In search of the family Peterbilt

By: Matt Wood, Video by: Matt Wood


Daniel Ridolfo searched Australia-wide for his late father's former workhorse, a 1963 Peterbilt 315a

 

Vince Ridolfo, a former Sicilian barber, emigrated to Australia in 1956. After finding work as a fruit picker and labourer, he entered he road transport industry,

In the early 1960s Vince saw an opportunity in the forests of south-west Western Australia. Local infrastructure was rapidly being rolled out and the State Electricity Commission needed timber for power poles – a lot of timber.

Initially, Vince, along with a business partner, ventured into the forest in a 1958 F600 Ford prime mover, which apparently spent more time broken down in the bush than hauling huge logs of jarrah.

In 1963, Vince saw that he needed something out of the box. He needed a big truck for a big job. And he did something no one else in Western Australia had done to date – he bought a Laurie O’Neil imported Peterbilt.

The Peterbilt 351a was a massive truck for those times, with a naturally aspirated 250hp Cummins, a 4-speed Spicer transmission with a 4-speed joey ‘box and aluminium chassis rails.

Ridolfo Transport continued to grow and by 1967 Vince was off the road and running the show as more trucks and equipment came into the fleet.

The Peterbilt, however, only stayed with the company for about three years. Vince reportedly didn’t really trust the aluminium chassis rails as a few cracks started to appear around the rear.

This 351 Pete was moved on to make way for a similar-spec truck but one that featured a steel chassis rather than an aluminium one.

Vince Ridolfo passed away in the late 1980s. The family rallied around Vince’s wife Domenica and kept the business going. Eventually sons Anthony and Daniel were at the helm.

The rest is transport history as the business evolved, diversified and grew. By the late noughties it had become Intercon Millar and eventually IML Logistics before it was ultimately sold.

Daniel Ridolfo did his time on the tools as a diesel mechanic before entering the family business. While his mates were hankering to build their own street machines and hot rods, Daniel had an agenda of his own – to track down and restore his father’s first new truck: the original ’63 Pete.

This was no easy search, but the truck was eventually tracked down. The basket case Pete sat abandoned on a farm near the far north Queensland town of Innisfail.

"If it was any other truck I wouldn’t even have considered trying to restore it," Daniel says. "We needed a chainsaw just to get it out."

Daniel knew what he was after. He even knows the chassis number and engine number off by heart just in case you’re interested: 16473 and 858838! Over the years the original joey box and Spicer main box had been lost to time. A 13-speed Eaton overdrive took their place behind the Cummins.

Once home, the mammoth resto task began. Daniel handled all the mechanical work while the significant amount of panel work was farmed out.

"It took about seven years to complete," Daniel says of the job. "There were stops and starts but I wanted it to be finished in time to use at my wedding.

"It gave a goal to work towards," he says with a grin.

The result is stunning. This truck presents as brand new and, gearbox aside, is true to its original spec. Modern touches like a stereo and UHF radio are all stealth mounted, adding to the time warp factor.

Back in the late noughties, the last truck bought by Vince Ridolfo was still working in the fleet. The 1986 W model Kenworth was hauling local loads with its mechanical 3406 Cat rumbling away under that classic snout. However, in 2010 the yellow power plant called it a day. Daniel decided to take the truck home and restore it to its former glory.

As with the Peterbilt, the W model is a stunning example in the flesh. Daniel has resisted the temptation to customise or modify.

Read the full story of Daniel Ridolfo's Peterbilt in the July 2017 edition of Owner//Driver, on sale on July 10.

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