Back to the brand

By: Steve Brooks


A self-confessed International ‘tragic’, it was probably short odds that Tasmania’s John Treloar would be first in Australia to buy a new ProStar. Even so, he’s also a realist who knows the brand’s long-term future here hinges as much on the resolve and commitment of both International and Iveco as it does on ProStar’s performance.

 

John's hardworking Prostar is this month's Tranzmile Truck of the Month!

 

The way John Treloar sees it, there’s no structural or mechanical reason why International ProStar shouldn’t succeed in Australia. None at all!

It is, as he succinctly puts it, "Simply a strong, practical workhorse. The same things that made S-line such a good truck are all there in this truck, too."

In fact, without putting too fine a point on it, Cummins-powered S-lines are the reason John Treloar not only ranks among the top tier of International ‘tragics’, but also the reason why the prospect of a ProStar with a 15 litre Cummins engine lit the fires of interest like a flamethrower on fuel.

The story goes like this: John is managing director of Treloar Transport, a busy trucking, civil construction and quarrying company based at Sheffield in northern Tasmania, nestled beneath the stark, imposing stature of Mt Roland.

The company’s roots date back to the mid-50s with his father Cliff hauling fuel in drums before venturing into logging in the 1970s, and ultimately moving into civil construction and quarrying operations as opportunities emerged. These days, a big chunk of the company’s workload is in the construction and maintenance of forestry haulage roads, invariably in steep and difficult terrain. More on that later!

Anyway, it’s a business which today operates a sizeable inventory of around 60 pieces of construction and earthmoving equipment, accompanied by what John describes as "… a dozen mainstream trucks, mainly tipper and dog but also a couple of prime movers for different jobs like hauling machinery."

All but two of the ‘mainstream’ trucks carry the International brand, from five Eagle 9900s, to a couple of Transtars, a pair of seemingly ageless S-lines, and now a single ProStar.

The only exceptions to the International indulgence are two Iveco Powerstars but for reasons that include issues with fit and finish of the cab and occasional electrical glitches, John says it’s unlikely there will be any more.

Besides, he’s not oblivious to speculation that Powerstar may soon be a thing of the past for Iveco, with the company apparently putting its conventional hopes in ProStar while its own Stralis range continues to contest a burgeoning heavy-duty cab-over class.

 

International convert

Anyway, taking a few steps back, John Treloar concedes that several brands of truck have occupied the company’s evolution over the decades. "Some better than others," he says with a smirk. John is, however, quick to confirm that the purchase in 1984 of a second-hand International S-line with a Cummins 350 Big Cam engine was the foundation of a regard which has endured and strengthened for well over 30 years.

That original S-line, John explained, had already clocked close to 500,000 kilometres as a logging prime mover by the time it joined the Treloar operation, where it was duly converted to a tipper hauling a pig trailer and continued to provide faithful service for the next half million kilometres.

Yet it wasn’t just the fundamental integrity of the truck that won his admiration. After about four years in the Treloar business, the 14 litre Big Cam 350 was ready for a rebuild and with a price tag of just $1500 for the entire parts kit, he quickly realised the economics of the S-line and Cummins combination were as appealing as the durability. "As far as engines go, that sealed the future with Cummins, for sure," he remarked.

"And for me, that’s the thing that really stands out, the ability of the truck and engine to be rebuilt for relatively low cost."

Incidentally, that first S-line and Cummins combination went on to notch 3.5 million kilometres before being sold and it’s an adamant John Treloar who again asserts it was that first S-line which laid the groundwork for an association which has survived despite several bouts of International turmoil and the well-publicised problems of Cummins EGR engines.

Meantime, it soon becomes obvious that John Treloar’s indulgence for all things International goes well beyond the day-to-day grind. Tucked away safely in the family garage, for example, are a faithfully restored 1950 International AR110 light truck and a 1977 D1100 pick-up, while under restoration in a Sheffield workshop are a classic R-series prime mover and even an International Scout.

"I just love the history of International in Australia. In the truck industry, there’s nothing quite like it," he says with obvious passion.

Yet while quick to acknowledge that times have changed dramatically since the halcyon days of International Harvester, it’s a pragmatic Treloar who contends the basic structures that define a durable, versatile, cost-efficient truck are as evident in ProStar as they are in the revered S-line.

Inter Prostar

"It’s a no-nonsense truck in many ways," he says of ProStar. "The cab’s solid, it’s on a good chassis, and the engine, gearbox and diffs are pretty much an industry standard.

