A new project – Update # 45

The ’38 Diamond T tanker is now on display. Behind the scenes, another project has been in the planning stages for the past several years. Our focus now is to turn this vision into a reality.

Transporting The ’38 Diamond T Tanker

Halfway through last year, Steve began thinking about how we could safely transport the ’38 Diamond T between locations. We were already planning another project that would also require transportation as well. He chatted at length about it with Tom Andrews and they came up with a unique plan – a fully enclosed truck to transport another truck!

Steve began looking at used trucks for sale and found a 2002 Nissan curtain side truck. The plan was to modify the Nissan to carry the tanker and other vehicles in an enclosed environment.

We purchased the Nissan around the same time that Steve was undergoing tests, so it ended up being put on the back burner for a month or two. Tom kindly came up to Auckland late last year and took the truck back to Hamilton to carry out the modifications.

The supporting framework of the curtain sides didn’t quite have enough clearance for the rear fenders of the tanker. So a decision was made to remove the curtains and frame and start again, this time with rigid side walls.

The challenge that Steve and Tom faced was to not only fit the tanker within the side walls of the truck, but to also allow access for someone to get in and out of the cab when winching it on and taking it off, and room to secure the tie downs.

We use a phrase here in NZ that refers to “the number 8 wire mentality”. When technology advanced during the Machine Age, New Zealand was isolated in a geographical sense. So when things broke down or got damaged, people here were forced to think about the problem, find a solution and use whatever resources were immediately at hand. Number 8 wire was used across the country, particularly in farm fencing, and was readily available. It proved to be a very handy and versatile material, and its name became the phrase used to describe the adaptability and improvisation of New Zealanders during the early 20th Century. The phrase has since evolved and now denotes a Kiwi’s ingenuity and resourcefulness, and their lateral thinking.

There is absolutely no doubt that Tom Andrews possesses that famous NZ number 8 wire mentality…..

Tom’s Solution

Tom thought long and hard about the issue of minimal clearance and accessibility. The tanker would technically fit on the deck once in place, but getting it there was going to be tricky. His solution was to think outside the box and create movable side walls.

Tom designed and engineered a system whereby the side walls would be hinged at the top and a row of bolts would sit across the bottom edge to lock in the sides. He, with some help from the team at the Classics Museum, began putting his theory into practice.

Tom started by removing the curtain sides, support structure and deck floor.

He modified the rear extension to slope down and become a beaver tail / dove tail platform.

Tom strengthened the deck framing where the front winch was to be mounted and the areas where the wheels of the truck would sit. He also put extra strengthening around the eight tie down mounts and had them certified welded. These mounts were then heavy vehicle engineer certified for the purposes of a COF (Certificate of Fitness).

The new side walls and roof were constructed and lined with ACM panels.

A new deck floor was installed, the walls lifted into place and the roof structure placed in position.

Tom mounted a heavy duty winch at the front of the deck, and made ramps for the rear. In reality, the so-called “modification” became a mammoth project!

I have a basic understanding of how the system works, so I will try and explain it in layman’s terms.

The back corners have a concealed arm that slides out at 90 degrees and locks into place. There are internal safety arms attached to the side walls at the front that sit freely on the deck when not in use, and these can be seen in the image above on each side of the winch. The forward arms also lock into position so that the entire length of each side is safely supported when lifted away from the body along the bottom edge.

When the sides are extended out from the deck and safely secured, there is room to winch the tanker on, have whoever is sitting in the cab able to open the driver’s door to get out, and the freedom to move around to secure the tie downs onto the 8 mounting points.

And then, when the sides are carefully released and lowered back towards the body, there are small spacers placed on the row of bolts along the bottom edge that effectively hold the walls out by 10-20mm. You’ll see shortly how tight the fit is!

Relocating The Tanker

Following the reveal launch, we were excited but a little apprehensive about transporting the tanker for the first time. We had total faith in Tom’s engineered design, but it was still a first. I couldn’t be there for the first loading but I was even feeling anxious!

Tom’s first comment to Steve when he arrived was “If I’m not 100% happy with the loading, the tanker isn’t going anywhere today.” And Tom meant every word.


The winch was attached, and the tanker was slowly manoeuvred up the heavy duty ramps. A further set of ramps was used to create more clearance under the rear bumper. The side walls are extended out in this image and the rear arm can be seen locked in place to the right of the ramp.

These images show just how little clearance there was inside! The loading was a precision task with no room for error. The eight tie downs were secured and then it was time for Tom to make the call.

