Cover story: 1939 barrel nose Ford

By: Lyndsay Whittle, Photography by: Lyndsay Whittle


Deals on Wheels' Lyndsay Whittle checks out Brian and Viv Southall's 1939 barrel nose Ford

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Kenny and Bryan Southall

Ian and I are no strangers to taking road trips in search of old trucks, cars, and buses, harking back to our volunteer days at Auckland’s Museum of Transport and Technology, long ago when it was New Zealand’s pre-eminent transport museum.

The two-hour drive south from Auckland on a bleak early winter day was immediately rewarded as we drove up Bryan and Viv Southall’s driveway where we were greeted by the sight of not one but two V8 trucks.

One was the pristinely-presented one-tonne we’d heard about and the other, a diamond in the rough, in the form of a three-tonner still sporting Brown Bros Drilling signwriting, along with its fleet No 2 on the side.

Restored to its former glory

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Brian and Viv Southall

Bryan, who’s obviously an accomplished vehicle restorer, told us that he’s always been keen on making things and as a youngster, he spent a lot of time with his dad in the family farm’s workshop.

So, in 1984 when an opportunity to purchase the ’39er as a rolling cab and chassis, along with countless boxes of bits that he hoped would eventually complete his project, he jumped at the chance.

As often happens, life got in the way and it wasn’t until 2006 that he got stuck into turning his dream of driving the truck into a reality. He worked on the project between 2006 and 2008 in what little spare time he had, however, to speed up the process a bit, he sent the truck up to Penrose to a panel shop to be finished off.

In a scenario that has been played out in many a long-term restoration, the company doing the panel work went bust and even though the painter he’d engaged had done a nice job on the paintwork, Bryan says he had a devil of a job getting the truck back due to the panel beater not completing his end of the bargain.

It appears that as they say, ‘all’s well that ends well’ and the brightly-painted old V8 returned home to Otorohanga where Bryan proceeded to build the deck and to remedy quite a bit of work the panel beater had left unfinished.

In 2010, the truck was ready for the road and Bryan and Viv started doing some trips around the country with the Early Ford V8 Club (EFV8C). Viv, who wasn’t at home on the day of our visit, later told me on the phone that Bryan and she have many happy trips away in the old beast, even venturing almost as far south as Invercargill.

It’s hardly surprising to hear that they’re both happy to cover such long distances in the V8, as on the short trip down the road I was treated to, I found that the 81-year-old truck gives a good ride and gets along well at around 50mph (80km/h).

The one-tonne V8s came out in three- and four-speed gearbox variants (although the majority were three-speed models) with the three-speed boxes having synchromesh on second and third gears.

Bryan and Viv’s one is the four-speed crash box model that gives off a classic old school whine in the lower gears, which in this writer’s opinion gives old trucks real character, but generally makes for slower gear changes.

Not so in this truck’s case, as with a combination of good driving ability and an obviously well-maintained vehicle, Bryan proved that he could make quick gear shifts without crashing the gears once.

It’s no doubt that a set of cleverly concealed modern car seats, hidden beneath black sheepskin rugs aided the comfort of the old barrel-nose, but we won’t tell everybody, will we?

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The original signwriting will be retained

Viv says they’ve retained the original seats should their son Kenny (who will eventually inherit the truck) want to reinstate it to completely original specs once its long-distance travelling days are over.

But in the meantime, the posh seats are going to stay firmly in place, as Viv, in her capacity as EFV8C area rep, has organised some upcoming trips away to go on what the club calls ‘shed raides and cafes tours’.

‘Shed raides’, she says, take place when a group around 15 people in seven to eight cars descend on folk’s sheds full of interesting stuff. Sounds like a lot of fun; I think I want to come along too!

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The one-tonner out for a spin

I’d been eyeing up the ‘oily rag’ Brown Bros truck and didn’t say no when I was invited for a ride in that, although, this time it was a much shorter spin to the bottom of the Southall’s driveway and back.

Bryan said that if I thought the one-tonner’s gearbox sounded sweet, the cogs in the unrestored truck were even better. I have to be honest and say that we had a bit of a bone-shaker ride, which was due to the lack of weight over the back axle, nevertheless, I still got a chance to listen to that gearbox sound just one more time.

When the bigger truck came up for sale in 2013, Bryan says he simply couldn’t resist the temptation to get his hands on it. He reckons that he’ll never restore this one to pristine condition, saying that he’d prefer to keep it as close to original condition as is humanly possible, even going to the extent of retaining the Brown Brothers signage, especially the No. 2 fleet designation.

As the truck was operational until 1987, which is fairly recent in restorer-speak, Bryan reckons it feels like the right thing to do to keep it with all its patina. However, not wanting to not be shaken to bits every time the truck is trotted out, it will probably see some kind of tray and some mudguards mounted on the back, without which the truck wouldn’t get a COF anyway.

Bryan says even though he works on his restorations outside his daytime job as a digger operator for a local contractor, he would’ve had the truck on the road long ago if it hadn’t been for another restoration distraction that needed to be completed to a tight deadline.

Bryan’s father Jim had a passion for American Army Dodge command cars, mainly because a long-time shooting buddy of his who was a WWII pilot had a couple of these 1943 vehicles, which had been turned into farm trucks.

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The 1943 Dodge command car

With his elderly father’s health ailing, Bryan knew that if his dad’s dream of seeing one back in its original configuration was ever going to be realised, he had to get the job completed PDQ, so he worked tirelessly, virtually scratch-building the vehicle after a full day at his day job in order to finish the restoration.

As it turned out, the task was completed with little time to spare, as Jim Southall died a few months after the vehicle was completed, but not before Bryan and Viv trailered the car across to Mt Maunganui where Jim was able to watch from an upstairs deck to see his wife Eileen, his grandchildren, and family all going for a ride around the block.

A hand-penned inscription on the side of the command car commemorates the donor, Roly Cammock of Waipukarau, the late Jim Southall who inspired the restoration and the man who brought it all to fruition, master restorer Bryan Southall.

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A small deck and mudguards will be added for compliance purposes

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