"There’s a lot to like. At least, there is for me."

As for being first in Australia to buy a new ProStar, there are no regrets. Again, none at all!

"But I have to admit," John says abruptly, "I was a bit worried that it was taking so long for the truck to actually arrive here."

Given that he placed an order soon after ProStar’s Australian debut at the 2015 Brisbane Truck Show, and didn’t take delivery until just a few weeks before Christmas 2017, the worry was more than a tad justified.

"The long wait definitely became a worry. It started to make me wonder if the whole International exercise would happen or not. Anyway, it’s here now and doing a really good job," he adds with a satisfied smile.

In fact, six months and more than 30,000 kilometres into its life as a truck and dog combination, the lone ProStar hasn’t put a foot wrong for either its owner or stalwart company driver Anthony ‘Franky’ Frankcombe,

Still, we’re not far into the conversation when a serious John Treloar admits to a touch of nervousness. A slight concern, he explains, that somewhere down the track there may come a corporate hiccup driven by some unforeseen agenda, or a change of executive resolve, each with the potential to damage or even completely dismantle the current relationship between International and its Australian distributor, Iveco.

"I’m confident it won’t happen," he insists after a few thoughtful moments. "If I wasn’t confident I wouldn’t have bought the truck, I suppose, but I’m just hoping history doesn’t repeat itself because as much as I like International, I don’t think I could tolerate it if they pulled out of Australia again."

Fair enough, too! After all, when you look at the history of International in Australia, this certainly isn’t the brand’s first comeback.

But then, in the next breath it’s an entirely upbeat John Treloar who states, "As far as I’m concerned, there’s a good future for this truck and personally, I don’t see why International and Iveco can’t go on to bigger and better things.

"There’s certainly plenty of potential with this truck, particularly if they add a few more options. There’s a lot of scope for it. Absolutely!

International ‘tragic’. John Treloar at home in the shadow of Mt Roland, with two treasured pick-ups of the past, a 1950 International AR110 model and a D1100 from 1977

 

Building Bridges

You don’t need to look deep into the Treloar operation to find classic reminders of earlier days when International and Iveco were on a roll. The standout examples in this case are the stunningly maintained 9900 Eagles still working well despite the mounting passage of time and toil.

Following Iveco’s acquisition of the remnants of the once-great International Harvester company, the Eagles recall a time soon after the dawn of the new century when Iveco and the refashioned International brand operating under the Navistar banner, were seemingly glued together in a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Capitalising on the brand’s redoubtable reputation with Australian operators, International in the US started supplying assembly kits for the long-nosed 9900 Eagle, the sloping snout of its 9200 sibling and later, the largely under-rated 7600 model powered by Cat’s popular C-12 engine.

Tested and adapted to Australian conditions, the three models were assembled at the same sprawling Dandenong (Vic) plant where hundreds of thousands of International trucks first came to life. Critically, the American conventionals were not only a formidable adjunct to Iveco’s own range of European models, but their local assembly also provided valuable viability to the vast Dandenong facility.

What’s more, a great deal of work had been done at Dandenong to ensure the exercise was both financially feasible and operationally sound, and with the various models successfully enduring ongoing tests at the Anglesea (Vic) proving ground created decades earlier by International Harvester, everything seemed to be going along reasonably well.

Then the wheels fell off. Big time! The first setback came when Cat pulled the pin on the truck engine business, effectively bringing the short-lived Australian career of the versatile 7600 to a shuddering, premature end.

Then, in what hindsight reveals as one of the most ill-considered and possibly inane corporate get-togethers in the modern era, International parent Navistar closed the door on its relationship with Iveco in Australia, opting instead for a much maligned deal with Caterpillar to create the world’s first Cat-branded highway truck.

It didn’t take a genius to realise the so-called Cat truck was simply a rebadged ProStar, sporting Cat’s 15 litre engine, a honeycomb grille to deliver a visual difference, and the entire exercise predicated on the massive assumption that Cat engine addicts would jump at the chance to pay big bucks for a truck untried on the Australian market.

Eventually, it all fell apart when Cat decided to end its involvement in the truck industry altogether, basically leaving Navistar to pick up the pieces.

Across the ages. For John Treloar, it all started with an S-line (left), then came the 9900 Eagle and now, International ProStar

 

Eagle eyed

John Treloar remembers those days well, particularly when it became obvious there would be no more Internationals coming out of the Dandenong factory. "It was a major disappointment and to be honest, for a while I was wondering what I’d end up buying in the future," he declared.

