil Big Rig out of Nashville, Tennessee. The company Lil Big Rig specialises in the production of Peterbilt 359 and Kenworth T600 lookalike mini rigs.

“They build a great product in Tennessee, and Stuart’s workshop finished his to a high standard. But it quickly became obvious it would not fit my requirements as it would be too difficult to have it comply and gain New Zealand certification. Still, the information Stuart gave me was just awesome,” says Flea.

On returning home, Flea bounced ideas off his good mate Boyd over several months and many cold beers. It led to the decision to do the job right and build a 5/8th scale Kenworth mini big rig from scratch.

The plywood mock-up hood awaiting the application of 12 large pots of bog and hours of sanding. Right: Nearly halfway through the build, and things are beginning to take shape. Photos: Morey Collection.

The first step was to purchase a donor Chevy pick-up truck, one that drove well and had all its paperwork ready for compliance. Flea then tracked down a handful of old T-series Kenworth cabs that would be the basis of the build. After sitting a T-series cab in place, it was a pleasant surprise to find that with some minor sectioning, it would virtually bolt right up.

Designing the layout of the cab required some accurate measurements to ensure that the driving position and control placement was comfortable and correct. With Flea’s Toyota Hilux and the Reddington T900, he was able to compare, calculate and obtain the required set-up for the little KW.

The next challenge was to handcraft a bonnet, one that paid homage to the W900L as well as the T900 – the two Kenworth models for which Flea has a passion. The bonnet started as a plywood mock-up to give the basic shape; the application of 12 large tins of bog, hours and hours of sanding and a coat of 2K paint achieved the required plug ready for fibreglass.

“It felt like it weighed a tonne, but the result we got from it was a mint one-piece fibreglass hood constructed just like the real one.”

1) Little K-Whoppa a Midget on a Mission (left); 2-5) The absolute essence of a Kenworth – captured inside and out.


6) Big-block 454, mild but seriously wild. (right)

Next, the pedal box assembly needed to be fitted and the right-hand drive conversion completed with all- new factory parts. Alongside these tasks was the in-house design and manufacture of a rear tag axle. There were challenges achieving accurate wheel alignment, so a custom camber adjustment set-up was fabricated in the workshop and now all six wheels are tracking together perfectly.

With the rolling chassis pretty much taken care of, it was onto the fabrication of a 5/8th-scale replica of an authentic Kenworth dome-top 36” sleeper cab.

This started with a steel frame, then hand-made aluminium panels and fibreglass roof pod were fitted using a process identical in Kenworth factories the world over – huck-bolts along with body adhesive.

The original factory-fitted 350 Chevy V8 gave way to a fully rebuilt and mildly warm big-block 454. This was then coupled to a rebuilt 4L80E transmission. The transmission is fitted with a CompuShift standalone controller, giving many programmable features.

Flea has cleverly made the little KW look like a 15-speed RoadRanger is fitted. However, the manual-looking gear lever is, in fact, the shift lever for the auto transmission – a very cool touch. From the transmission, it is back to the diff, which is a standard Chevy 10-bolt unit, definitely big enough to take the horsepower sent its way.

To ensure that the package is kept at optimal running temperatures, it was custom- fitted with an aluminium radiator and hand-made fan shroud and transmission cooler mounts.

When I grow up I want to be a Kenworth… Hang on!

The next challenge was the interior, and it had to have that West Coast deep-buttoned feel. Using parts and cutting panels down to size from three separate genuine Kenworth interiors, the mini cab and sleeper were lined and colour- matched.

Flea then scaled down a full-size T900 dash and made a plug to fibre-glassed and vacuum- wrapped, giving a very realistic look and feel.

New gauge and switch panels were fabricated with classic North American woodgrain finish and have been fitted out with genuine Kenworth instruments and switches. The heater and de-mister are both fully operational. Open the fuse box and, yes, there is a full complement of original Kenworth circuit breakers. This caused the auto electrician some grief as he had to use heavier gauge wiring to fit.

“The auto electrician has done an awesome job of harnessing all the wiring to give it that tidy factory-fitted OEM look, which is exactly what I was looking for.”

The entire cab and sleeper were insulated with Dynamat to maintain an orderly sound level when cruising and the factory foam inserts were also retained. The sound system is Alpine with a blend of component speakers, and a pair of eight-inch subs are tucked away for that deep- down impact.

Finally, the driver and passenger seats needed addressing. Obviously, a pair of air-ride Eldorado hi-backs was not going to fit this application, so two slender hi-back seats were acquired from an old Japper, reupholstered to match the interior and bolted into place.

What cannot be seen by the naked eye is the work that went on behind the scenes before the interior was fitted to meet compliance and certification requirements. A full steel roll cage has been fabricated to fit within the cab structure with no visible evidence. Alongside this, solid steel frame plates with crush tubes and high tensile bolts have been used to anchor it all to the chassis.

“All this extra work was required to ensure that the seatbelt anchorage points complied, so we over- engineered it all to exceed the certification requirements and make sure there was no failure,” explains Flea.

As many genuine Kenworth items as possible were used as well as Kenworth build techniques, which truly captured that authentic factory-fresh look. Where required, parts were handcrafted to scale to replicate the real item while maintaining correct proportions – for example, the fuel tanks and tank-mounted entry steps.

‘Kylie’ and Flea looking forward to the upcoming season of shows and cruising. Photo: Morey collection.

The eye-catching metallic blue paint was done in a bake oven by the team at Counties Auto Painters. Then it was off to John at Sign Shed, near Tuakau, to apply the stripes and signage.

“The paint and artwork really has captured all that I was looking for,” says Flea. “It is the little details like the KW bug laid out with my EDS company logo in the centre of it and the scrolls on the fuel tanks replicating the ones Ian Spedding has on his trucks.”

The tare of the donor Chev pick-up was just over two tonnes when purchased, and now at the completion of the build, the little KW tips the scales at just under 2.5 tonnes, not too shabby considering the amount of fabrication that has been applied to the rig.

The fifth wheel is not just for decoration. It is certified and has the capability of being used to pull a caravan or the like, but as Flea says, “the little KW is a street rod with lots of shiny stuff and is purely built for cruising and shows”.

Flea says the rig has taken three years and more than 7000 man-hours to build. He is quick to add he has no idea of what it cost to build but feels he probably could have purchased several new T909s for the same level of investment. But it was never about the dollars; it was about a lifelong dream to build, own and drive a little K-Whoppa.

What Flea has captured in his mini-Kenworth build is remarkable. It is not just a mild lookalike. Instead, it’s the very essence of what makes a Kenworth a K-Whoppa. Every 5/8th scale detail can be recognised immediately, from the handcrafted dash panels to the alloy tank steps. The level of finish and attention to detail is phenomenal.

As you look through the split windscreen across the hood, all your senses tell you that you are sitting in a Kenworth, yet deep inside your subconscious bells are ringing, alerting you to the fact that something is different. Riding in the ‘Flea Liner’ is a surreal and disorientating experience for the consummate Kenworth enthusiast.

But far out. It is so damn cool!