Wednesday, May 22, 2024
FEATURES

UNCOMMON – TOM YOUNG 1958 COMMER

One thing I love about this sport/hobby come lifestyle is the fact that we all march to the beat of our own drum. Take the recent LA Roadster show where there would be more topless ‘32 Fords on display at the same time than any other place on the planet, yet you would be hard pressed to find two identical. Individualism amongst our vehicles is not only encouraged but such an element of significance that some owners and builders spend almost limitless funds to achieve. Like art defines the artist, cars speak volumes about the owner. Then there are those who are a little more left of centre then most… like Tom Young.

“I always wanted a truck that is rodded, not a truck that was hot rodded to look like a car.”

Not to pigeonhole Tom but he’s a guy that knows what he likes and doesn’t give a rats about what you think. He will do what he wants and not what is in vouge! 

Tom has a few cars on the road including a rodded bread van appropriately named “Loafer” and a pair of mint 50s Cadillacs, but he was yearning after a truck. “All the years of going to the USA I saw more and more trucks on the scene and I just fell in love with them. I was after a cab over and looked for a few and almost bought a Chevy example, but it didn’t eventuate. Back in Australia I went to a local truck auction and bought a ‘48 Austin van but I have since sold that, then a mate of mine found this Commer on the web and when I saw the pictures I said; ‘that’s it, that’s what I want.’ When you look at the face of them they just have so much character.”

It’s ironic that Tom found his inspiration abroad but located his muse a stone’s throw away from home in Toowoomba. “I pulled the whole truck apart and was looking for someone to start building it. After I saw how Craig (Lockhart) built Rod Brewers ’34 coupe I commissioned him to take up the task. I took a little model to Craig and said ‘this is what I want.’ Most guys build trucks with the wheels forward and a lot of overhang but I wanted the wheels right back. It was always going to be big block and when I found the brand new 502 at Eagle Performance I knew that was it, that’s for me.” 

The stock motor was positioned underneath the seat back in 1958 and it was a horizontally opposed two stroke diesel motor which earned them the nickname ‘Common knocker’. As you could imagine the sound was a bit like a diesel Subaru, add a supercharger and it amplified the sound. “My father used to work on them when he worked for ROOTS group Australia, and in his spare time he worked on them at home in his garage, especially the blown versions. So I grew up around them and now I find myself buying one. It’s not the reason but there is a little bit of nostalgia there,” Tom recalls. “I just love the body and the shape of the Commer. Everybody that sees Loafer (Bread Sled) thinks I’m a bit strange anyway, but I just don’t like to do what everybody else is doing.”

Enter the metal master Craig Lockhart.

Impressed by Craig’s ability to build interesting vehicles from scratch conveying an individual appearance that went far beyond just cosmetics, Tom rocked up to East Coast Race Cars with the Commer cab, guards and bumper and a head full of ideas. Never one to shy away from a challenge outside of the box Craig spent the next 14 months turning Tom’s vision into a one of a kind hot rod truck. The moniker “Uncommon” was set in stone from the very moment work commenced, even if it was mentioned under mumbled breath. 

Taking stock of what he had to work with, keeping in mind that retaining the existing patina was paramount, Craig was clever and left the Commer stock height and achieved the lowered lid look by carefully channelling the cab down over the frame. Although the body was in really neat condition for its age with just one small rust repair required, the 1958 shell had seen its fair share of frozen rocks from God. “Patina was always part of the final finish. I’m not opposed to shiny cars as I have two shiny Cadillacs in the garage, I just don’t like washing them,” Tom chuffs.  All dents were ironed out with the help of good friend Gavin Clemonston and repainted with a rattle can and good humour. Two major body concessions were narrowing the front guards and shortening up the original bumper by five inches, which is unnoticeable by most observers, but it’s just one of the dynamics that makes the complete ensemble look right. 