Even so, in a decisive bid to shore up his International stocks, he made a point of buying the last 9900 Eagle to roll out of Dandenong as well as snapping up a couple of second-hand Eagles in exceptionally good condition.

Like their S-line and Transtar counterparts, the big-beaked Eagles have stood the test of time exceptionally well but it’s a definite John Treloar who says he had real concerns about how he could possibly maintain an entrenched preference for International in the aftermath of the Cat deal.

"There were a few people suggesting I should buy a Cat truck because it was based on a ProStar anyway," he remarked. "But I wanted Cummins, not Cat, so that idea didn’t get too far."

There was, of course, also the option of another brand of truck. Top of the heap, especially with some drivers, was Kenworth and to a lesser extent, Mack.

"To be honest, I didn’t want to be forced into considering either of them," he asserts, "but I knew I could a lot worse than Kenworth."

Then came the first whispers that in the wake of the Cat collapse, Iveco and International were talking about the possibility of a Cummins-powered ProStar joining Iveco’s Australian stable. Yet as relieved and keen as he was about the International brand re-entering the Australian market, a forthright John Treloar says he wasn’t overly impressed with ProStar at the 2015 Brisbane Truck Show.

"I don’t know what it was, maybe because it looked so different to any earlier Internationals, but it didn’t excite me too much at first," he remarked. "Even so, I wanted International back in the market so for that reason I was happy enough to place an order for the first one."

Of course, the long delay after signing the order didn’t do a lot for his confidence but fortunately, time and toil have since eased his concerns, particularly regarding product integrity.

"It’s an International through and through," John says earnestly of ProStar. "A real workhorse. I suppose there’s nothing particularly flash about it but it’s a practical, strong truck. Exactly what I want and need for our work."

As for the future, John Treloar says he’s not in the market for another new truck just yet, but given ProStar’s performance to date and what he states is "a genuine belief" that Iveco and International are committed to their agreement, ProStar will continue to be his first choice for a new truck.

"There’s no doubt in my mind there’s a real market for this truck," he emphasised, adding there has been significant interest from other operators about ProStar’s performance to date.

"I can only tell anyone what I know, and that is the truck’s doing a good job.

"At first I thought the front end might be too low for some of the tracks we run on but it hasn’t had any dramas at all."

Gathering his thoughts, he continued, "I must admit I was a bit surprised that it weighs about 900 kilograms more than the Eagles, but it’s a bigger engine and a heavier driveline, so the extra weight doesn’t really concern me because with the work we do, we’re chasing durability more than tare weight. That’s why all the tippers use Hardox steel bodies."

He does, however, cite a couple of areas where he believes ProStar’s appeal could be further enhanced. On the inside, for instance, John suggests an upgraded trim package – maybe a touch of woodgrain around the dash and gauges – would almost certainly elevate the truck’s appeal with drivers.

"Something similar to the Eagle dash," he quips. "Surely, it couldn’t be too hard to achieve."

Most of all, however, he sees the potential of a Cummins X12 engine as a major attribute for ProStar’s progression in the Australian market. Like many operators, he’s heard and read (almost all in this magazine) plenty of positives about the light and lively X12 with up to 500hp and 1700ft-lb of torque, and a tare weight more than half a tonne less than its 15 litre brother.

John also knows it’s an engine still looking for a truck to call ‘home’ and he isn’t shy about expressing the view that if ProStar was first to offer an X12, it would be a significant asset for the model’s, and indeed International’s, advancement.

"It’d be a case of giving the market something it wants and no one else offers," he reasons. "It would definitely appeal to me because we do a lot of 10 yard (rigid tipper) work and a 12 litre Cummins would be ideal. No doubt at all."

For now though, John Treloar is simply content to let ProStar do what all his Internationals do: Go to work every day, doing the job without fuss or furore.

Asked if he’d like to see ProStar assembled at Iveco’s Dandenong factory, he simply smiles and says, "Yes, I reckon that’d be a good thing, for sure, but that’s for others to decide, not me."

Quiet for a few moments, he quips, "Look, I know I have all my eggs in the International basket, and I’m certainly well aware of things that have happened in the past.

"But you can’t live in the past either, and I’m definitely confident this is the right truck for our market.

"We get good service from Peter White at W & B Trucks in Burnie, so while ever the truck’s doing the job well, I really don’t have much to worry about," John concludes.