Tom double and triple checked everything and decided he was comfortable to proceed. The tanker began its trip to Hamilton with Steve following behind and keeping an eye on everything. A number of stops were made on the way to check the tie downs and the position of the tanker. It did not move an inch – Tom’s exceptionally clever and innovative design worked exactly as he had planned, and the tanker arrived in Hamilton in perfect condition.

My description of the loading makes it sound like a relatively easy task……it absolutely isn’t. It is a minimum 2-3 person load / unload, and the positioning is precise and critical. It’s not for the fainthearted!

Anyone who has followed the blog since the beginning will know that I really love showcasing the talent and skill of everyone involved. Tom’s work is no exception.

The modification of the transporter could be considered as irrelevant to the tanker’s story, but what Tom designed and then manufactured is quite remarkable. It is both creative and unique, and something that I think will be of interest to many.

I really don’t know what to say here to show our appreciation to Tom for what he has done, and continues to do, to help Steve. They share a wonderful friendship and help and support each other, but this was a major on Tom’s part. “Thank you” just seems so inadequate.

Classics Museum

 The setting at the Classics Museum couldn’t be a more perfect backdrop to display the 1938 Diamond T tanker. Tom shares the same love and passion for gas station memorabilia as Steve, and he has amassed a stunning collection of porcelain enamel signs, bottles, tins, gas pumps and other pieces of automobilia from around the world.

More than 100 cars are on display at the museum at any one time, with the remainder of the collection being rotated on an ongoing basis to refresh and replace exhibits.

The Jukebox Diner is situated within the museum building and adds to the overall experience at the motoring themed museum.

It is well known that Tom is an exceptionally proud family man. So it stands to reason that the museum is a family-run affair. Tom’s wife, Diane, and his daughters, Toni and Emily, work alongside Tom to run one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Waikato.

Tom and the family celebrated the museum’s tenth anniversary last year. This wonderful facility that Tom created is definitely a favourite destination for overseas tourists, and it is not uncommon to see Tom sitting and chatting with people who have travelled far and wide to come and marvel at the exhibits that make up the Classics Museum.

The 1938 Diamond T Texaco Tanker’s New Home

Although the truck will be at the Classics Museum for the foreseeable future, we have made a commitment to bring the Diamond T back up to Auckland on 23rd April 2023 for the Classic Cover Ellerslie Car Show.

Following the postponement of the annual show on 12th February 2023 due to Cyclone Gabrielle, we are all hoping for a much finer day!

It has been a long journey getting to this point, but to see the Diamond T finished and on display for everyone to appreciate the historic value and beauty of this truck is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. We couldn’t be happier.

The New Project

When I wrote a tribute to Rich Harner in December 2021, I touched on his generosity and the trust he had placed in Steve and I when he gifted us all his research notes on the Texaco tanker produced by Diamond T and Heil in the early thirties.


What I didn’t disclose at the time, was that for the previous two years we had been discussing and planning with Rich to build the 1933 / 1934 Texaco Doodlebug to the original specifications.

Over this period, we gathered up the odd part to put aside for the new project, but we all agreed to wait until the ’38 Diamond T tanker was completed before starting on the build. Sadly, Rich passed away unexpectedly without ever seeing his dream come to fruition.

So our excitement about beginning this project is overshadowed a little by sadness that Rich won’t be with us on the next Texaco tanker journey. His involvement with the new project, however, will definitely live on through the information and details recorded in his research notes, and the material he had collated.

Some friends have been aware of the planned Doodlebug project for 3 years now, while others have been told in recent weeks. What I have really enjoyed witnessing is that “light-bulb moment” when people start to understand and appreciate the complexities and futuristic aspects that were involved in this truck design back in the early thirties. Rich’s infectious fascination and passion for the Doodlebug is spreading, and he would love that so much.

The Plan

To do justice to the build, we will be endeavouring to use as many original Diamond T components as we can. It will once again be a team effort involving Tom, the team at the Classics Museum, the craftsmen who have been introduced throughout the blog, the support of family and friends around us and, of course, Steve.

My top priority is keeping Steve well, but he has already committed to this plan and we all know what that means!

There are conflicting thoughts though as we head into the new project. On one hand, unlike the ’38 Diamond T, we won’t be going backwards by disassembling and repairing everything. On the other hand, we are starting with literally nothing.

This is by no means going to be a straight forward build, but everyone is excited and focused on getting started. Steve and Tom both have other projects on the go at the moment so, in the meantime, we will continue to source period correct parts and Steve will make a start on the chassis and running gear.

Although Tom’s projects deviate away from the Texaco tanker theme, I want to quickly share the work going on behind the scenes at the Classics Museum. The craftsmanship is absolutely mind-blowing and the attention to detail is second to none in the world. And for those who love automotive history, Tom’s builds tick the boxes in every respect.

