Andrew H. & Friends, New Zealand

LRDG Chevrolet 1533x2 Patrol Truck "Te Aroha lll"

The Original Vehicle in 1942
The Truck and the Project

G'Day,

Our project is an LRDG replica that we are creating from a Chev truck discovered in a barn. Its a joint project between three of us Kiwis who are interested in old military vehicles and particularly in the LRDG, in which so many New Zealanders served. The old Chev was given to us by the previous owner who is a Ford fanatic. He has a huge shed full of Ford trucks and tractors and said he was not interested in Chevs, so he gave it to us for nothing. That was in late 2010.

Here are the first pics showing the truck in its original condition before we started restoring it.

We are limited in both time and money so the restoration process is taking a bit longer than expected. It was April 2011 before we started dismantling the old girl. Here is the cab being removed.

The grill panels are a distinctive feature of the Chev 1533X2 LRDG trucks, with some of the vertical “battens” removed for better cooling in desert conditions. Purists may cringe at the modifications necessary to achieve LRDG configuration but we consider creating a replica to honour the New Zealanders who served in the LRDG outweighs other considerations. Anyway here are some before and after pics of the grille panels after bead blasting and priming.

One of the most difficult parts of the restoration was the scuttle which was very badly rusted. Also it had a sharp curve up to the windscreen, which had to be flattened, as the LRDG trucks had the “flat-faced cowl” discussed in another thread. The job was made even more difficult by not having any previous welding experience! So it was straight into the deep end, doing what some would consider very ambitious work for a first attempt at welding.

First we had the scuttle acid-dipped to remove rust and paint (we tried molasses too, but more about that later). Then we made and inserted two patch panels. This all took many weeks, much exasperation and the invention of some new words for the English language.

Then we replaced the curved upper part of the scuttle (immediately below the windscreen) with a flat-faced cowl but as that involved compound curves we had it done by a professional panel-beater. Then we made up a flat dashboard out of 2mm steel to replace the original curved dash which is not correct for our truck. This involved also making a new glove box and a new instrument panel from scratch, as these are different on the 1533X2 trucks. We have about 6 books on the LRDG with many useful photos that help with authenticity. Finally we primed and painted everything ready to install on the chassis.

We found that our chassis was not good enough so hunted around for a better one and were surprised to find one with the correct 134.5 inch wheelbase on a nearby farm. Then we did a mockup of the truck for an ANZAC day display at the local RSA, which caused a lot of interest.

Later we attached the front panels to the chassis for a trial assembly in the shed, with the steering column attached. All body panels have been bead-blasted or acid-dipped and have been given six coats of paint (3 coats of primer, two of gloss enamel and one final coat of mat finish).

We are aware of some minor inaccuracies in the shape and width of the front mudguards, but at this stage we are undecided whether to remedy that, as it will be expensive.

Lately we have been working on the badly rusted floor pan. The seat riser was removed and the floor pan sent away for sand blasting. I love sand blasting because it works so well on thicker steel where there is no risk of warping and it only cost us $20 to blast both sides ready for priming.

Rust is the enemy!! The seat riser was not quite as bad as the floor pan, but still required some repair and rust removal before it could be primed, painted and assembled back onto the floor pan. The rear cross-panel was so badly rusted it had to be replaced with a new one. The petrol tank is also quite badly rusted, so it will be some time before we are ready to install it under the seat.

After attaching the seat riser to the floor pan, the next step was to make new “battens” for the rear cab panel. The original ones in pressed steel, “top-hat” section were too rusted and too expensive to buy new, so we used square section steel tube welded to a 50mm wide strip of panel steel. They will be stronger than the original and serve the same purpose.

We found that the “feet” attaching the firewall to the chassis were rusted through in places, so the rusted bits were cut out and replaced with small, welded-in patches. This was “fiddly” work that required a lot of patience.

Also one of the “toe panels” was so badly rusted that it was not useable, so a new one was made from scratch. This was also quite fiddly work as it is a double thickness panel with lots of bends and angles. The yellow one is the original panel and the red one is the new mirror image copy. All the bending and folding was done in an ordinary vice, as we have very few tools. We have not done this type of work before, so it was a steep learning curve and some things have had to be done twice before we get it right.

