Owner: Sergies Lucas
Article and photos by MB Johnson Holdings Pty Ltd, South Townsville Old 4810, Australia. copyright 2004 MB Johnson Holdings Pty Ltd. all rights reserved. Sergies Lucas is a 51 year old self-taught timber craftsman with vision, creativity and a passion for achieving a standard of product that has long been lost to the world through natural attrition.
Not that Sergies has plans to build his own casket just yet, but if he did, you can bet it would be impressive.
However, in addition to a natural affinity for life, timber and vintage memorabilia, Sergies wanted to restore an old vehicle for promotional and delivery purposes in his business.
In the mid 90’s, he asked associates to keep a lookout for an old pick-up truck. He didn’t care what make or model, just so long as it was vintage. It also had to have timber work so that restoration would exemplify his trade.
Eventually a friend mentioned that a cane farm at Giru, between Townsville and Ayr, was for sale …. and there was an old pick-up truck in the shed which also was for sale.
On inspection it turned out to be a 1939, 3/4 ton Special, Chevrolet and, although they had to hot-wire it and attach a make-shift petrol tank; it started.
“It wasn’t ‘gone in 60 seconds’ but I test drove it once around the house,” Sergies said.
And although the vehicle’s shape wasn’t what he first had in mind, any disappointment had turned to ardour before he returned to Townsville.
“I had even chosen the colour scheme.
“But I wanted to check with Queensland Transport regarding the legalities of driving the vehicle, albeit restored, on the road.
“They didn’t have a problem. In fact, because the original design didn’t have doors, they weren’t required. Nor was it required to have seatbelts fitted.
“Although the vehicle was in sad shape when I bought it, I think I got excellent value for $2,000” he said.
Sergies knew he had to strip the vehicle down to its last nut and bolt and sandblast, clean, paint and replace worn-out parts. It was a daunting task.
But fortunately there was enough of the old timber left to use as templates to manufacture the new timber components. In fact, whatever was made in timber, or could be changed, either for improvement or by necessity, was restored in the finest, furniture-grade Jarrah.
The steering wheel, for example, epitomised Sergies’ work standards but almost spelt the end of the road for both him and the project.
Sergies decided to grind the old bakelite off the steering wheel and replace it with timber. An innovating thought.
“In a last-ditch attempt to get a steering wheel off another truck to act as a stopgap while I restored the original wheel, I pulled hard on the wheel while a friend hammered the steering column with a punch.
“Suddenly it let go and I went flying off the back onto the ground, landing on my back and both elbows, with the steering wheel still in my hands. The impact shattered my right elbow and broke the corresponding shoulder blade.
“I spent the next month off work,” Sergies said.
The next step in the Chevy’s back-to-the-future experience was to recondition the motor.
Although Sergies has basic knowledge of the internal-combustion engine, he is, by his own admission, not au fait with the intricacies of Gottlieb Daimler’s invention.
“The motor was taken to a friend’s workshop for assessment. The prognosis for four of the pistons was good but the other two were marginally acceptable,” he said
Sergies wouldn’t risk repairs after the vehicle’s restoration so he elected to rebuild the motor, but it included an unscheduled rebore for oversized pistons.
“When the pistons and rings arrived, they were mismatched. Matching rings were not available. I eventually obtained pistons which matched the rings from here in Australia, and the bore ended up .040 oversize.
“However, the new piston size took the cubic inch of the motor from 216.5 to 225 and increased the maximum brake horsepower from 78 accordingly. It is now a 3.690 litre engine.
“It’s a big banger,” he quipped facetiously, adding, “but you wouldn’t put it in the Holden Dealer Team’s Commodore for a run around Mt Panorama.”
Another heart-stopping moment in the life and times of Sergies Lucas and his piece de resistance was when a client came to see about a job and asked how the restoration was going.
By this time the overhauled motor was installed and Sergies offered to start it. But he had forgotten that another enthusiast had earlier looked at the vehicle and, unbeknown to him, left it in gear.
Sergies started the vehicle from outside the cabin, pushing the starter button on the floor, down with his hand. The motor fired up and kept going, taking Sergies with it, down the driveway.
“That was a rush,” Sergies said.
“Unfortunately, I had also placed a couple of ornate clocks valued at $900 each on a makeshift tray on the back and, you guessed it, one came off and crashed to the ground when the truck lunged forward. I worked all night to fix it because that client was coming in the next day to pick it up,” he said.
Other additional but unique, unobtrusive features include a lockable glove compartment under the driver’s seat for valuables when the vehicle is unattended. And the installation of a radio/cassette in the centre console so as not to spoil the original look of the dash. The aerial is secreted in the roof lining.
But unlike today’s dashboards, the Chevy’s dash is spartan.
“It has a speedometer and mileage meter in front of the driver with a smaller, dual amp and oil gauge on the right of it and gas and water temperature on the left.
“I also converted the electrical system from six to twelve volts and while the parkers are still in the headlights, I installed mudguard-mounted parkers, which were an optional extra, and turned them into indicators,” he said.
Another change was the valance which acts as a stoneguard and water-drain attached to, and shaped to follow, the under-lines of the grille. It strengthens the grille and aesthetically finishes the ensemble’s appearance at the bottom.
“But after 64 years, the original was kangaroo-Edward,” he said.
Once again parts were thwarted by the gods of supply and when the valance arrived, the middle, rear section of the item belonged to another model which rendered the unit useless. Sergies decided to make his own, naturally, out of timber.
The result is perfection. However, the only people who get to see this consummate piece of craftsmanship is the mechanic and slow pedestrians.
The actual cost of restoration including materials, parts and outside labour was $29,000, but that does not include Sergies’ labour, of which there were incalculable hours.
What at first was thought would take about 18 months, eventually took six years.
“I averaged about 16 hours a fortnight on the vehicle; over a year times six is, say, 2,500 hours, multiplied by my hourly rate of $35, equals $71,500. Plus the outside costs of $29,000 puts the value of the finished product at $100,000,” he said.
A further blow to the project saw the vehicle insured for only $15,000. Which means Sergies drives with extreme caution.
“At first the insurance company said that they would only insure it for $7,500, but after sending them a copy of the receipts and some pictures, they increased it to $15,000.
“They did not dispute that it was worth more, but they would only go to $15,000, tops. Which would cover one, maybe two of the wheels and a rear-vision mirror,” he joked.
But it’s all been worthwhile according to Sergies.
“The result is extremely satisfying,” he said. “It’s my silent salesman at industry or social events.”
Now that his dream has materialized, his thoughts have turned to the next project. But the prerequisite, of course, is a short-term completion date.
And while the casket has merit, “It’s a bit premature,” he said.