First and last. Thinking International’s days were done, John Treloar was quick to snap up the last 9900 Eagle to roll out of the Dandenong factory. Likewise, he didn’t hesitate to grab the first ProStar

 

At the Wheel

In an age when technology is gradually eroding many of the skill sets once considered commonplace, it’s good to spend time in the cab with drivers like Anthony ‘Franky’ Frankcombe.

Friendly in a reserved, even cautious way, Franky is a man totally at ease at the controls of a truck. The way he casually guides the truck through sharp bends on steep, skinny roads, the impeccable co-ordination of engine and gearstick, free of any snicks and sudden snaps, and the smooth pulse of power when and where it’s needed. In these hands, the truck becomes a single, seamless entity rather than a collection of components on separate missions. Sweet, really sweet.

Like I said, in an era when the rapid rise of automated transmissions and computer-controlled drivelines is increasingly compensating for the dissolution of traditional skill sets, it’s truly satisfying to find professional pride and operational finesse still firmly entrenched in drivers like Anthony Frankcombe. Drivers who treat and tailor the truck as their own, and respecting only those of similar standard.

For Franky, it’s just a case of doing the job well and beyond the outskirts of Sheffield where the roads come tight and twisted, the hills sharp and sudden, there’s plenty of opportunity to put those abilities to good use.

Fourteen years with Treloar Transport, he spent seven years and more than 700,000 km content at the wheel of a 9900 Eagle tipper pulling a dog trailer before stepping into the new ProStar last Christmas.

Bush work. Tight tracks are common conditions for Treloar trucks, with ProStar’s short snout and tight turning circle providing big gains in manoeuvrability

 

Signature sound

Franky makes no secret of the fact that in the long wait for the ProStar, he was pushing John Treloar for a new Kenworth, preferably a T909. It wasn’t to be, of course, and with more than 30,000km now behind the wheel of the International, coupled to a three-axle dog trailer, he concedes the truck isn’t short of operational assets.

However, the standard 550hp and 1850ft-lb outputs of the Cummins X15 weren’t appealing from the start. Not at all, says Franky, particularly after stepping out of the Eagle with a 620hp Signature engine barking under the big, broad snout.

While on paper it’d be fair to argue that 550hp and 1850ft-lb of torque would ordinarily be ample for a truck and three-axle dog role where gross weights are generally around 48 tonnes, it doesn’t take long in these parts to see why both John Treloar and Franky were happy to have the engine pumped up to 600hp and 2050ft-lb once it reached 20,000km.

"There’s no shortage of really big, long hills and at 550, the truck just wasn’t pulling all that well," Franky says succinctly. But what about now, with the Cummins re-rated to 600hp? "Yeah, it’s doing it a lot easier, a lot better, and getting better all the time as the engine gets more work under its belt."

On the fuel front, a Cummins download revealed an average figure of 2.0km/litre (5.65mpg) over the first 20,000km. For John Treloar, it’s a satisfactory return which he expects to improve as mileage accumulates, even with the power increase. Meantime, according to Franky, there has been no discernible increase in fuel consumption at the bowser since the engine was boosted to 600hp.

"It’s doing the work just that bit easier so I’d be surprised if the next download shows the engine using any more fuel," he contends.

As for his overall opinion of ProStar, Franky can’t hide the fact that the slatted grille and sloping snout of the aerodynamically inspired International didn’t initially light his fire, especially after the square-jawed, manly stature of the Eagle.

Time behind the wheel has, however, softened the attitude to a firming regard for ProStar’s inherent attributes, not least the exceptional vision over the drooping hood and a significant gain in manoeuvrability over the Eagle.

In fact, as he steers the International down a narrow forestry road with a severely tight area to reverse for the run out, it’s a definite Franky who cites these two attributes as "real benefits" of the ProStar on the bush tracks where so much of Treloar’s work takes place.

Surprisingly, he says it’s a marginally noisier in-cab environment than the Eagle but cites good seats and impressive ride quality high on the list of likes. There’s also a pronounced liking for the gearshift of the 18-speed Eaton, the gauge layout and the practicality of switches and control functions.

Like his boss, however, it’s an adamant Franky who insists more could be done to enhance the appeal of the truck, notably with an upgraded interior trim package.

"Something like the inside of the Eagle," Franky suggests. "It’s a good cab in a lot of ways but it just needs something to trick it up a bit."

As for the future, he just shrugs and much like John Treloar, says simply, "It’s a good honest truck doing the job pretty well; so while ever it’s doing that, I’m happy to keep driving it."

Top driver. Anthony ‘Franky’ Frankcombe has been in ProStar from day one. In operational terms, he finds plenty to like

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