So that brings us more or less up to where we are today. The truck is now on its wheels, so we can push it around the workshop, but there is still a lot to do. The next items are to finish the panel work on the rear of the cab and then make a start on the rear Godfriedson “ammo” body. The motor is away being reconditioned.

We decided also to see if we could make a Vickers machine gun out of wood and I think we achieved quite good realism, at least from about 5 metres away.

Future posts will be less frequent, depending on our rate of progress.

Our next job was to restore the petrol tank, which is quite rusty. We made an improvised molasses tank out of old boards and two thicknesses of heavy duty polythene sheeting. We submerged the petrol tank in the molasses at 6:1 strength for 18 days and this was the result. Unfortunately our molasses tank was not quite deep enough to completely submerge the petrol tank, so the exposed parts are still rusty. However we are still impressed by its effectiveness on the submerged parts. Its surprising more people don't use molasses, which is cheap, biodegradable, non-toxic and convenient, as long as you're not in a hurry

We also used molasses to get rid of rust on the seat springs. Here are three pics showing the seat before and after the molasses treatment and then after painting with RIPO and high-build “rust barrier red” primer. As we don't have a spray painting outfit it was a slow and laborious job to brush-paint the individual springs but that's how it was done

The other day we had a mock-up assembly to see how the seat riser and cab look when they are attached to the chassis and we are quite pleased with the result. The next thing will be to make the rear cab sheet-metal.

Today we made a start on the rear curved cab panel using a friend's home-made English wheel. We were quoted $1,000 by a professional panel-beater to make the rear cab panel but that was far too much for us. It was surprisingly easy to use the English wheel considering we had never done it before. We are constantly finding we can do things we never dreamed we would ever be capable of doing!

In pic 1 the panel is being pushed backwards and forwards through the wheeling machine rather like using an old two-man crosscut saw. You can see the same panel (framed by the wheeling machine) on the restored LRDG truck in the background. Pic 2 shows the new panel temporarily screwed onto the framework of our truck to see if it fits properly (it does). We will spot-weld it onto the framework at a later date.

Progress on the truck was not too fast in the recent months – but a lot of work has been done. We want to illustrate these important steps with a number of photographs but without text:

2015-08-31: On Sunday we did a mock-up assembly of the truck to see what she looks like. None of the bodywork is permanently attached yet, but we were pleased to see that everything fits properly and looks right. Its a morale booster, as we are hoping to display her (unfinished) at the Armistice Day commemorations in November. We have nearly finished installing the brakes and have also started working on the gearbox, universal joints and driveshaft.

2016-01-09: A little more progress yesterday. As suggested in some other threads, we have now ground off a narrow strip around the split rims to make it easier to fit the tyres (that is, when we can find suitable tyres! ). After sandblasting, the rims received two coats of primer, a coat of gloss enamel and later they will receive one coat of matt desert colour.
Then we started assembling the gearbox. All the bearings and seals have been replaced except the roller-bearing, which was replaced by a phosphor bronze bush (that size of roller bearing could not be found). We are still missing the “oil slinger” at the output shaft, and hope its not needed as we are using sealed bearings. We decided not to bead-blast the cogs and have just wire-brushed them, leaving some surface rust. Not happy about the rust, but when the truck is mobile we will drain the gearbox after a short run, to get rid of any small particles. The gear teeth are slightly worn, but at least none of them are missing!

2016-02-02: A quick update: We decided that we should put an oil groove in the brass bush in the gearbox. Luckily, my neighbour is a precision engineer and he did it at no cost . He is a true craftsman and set the lathe up carefully, using a dial-guage to get the measurements exactly right. The only way he could do it in his lathe was to make several spiral grooves, rather than a single groove but we saw no problem with that. First he cut an annular groove from the oil hole around the full circumference inside the bush. Then he got the lathe to cut a spiral groove about 1mm deep and 1mm wide from the oil hole to the front at 6mm spacings. That gave three full spirals over the 23mm length of the bush. In one of the pics he is turning the lathe by hand to achieve more control, but mostly it was automated with both axis of the lathe working in unison. The blue tape is there to keep the brass filings out of the bearing. Another small step

After a 6-week stint in hospital I am back on deck and looking forward to continuing our LRDG project. Nothing has been done to the Chev for the last 2 months but work will resume in April.