Tom’s Projects

Tom’s major projects currently being carried out at the Classics Museum are two Bugattis….and these are not just any Bugattis.

The first is an original 1937 Bugatti Type 57 Ventoux, chassis number 57579, that Tom purchased from the Artcurial auction house in Paris back in 2015. Derived from the Roger Ballion Collection, this exceptionally rare car is undergoing a full restoration.

The second is a period correct build of the famous 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe owned by Jean Bugatti. Only four of these Type 57SC Atlantic Coupes were ever built and each of the four was handmade with individual characteristics, which resulted in four unique examples.

Affectionately known as ‘La Voiture Noire’ (the black car), Jean Bugatti’s Atlantic Coupe with the chassis number 57453, was the second of the four built. It was displayed at the 1937 Nice and Lyon Motor Shows but there were no further official sightings of the car after 1938. At the age of 30, Jean Bugatti was tragically killed in a car accident in France in 1939. The whereabouts of ‘La Voiture Noire’ was unknown when he died, and its fate has become one of the greatest mysteries in automotive history.

Tom and his team have spent 5 years on the build so far. This is a thoroughly researched, precision planned and executed construction of the original, missing 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe. The research, painstaking effort and meticulous detail being put into this world-class build is extraordinary. Although the project is being kept out of the public eye at the moment, I understand Tom has thoroughly recorded every step of the way to document this fascinating project.

Finally, Rich’s Dream

Thanks to Rich’s meticulous research, we have enough photographic evidence and information to build one of these rare and captivating trucks.

I’m looking forward to documenting the progress of the new project on the blog, and sharing the information and details that Rich discovered. I will also research the history of both Diamond T and Heil…….something that I intended to do quite some time ago!

Let the journey begin.

This is for you Rich……

The Texaco Doodlebug


The reveal – Update # 44


The Howard W. Kizer photos – Update # 46


  1. Harris Family

    Obviously so many “mind like folk” involved in this build. However, none more passionate than Steve and Sue Keys. An awe inspiring story . A family with challenges….” throw themselves more.”. You are both an inspiration.

  2. That is great news! All of it. But for me, another your project to read on, is fantastic news on its own :). Greetings from another end of the globe, Poland!

  3. Henry Leach

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful project. Since severe tropical storms aren’t unknown in South Carolina it’s possible to wonder if Cyclone Gabrielle was your Diamond T truck’s first “hurricane”. https://www.dnr.sc.gov/climate/sco/hurricanes/pdfs/SCHurricanesExecutiveSummary.pdf
    Thanks again.

  4. L3X1 en

    Such a beautiful truck, I enjoyed following its progress here! I’m excited about the doodlebug build too

    • Sue Keys

      Thanks so much.

    • George

      Thanks so much for the updates, beautiful and ingenious solutions to provide a way to transport the truck. Looking at the pictures of the clearance, I would probably have had a heart attack before moving it!

  5. Steve Brettell

    Excellent, I look forward to future blogs re the Doodlebug

  6. Steve Medley

    You folks are incredible. I was going to be disappointed about the end of this blog but I guess that won’t be a problem after all.
    Great job. Thanks for letting us tag along.

  7. I continue to be in awe of the work you have done on the tanker Steve & team, and Sue – your documentation, reporting, and support for our very special friend is phenomenal. Thanks for sharing and including us all in the journey of life as well as with these projects.

  8. Shrapnel

    Wow , I mean W OW .
    Firstly , congratulations on the finished Diamond T Texaco Tanker.
    I’m still lost for words as I marvel in the finished Truck.
    Every time I look at the stainless panel that wasn’t to be , I kick myself , yet take pride in how close I got it . It also warms me seeing how well the finished truck came out , , I look forward to seeing it in the flesh.

    DoodleBug . I Can’t Wait To Follow This Build .

    Shrapnel .

    • Sue Keys

      Shrappy, you got so close! We were in awe at the work you did and really appreciated the efforts you went to. Thanks so much.

  9. Dennis A. Purcell

    Such a great project . . the Texaco Doodlebug tanker will be something not seen for 90 years?!! After viewing what your team accomplished with the ’38 tanker, I cannot wait to see the updates as you progress through the Doodlebug build.

    Best wishes to all the team from an admirer in Austin, Texas, USA – cheers from here, stumpy

    • Sue Keys

      Thanks Stumpy. It will certainly be a very special project. Sending best wishes back to Austin from Auckland, NZ!

  10. Aeneas Hall

    This is awesome to see Sue.

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