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Wartime Roots Keeps Substance Ahead of Style

Updated: Jan 16, 2020

From beginnings as a second world war engineering company that processed surplus military trucks, the Sardinian Transport Company developed off-road spec trucks for post-war reconstruction throughout Italy and adjoining countries.

Technically, the trucks performed as required, but the business case was a mess. Iveco bought the nearly bankrupt company in 1986 and assimilated Iveco technology into the range, culminating with Cursor engines in the early 2000s.

Today’s Astra bears the brawn of its forebears, but unfortunately hasn’t inherited anything that resembles styling.

However Jeff Loton, owner of Bunbury based Plantation Logging Company looked past the grimace-inducing appearance, and decided to plant an 8x8 version in the front-line of logging recovery in the plantations dotted throughout the South-West of WA.

The truck brings a European driveline and electronic technology to a task that has in the past been the domain of US-sourced big-banger prime movers. However, Plantation Logging is no stranger to the European-style trucking. Jeff operates a fleet of MANs that are heading towards five years of service, and the Astra is being considered as the next generation, given the extra 40 horsepower and all-wheel drive.

The shift to Astra came about due to some problems arising with the current fleet.

“We’d been using another European brand truck for this short lead application – 80 kilometres from headquarters to the plantation sites – but began having some longevity issues with them,” Jeff said.

“This led us to start taking a look at the alternatives, we wanted to see what else was out there that could do the job and the Astra looked like it had everything we needed.”

Set up as a rigid, towing a low profile six axle dog trailer, the Astra normally operates at 68 tonnes (concessional loading on trailer applies), delivering the logs from a range of pine and blue gum plantations to sawmills in Bunbury.

According to Jeff, the Astra has several benefits over the other vehicles on fleet being used for this same application.

“The Astra has an extra 40hp available compared to the other trucks we use, but fuel efficiency is still on par. Our driver really enjoys having access to extra torque - it’s noticeable in how the truck performs,” he said.

“The 16-speed Eurotronic AMT also has another four gears to provide better spread of ratios for the conditions.”

Hub reduction to all axles, a high tensile steel chassis and parabolic spring suspension provides excellent articulation and traction.

According to 'Rooster' the driver, when his mates stopped laughing at the appearance and started looking at the performance, it was clear that the Astra will likely have a place in Plantation Logging’s future.

I caught up with the Astra in a section of forest where the company was harvesting the fire-damaged trees and transporting them to Bunbury for processing. Thicker timber headed for the sawmill while thinner trees went straight to the chipping plant.

The Astra was supplied by Perth-based AV Trucks and general maintenance is handled by Plantation Logging Co’s in-house workshop.

According to Jeff, there'll be more Astras in the fleet as contracts are renewed.

Published in The West Australian - Saturday 20 July 2019

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