Actually we joke among ourselves that by the time it is finished we will be either dead or too old to enjoy it! (we are getting on in years). But yes, we do dream of driving her through the Libyan desert behind enemy lines with the wind in our hair while squinting down the barrel of a Vickers 0.5. Unfortunately there are not many deserts here in NZ to try her out on.

Well, another ANZAC day has passed without our truck being finished, or at least being mobile. But I am happy to report that there was some real progress today, as the reconditioned motor has at last arrived from the engine reconditioning shop! Yay!!! We only had to wait 4 years! But to be fair, until now the lack of an engine has not been holding us up, as there were so many other things we could do on the truck. But now we are looking forward to installing the engine, getting everything aligned properly and sorting out the fuel pump, carburetor, distributor and starter-motor, which we expect to take a few weeks. Also pleased to report that, after a lot of rummaging we eventually found the original oil slinger and installed it in the reconditioned gearbox.

Yesterday we removed the cab and rear tray (they were only temporarily attached) so we could more easily access the brakes and install the newly reconditioned motor. Today we installed the engine and gearbox in the chassis for the first time. After five years this is a great day for us!! We were hoping to fire it up too, but we ran out of time by late afternoon and called it a day. So the ceremonial start-up will have to wait a little while longer. We still have to attach the starter-motor, generator, carburetor and radiator before we can hear her run. The chassis is mounted temporarily on old narrow tyres until we can source the correct 10.5 × 16 LRDG tyres.

Today was the BIG DAY when we kicked the motor into life. After attaching the carburetor, distributor, generator, coil, fan belt and starter motor we parked Eric's vintage tractor beside the truck to jump-start from its battery. We didn't connect the radiator. Then we rigged up a temporary gravity fuel tank (no fuel pump yet) and guess what! She actually started!! She ran beautifully for 15 seconds until we killed it and gave ourselves a big pat on the back! We may have an issue with the oil pump, as there was no oil spurting out of the holes in top of the valve rockers. We will have to keep an eye on that. Also we need to recondition the starter motor and fuel pump.

Recently we have been working on the drive-shaft and universal joints. The original drive-shafts could not be used so we had to source some from a cannibalised hulk that we have access to. Yesterday we did a bit more work on the motor, tweaking the timing, carburetor and fuel pump and running it very briefly (still no radiator) to check that everything is working properly. Un-muffled, she makes a throaty roar at full tit!

We were very pleased to see that the drive-shafts are aligned properly and rotate smoothly and without any vibration. When we pressurised the brake-lines for the first time, we found several leaks at the junctions. Tightening them up did not fix the leaks. We think this might be because we only single-flared the pipe, as we don't have a double-flaring tool.

Yesterday we were lucky to have our friend Neil (red jersey) come along to double-flare our brake lines. He is a retired A-Grade mechanic of 40 years experience who has done this job a thousand times, so we are now confident that they have been done properly and will be reliable. Working conditions are difficult at present with wind and cold rain outside. We work in two sheds neither of which are very warm or weatherproof and they are separated by a muddy track. Roll on summer!!!

Yesterday our mate Neil finished double-flaring the brakes. It was very cold, with a smattering of snow on the nearby hills, so full marks to Neil for coming back to finish the job on such a miserable day. And best of all, when we added brake fluid and pressurised the system there are no longer any leaks! Then we spent some time trying to give the engine a sustained run, but there were persistent fuel line blockages. Also we have discovered a bad leak in the radiator that will have to be fixed. She started great with a throaty roar and then died after a few seconds, but it was long enough to see 20 psi showing on the oil guage. By the time we had the fuel line cleared it was time to call it a day and go home and recover by a warm fire with a stiff whisky.