With the sheet metal shelved for now, Craig set his sights on creating an appropriate platform for the augmented old tip truck. As Tom wanted a big block power plant from the get go, the original ’58 rails would need an upgrade to stay in tune with the increased horsepower. The end result is a frame that features a clever blend of Commer, F350 and fabricated components that’s been shortened to desired length. 

“I would say to Craig what I wanted and he would retort, ‘this is what we have to do to achieve it!’ I’d just say, ‘I don’t know how to do it, I just know what I want.’  Things like the air bags, air conditioning and the Gear Vendors overdrive. It’s not about fuel economy, it’s just a better vehicle with it.”

The superior chassis supports the crate 502 that is now mid mounted allowing the cab to sit low over the frame. Backing up the healthy Chevy is a T400 auto with 2,600 stall converter and the aforementioned overdrive. Final cog in the new drive train is a Dana rear end yanked from an F350. Craig fitted it up with a custom built four bar suspension crafted from Land Cruiser control arms and panhard. Dropping the cabs definitive nose, Craig fitted a lowered F350 I beam and set the whole arrangement on Dunlop airbags. Computer assisted ACCU air suspension with responsive self-levelling ability provides spirited driving akin to most sports cars and not that of a seven tonne heifferlump. All wiring and plumbing was executed in house by Craig over a two month duration, he also gets the kudos for creating the custom brake pedal assembly and mounting the Hydro-Boost booster which halts the big unit via a quartet of F350 brakes. 

Cementing the Commer’s likeable appearance is the unusual rolling stock… well at least for a hot rod. Tom sourced a set of American Eagle forged aluminium wheels from the US that have been shaved a half inch in diameter to take advantage of premium 19” tyres. The big satin finished hoops really look the part and are complimented by Craig’s many other components fabricated in his signature aluminium finish. Rear guards, rear taillight housing, storage boxes and custom fuel tanks just to name a few, with the later featuring filler caps from a 1955 US Air Force bomber. 

While both Tom and Craig wholeheartedly agree on the exterior finish, Tom likes his interior comfort. When the two combined to finish the stake bed, the cockpit was the only thing stopping Tom from enjoying his new toy. The brief was uncomplicated; simple and sharp! Craig’s sheet metal interior panels reflect the brief perfectly and compliment the colour matched painted dash. A major interior highlight is the aged oxblood bench seat repositioned on a modified frame by Craig.

No truck is complete without a UHF communication, sound system and massive horn but this one includes refinements with cabin atmosphere controlled by Vintage Air, cruise control and a full complement of Classic Instrumentation taking residence in the modified Commer dash.  The sano interior is finished with a 17” So-Cal SS banjo steering wheel attached to a Flaming River column and Lokar shifter. The overhead control panel and hood-lining is also meticulously fabbed by Craig but downplayed ever so nonchalantly by satin black paint. All the see-through stuff was supplied by the original British manufacturer. 

With the behemoth task behind them the truck has seen many road miles and Tom just grins with glee as he describes how good the Commer handles corners and speed. Craig confirms that you can go into a corner as hard as you dare and it stays level without body roll.

“When I started this thing I thought it could turn out really cool,” Craig says, “after 14 months work it’s one of funnest vehicles I’ve built. It’s fun to drive and everywhere it goes people love it. I would like to thank Tom for giving me the opportunity to build it for him and Gavin Clemonston for his invaluable assistance.”

“Being in the building industry, I’ve driven it to Wollongong loaded and used it as my everyday car for the seven week duration while I was there,” Tom says proudly. “The only thing that we changed on the cab was narrowing the guards and bumper, the rest is as it was. Inside was a different story and I wanted it comfortable, just like Loafer. Sometimes I would rather drive Loafer than my late model Range Rover as it’s so nice to drive and the Commer is right up there with it. It’s a great truck and Craig did an outstanding job.”

For Tom it’s hard to wipe the grin from his face every time he’s behind the wheel of his completed hot rod truck, and that’s not an uncommon thing.

BY DALE HABERFIELD, PHOTOS MILLBROOK STUDIO, FULL FEATURE CRUZIN #166.

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