Picture Perfect - 1989 Mack Super-Liner

By: Warren Aitken, Photography by: Warren Aitken


Gavin Sutton discovered a retired classic Mack Super-Liner, refurbishing it with a view to take it around the truck show circuit. But this ’89 bulldog scrubbed up so well that it quickly wound up back in the workforce.

Picture Perfect - 1989 Mack Super-Liner
Gavin Sutton's 1989 Mack Super-Liner

Everyone’s heard the old adage, ‘a picture paints a thousand words’. Right? Well, as a journalist I supply the picture as well as 1000 words to go with it. Some of it is an attempt to be informative, some of it is an attempt to be entertaining, but most of it is just to get paid. Every now and then I get to photograph some trucks where there is no number of words that will ever entertain as well as the photos of aforementioned trucks. Like Gavin Sutton’s Super-Liner for example. A photo of this Mack is worth more than 1000 words easily.

Gavin Sutton runs GST transport, based out of Australia’s home of country music, Tamworth. He’s got a fleet of trucks covering all corners of the country and there is a story to tell there as well, but that’s for another day. Right now we are focussing on the ‘right place right time’ situation that resulted in Gavin fulfilling a lifelong desire to own a classic Mack Super-Liner.

Back to work: the Super-Liner’s truck show career has been put on hold

Believe it or not, the 1989 Super-Liner was an unwanted child. It ended up in the hands of Don McQueen and the McQueen family after the original order got cancelled. The keen-eyed observer will pick up on the non-factory sleeper box that Don had fitted to the day cab-specced truck. With Don McQueen behind the wheel the truck was a regular on the Newell raceway back in the infamous early ’90s.

"It’s still good for near 100mph," Gavin confesses, though I’m sure this is a qualified estimate based purely on the long diffs and some fine calculations, not from testing it out. The Mack spent five years running up and down the coast. Word has it the truck used to haul for Comet out of Melbourne, up to Brisbane and then race off and grab a load of bananas back to Sydney. Painted up in an olive green with yellow blue and silver stripes, and adjourned with plenty of scroll work, the Super-Liner was the epitome of cool from day one.

After five years it was apparently sold to Keysseckers in Mudgee where it was used to cart explosives. Think of the irony in that – a big banger carting big bangs (it doesn’t take much to amuse me). The Mack spent another five years doing explosive work, but sadly the rules and regulations for that work stipulated that no trucks older than 10 years were acceptable. Again, the truck went up for sale.

Rewiring led to an all new dash, with new upholstery as well

That’s how the truck ended up in Gavin’s neck of the woods, though still a fair while before Gav would get it. It was bought by John Dunn Towing in Tamworth, the chassis was shortened to fit some heavy towing gear on the back, then a nice new paint job and it became one of NSW’s coolest tow trucks.

Retirement ready

After five years of Hume racing and five years of explosive adventures, the big Mack settled down to nearly two full decades of playing recovery vehicle. In that time John wore the factory E9 out and had it replaced with a new one. Even with the old motor I’m pretty sure it would not have been beaten to many recovery jobs by anything other than the local cops.

In early 2017 John Dunn retired the 28 year-old truck and replaced it with a new Iveco. It was here that a chance encounter brightened up both Gavin Sutton’s day and the bulldog’s future.

"I happened to stumble along John one Saturday morning doing a recovery," Gavin recalls. "I said, ‘what are you doing with the old girl?’. He replied, ‘it’s for sale’ so I grabbed my wallet and said ‘how much?’"

The old Super-Liner led a pretty hard life as a tow truck
A special shout out to Roger Evans, the man with a million Mack photos, who found this stunner of the Mack in its original setup. She was an eye catching piece even then

Impulse shopping is never really a great idea but restoring an old Super-Liner, driving an old Super-Liner, owning an old Super-Liner, well, all that trumps common sense and Gavin walked away that Saturday with his very own Mack Super-Liner.

According to the thousands of photos on Gavin’s phone it was February 2017 when he picked the truck up, drove it straight to the yard, stirred up some dust and no doubt let of a few smoke signals then parked it in the workshop where he and the team began the tear down.

The truck obviously had the towing gear removed already, meaning Gavin, along with a lot of help from Daniel ‘Boon’ Dowe, were left to pull the rest of the truck to pieces. Cab and bonnet were removed and all the tanks, in fact everything was removed. The cab and chassis were all blazed, primed and resprayed by Boon.

Before the respray the truck was lengthened back out to its original specs by the team at Alan Fisher Fabrications. Once it had been tidied up by Boon, with a little help from Gavin, they put the truck back to a basic point and sent it back off to AK Fabrications to get a lot of the more specialised repairs done.

Gavin Sutton’s life-long dream was to own a classic Mack Super-Liner

All new deck plating needed to be built, and all new brackets were built for the tank steps as at some stage during its lifetime someone had replaced them after some damage. A new turntable was also fitted.