You can see from the pics that Erics workshop is somewhat “cluttered” but he assures us he knows where everything is. Trouble is the other two members of the team (“Major Cockup” and “General Mayhem”) don't, and we spend as much time looking for tools as we do actually working on the truck!

Today we fitted the new (re-cored) radiator and went for a brief drive to see if everything is working properly. There was barely enough room to fit the radiator past the fan and we spent a lot of time trying to install it carefully without damaging it. Then we filled it with water and set off down the tanker track, only to find that it was leaking quite badly. After spending a small fortune on re-coring, we were very disappointed to find it leaking. We still do not have any 10.5 × 16 tyres or a proper petrol tank, so we rigged up a temporary petrol tank clamped to the front bumper. We also need a proper back for the seat. Plenty to keep us occupied in the weeks ahead!

Yesterday we attached the running boards. As we had only one front r/b bracket in very poor condition, we decided to make two new brackets from scratch (painted red in the photo). Another reason for making new front brackets is that the original “top hat” spacers welded to the under side of both running boards, were so badly rusted that they were un-usable. That created a 50mm gap between the running board and the original brackets, so we made our new front brackets 50mm higher. We then filled the gap on the rear r/b brackets with a wooden spacer. We have not yet bolted the LHS mudguard to the running board, but it looks like it will be a nice tight fit.

Purists will note from the photo that our mudguards do not have the correct curve at the front (near the bumper) for LRDG configuration. We may decide to fix this later, but right now it is not a high priority.

Today we made and installed new sills for the running boards from 2mm sheet steel, made new floor boards from 20mm plywood (the original steel floor was toast) and bought four used radial tyres. The modern tyre specification equivalent to the original 10.5 × 16 inch tyres used by the LRDG is 265/75/R16 but strangely that outer diameter is too small compared to the tyres shown in the WWII photos. The second-hand tyres we bought are significantly larger at 315/75/R16 but much better-proportioned (see pic).They are worn but have enough tread for our purposes. We gave up looking for correct 10.5 × 16 sand-pattern tyres with highway speed capability, a long time ago. But we will have to remove that Yokohama brand name!

We have made more progress with the truck lately and now have the rear body permanently attached. On Tuesday we went for a short drive to test the brakes (see pic) and we are pleased that they work well. We are determined to display our Chev at the annual Armistice Day commemorations at Lake Karapiro on 12th and 13th November. She is not yet road-legal so we will take her over there on the back of a low-loader truck. We still have a lot of last-minute jobs to finish before then and even when they are finished she will still not be complete. For example there is still no proper petrol tank under the seat, no parking lights, no blackout light, no external condenser, no sand channels, bush bar, tail-gate chains, tool boxes, can-holders, folding aero-screens, greedy-boards, gun-mounts – the list seems endless. But we are determined to get her to Karapiro come what may!

On Saturday we took “Te Aroha III” to the annual Armistice Day display at Lake Karapiro, where we joined up with the other LRDG enthusiasts in jeeps and Chev 1533X2 trucks like ours. It was a great day and the culmination of six years hard work by our team. Brendan O'Carroll, author of “Kiwi Scorpions” and other well-known LRDG books was there too – that's him standing at left-centre in Arab head-dress (next to David Sterling of SAS fame!). Later we re-enacted a battle involving the LRDG and the Afrika Korps using large amounts of blank .303 ammunition, with our position being reconnoitered by a genuine Feisler Storch spotter plane. Our truck performed very well and we look forward to similar occasions in future.

On Saturday we had a BBQ to celebrate the completion of our truck, inviting all who had helped us or shown an interest the project. Over the last six years we have received considerable help from local people, including businesses which have given us big discounts on materials and individuals who helped us with their skills or advice. It seems that some Te Aroha people recognize that the project is of special significance to the town. Brendan O'Carroll lent us some of his Arab head-dresses for the photo shoot. However I think we have some way to go before we learn how to wear them with panache.