David Reed takes a trip to Nottinghamshire to meet Darron Wilson and his superbly-restored 1976 Scammell Crusader recovery truck.
Nottinghamshire-based Darron Wilson has been on the rally scene for about eight years, but has recently he’s been showing a couple of contrasting vehicles. The first is 988 UXU, a 1950 Mack LJT that spent its working life in America and which we’ll look at in a full feature next month. This time, though, our subject is Darron’s other heavyweight, namely his 1976 Scammell Crusader.
PGW 883R has actually been on the rally/preservation circuit for a number of years. In Darron’s ownership it has, however, been treated to a full restoration to, as our pictures show, an extremely high standard. It may not, though, be immediately familiar, as in previous ownership it wore another livery, and carried registration Q83 VOE.
The Crusader started life as a tractor unit, and was converted to a recovery vehicle in the 1980s by Barratts of Birmingham. It was then with the Wirral Transport Museum and Ray Brookes who rallied it for a few years before passing to Darron.
“I bought it in 2013,” Darron said. “I had wanted to own a Crusader for a long time, I just loved them.” His admiration for lorries and Scammells in particular began at an early age, as did his driving experiences. “From the age of nine, I was lucky enough to ride in the cab of a variety of vehicles on my days off school.” These included an Atkinson, Scammell Crusader and later a Mercedes 1626. “My mentor was Pete Eley who drove for a local tipper company,” Darron remembered. “By the time I was ten he had taught me to drive them, and I could reverse an artic by the time I was eleven. Those were the days, that would never happen nowadays.”
Darron continued his association with Scammells when Pete Eley started driving a Crusader double-drive with a Detroit engine for Hills Heavy Haulage. He came to admire their capabilities as he regularly acted as Pete’s second man. “But I didn’t really want to own one of those as they were too big really.”
Darron set his sights on owning a 4×2 Crusader. “I put a post on the Scammell forum to say that I was looking to purchase one.” The post was spotted by the owner of PGW883R who rang Darron to say he had a 4×2 for sale. “He sent a picture of the Scammell, I liked the look of it and bought it there and then without actually seeing it.”
The Scammell was then located at Bicester in Oxfordshire, so Darron made the trip down and drove it back to his Nottinghamshire base. “I just loved climbing into the Crusader’s cab and driving it home,” he said.
Although he was pleased with his acquisition, Darron put the Scammell into storage for a couple of years. The restoration began in 2015 with Darron being assisted by Andy Craven.
There was good news to start with: The Rolls Royce Eagle 280 engine and nine-speed Fuller gearbox were in good order and only needed a thorough service. The joy was fairly short-lived though and ended when attention turned to the cab. “It was rotten and had to be fully rebuilt.” Work included cutting out the rotten steel and replacing it, with much time being spent grinding non-original welds flat and invisible, and then applying a little filler to finally level things up before painting. Both doors were re-skinned, but fortunately all the original glass was fine to reuse.
The interior of the cab was also refurbished. “Some repairs were needed but we tried to keep it as original as possible,” Darron continued, “We have kept the seats as they were in pretty good condition overall, and all of the electrics were checked and found to be okay.”
The recovery vehicle bodywork needed a lot, with all the side paneling having to be renewed. “It was all fabricated in our workshop,” Darron continued. “We also fitted new side rubbers on the body and a new canopy.” The fuel tank was refurbished as required, put back on and repainted, while the hub seals were also renewed.
Little has been done to the crane though. “It was obviously built ‘in house’ by a previous owner for bus recovery,” Darron said, and it still works. Darron and Andy are currently refurbishing an ‘A’ frame to complete it, similar to one that the Crusader would have carried when it was working as a recovery vehicle. The steel chequer plate flooring around the back of the crane was also in good condition, and hasn’t needed any work.
When it came to paintwork, Darron called on the skills of Steve Boaden, while Graham Booth’s sign-writing skills were employed to provide the finishing touches. “He did a great job, and even painted the Nottingham coat of arms on the front,” Darron said.
There is no doubt that the restoration of the Crusader has breathed a new lease of life into it, and is ready to be seen at events both locally and further afield. It has basically been an ‘in house’ restoration by Darron and the guys, which they obviously enjoyed doing. “We have got a lot of satisfaction from doing the work ourselves.”
As for Darron, well his ambition from his school days was to work for Heanor Haulage and it came true from the moment he left school, aged 15. “I went to work for them as a second man. It wasn’t easy work, though. I would be steering trailers, jacking and skating heavy loads,” Darron remembered. “We moved anything anywhere.”
Darron then went onto loading plant, a job that he did until he got his HGV licence at the age of 21, when he returned to Heanor Haulage, this time as a driver. He remembers the vehicles that he drove. “The first was a DAF 3300 double drive A436 AVO. Then came RVS 45W, a Volvo F12.” Those vehicles were followed by an eight-wheeled tractor BVV 26T. “It was a specialist vehicle called a HHT005,” Darron continued, and with a Fuller 15-speed box and a Spicer four-speed box had a choice, potentially, of 60 forward gears and 15 in reverse.”
Then Darron moved to a crane hire company called Interlift UK, based at Newcastle-under-Lyme, “I started out hauling ballast with a Turkish spec DAF 150 tonner and a Goldhofer trailer,” Darron said. Interlift UK also operated up to 1200-ton mobile cranes, and it wasn’t too long before Darron found himself at the wheel of one. “I used to pull ballast for a 400 tonne Gotwald seven-axle crane, and later became a crane operator myself.”
From there, Darron moved to Ainscough Crane Hire where he was driving mobile cranes up to 400-tons before starting out on his own. “22 years ago, I set up DWLS Heavy Lifting and Rigging,” he said, “We do contract heavy lifting with cranes.” Work can take Darron all over the world, “As well as working on the installation of bridges and working on rail closures, we also do a lot of work on oil rigs and shipyards.”
Darron now operates his business with a team of eight people and has set up Amber Valley Classics with Steve Keeling, a company to restore old vehicles. “We reckoned that if we could restore my vehicles, we could do other people’s as well.”
Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is Darron’s next project. We mentioned his operational Mack at the start of this feature. He has another. “In the workshop I have a rare Mack 786ST 6×4 double-drive that we have partly restored and intend having ready for 2022,” he added.
And if that turns out like the 4×2 Crusader, it will be well worth waiting for.
This feature is from the latest issue of Classic & Vintage Commercials magazine, and you can get a brilliant, money-saving subscription simply by clicking HERE