Not so smooth

The fuel tanks themselves were about as smooth as the Bruce Highway, so rather than try and repair them Gavin actually threw them in the back of the ute and headed to Rob and the boys at RC Metalcraft to get them wrapped. "They didn’t have a stencil for these type of tanks" Gavin recalls. "They mucked about for about a day and got it done though, did a great job."

Contrary to my first assumption it wasn’t just to avoid polishing, I saw photos and the tanks were very worn.

The Super-Liner’s wrapped tanks, thanks to RC Metalcraft

The other stainless work was farmed out to a local company JRC Stainless and, like Gavin, I couldn’t fault the workmanship. The customised pieces between the rear guards – with the bulldog cut into it – are spot on. JRC also did the stainless and lights on the steps, as well as around the dogbox in all them. According to Gavin, their biggest challenge was adding the stainless under the cab.

"The bit under the cab on a Super-Liner is very, very difficult. Because of the nature of the cab and how it’s formed, it took a lot of work". He makes it very clear though that he’s very pleased with the work. "They did an outstanding job, outstanding."

Another local company with huge involvement in the project was A&K Auto Electrics. Basically the whole truck got rewired, everything around the engine, the cab … everywhere. "It was a bit of a rat’s nest," Gavin admits. "Over the years, different owners, different applications, it had been doctored up a lot."

A bulldog guards the rear guards

From the radiator to the taillights it all got a work over. When it came to rewiring the interior it was decided to source a whole new dash. "The old one was just full of holes from 57,000 CB radios, UHFs, scanners and all that sort of thing," Gavin says. A fibreglass company in Toowoomba were able to supply a new one for the big rig. Pretty much all the lights were stuffed or walking the plank at best, so all new lights were fitted. Gavin sourced out original Mack lights, just sealed beam lights this time. He wanted to try and keep the truck close to original.

Part of that originality was the Mack bull bar. The truck’s original bar had obviously sent many a wildlife creature off to that big farmyard in the sky and was beyond repair. A call was placed to Tony Tester, who runs BigRigBullbars and specialises in replica Mack bars. The bar is slightly different to the truck’s original one, but the new one looks right at home under the bulldog’s nose.

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Mack aficionados will notice the offsets on the steer axle. True, those weren’t factory fitted, however the 10 stud alloys were. On the build sheet, and in the early photos of Don’s ride, you’ll see it had 10 studs up front. Sure, Don would have had to polish his whereas Gavin’s gone with chromed alloy all round for the restoration. One less thing to polish.

Freshened up

A cuppa tea and a computer screen with the legendary Showy from Showman Signs in Newcastle saw the scroll work designs. "He’d add one here, I’d take away one here," Gavin smiles. He admits Showy is a fan of the Macks as well so he had some great ideas that wouldn’t be too over the top.

While the company colours for GST are white with the blue, when Gavin and his painter Daniel ‘Boon’ Dowe discussed the repainting they knew it would start with a metallic blue chassis. Cab-wise, he wanted it to look similar to his fleet, albeit different, so cream it was. There was a fair bit of time mixing, getting creamier and creamier as it went until the end result emerged.

Last but not least was a freshen-up of the cab. With the all-new dash and wiring set up it goes without saying that the rest would get a spruce up. Again, Gavin looked locally and had the truck sent off to Ferry’s Motor Trimmers to get the all new upholstery fitted.

It took almost two years to get the legendary old Mack back into show class standards. From a hard worked ex-tow truck, Gavin brought it back to a top class show truck. I say that with a little grin. Why? Because it lasted longer as a show truck than I would last on Dancing with the Stars. In fact it was roadworthy for a week or so before Gavin had it down at the local transport office getting it registered.

The Mack practices smoke signals before heading into downtown Tamworth locals (note to environmentalists: please look away)

Two days later he had hooked it up to the company trailers and loading up. They built those old MKIIs to work and Gavin couldn’t resist doing just that. Sure he was gentle with it at first, just single trailer jobs, very picky about which pickups and deliveries it would do. Then he decided to change the rego and start putting road trains behind it. As a truck lover and a photographer I’m all for this. Check out the shots of the big Super-Liner with a couple of trailers in tow – it looks right at home! However, I’d also want a chaser car out front making sure no-one was flicking stones at the classic truck as they went past either. It would be an emotional roller coaster.

With it getting a bit of work to do there has been another important change as well. The original 9-speed ’box has finally been removed and replaced with an 18-speed. "I thought it might slow it down as well," says Gavin with a grin. "I don’t think it has."

He’s had the old Super-Liner for four years now and is still loving every minute of it. Even as we moved around Tamworth to go get some photos there were heads turning as they heard and saw the big girl coming. "The desired effect was plenty of smoke and plenty of noise and that’s what we got," Gavin admits.

It may be helped that during the restoration project the single muffler in the chassis just ‘happened’ to be left out. The end result is that Gavin Sutton has a working show truck whose image can paint more than a thousand words.

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