Thunderbird spreads its wings: Rare White Western Star cabover restored

| July 13, 2017

Pete and Carl Caporal decided to paint the truck one of the original 22 paint schemes that was offered when the truck rolled out of the factory.

Twin brothers Pete and Carl Caporal have been truck enthusiasts since they were children. Over the years, their enthusiasm grew to the point where they wanted to buy a classic truck of their own to restore.

The brothers, now 55-years-old, fell in love with trucks in the 1960s when their father would take them to truck stops to see trucks up close, then grab lunch and head to the gift shop for truck models. These trips as children led the brothers to become truck drivers themselves, driving garbage trucks for the city of Irvington, N.Y., and driving tractor-trailers locally on the weekends.

After spending a few years looking for the truck they wanted to sink their teeth into, they found a 1979 White Western Star cabover that caught their attention.

“Kenworth, International and Peterbilt cabovers – they’re a dime a dozen, but a Western Star cabover is rare,” Pete says.

In fact, Pete says he found out only 620 of these COEs were built in 1979, before White went out of business in 1980. He says during the restoration, they found etched in the frame the number 475, the number of the truck off the assembly line.

The brothers bought the truck in 2013 from a man in Connecticut, who filled them in on its history. After the truck was built at the White Motor Co. plant in Cleveland, Ohio, it was sold in Arizona and went to work for United Van Lines. Then for 18 years, the truck was used by a grain farmer in Minnesota before it was bought by the man in Connecticut.

Carl says the thing that caught his attention when he and his brother went to look at the truck was the interior.

“We opened the door and the interior was intact,” Carl says. “It wasn’t eaten by mice. The leather and the gauges were intact.”

The brothers bought this 1979 White Western Star cabover with the intention to fix it up and restore it. It took them more than three years of work, which included fabricating numerous parts that are no longer in production.

The brothers decided to buy the truck for $5,000 and moved it to a friend’s garage in Corinth, N.Y., 200 miles away from their home in Irvington, N.Y. During the next three years, they spent their weekends working on the truck to restore it, tracking down any parts that were still made and making parts that haven’t been made in 35-plus years.

Pete says he has been around trucks his whole life, but he still didn’t anticipate how much of a project the restoration was going to be.

“I thought, ‘how hard could it be,’ but when you start trying to track down parts and pieces that haven’t been made in 35 years, it can be tough,” Pete says. “We didn’t know what to expect and at times thought ‘what did we get ourselves into,’ but it was a lot of fun. As you go along, you find new things to fix, and it got intense after a while.”

Some of the many parts the brothers had to make include shock brackets, exhaust brackets, cab mounts and just about any other bracket or mount on the truck. They had to  find a new back panel for the cab, find a new cab lift pump and more.  Pete says their friend Bill Crist, owner of Crist Trucking in Corinth, fabricated the majority of parts that had to be made.

The paint job was done in one 24-hour session. The brothers decided on a blue background with bronze-and-rust thunderbird wings that spread from the grille to the doors.

“If it wasn’t for Bill, we wouldn’t have bought the truck in the first place,” Pete says.

After the truck was rebuilt, the twins had to decide on a paint job. After consulting with a painter at a body shop, they decided to paint it blue with the bronze-and-rust thunderbird wings spreading from the grille to the doors, which was one of the 22 paint jobs offered by the factory when the truck was made. Pete says the paint was done in one 24-hour marathon session.

After more than three years working on restoring the truck, Carl says he estimates the brothers put $51,000 into the truck between the parts and the paint job, and you can’t put a price on the time, he adds.

Now, the truck is garaged through the winters and taken to regional truck shows in the summer months. When they drive it to a show, Pete says it’s a pleasure to drive.

“That truck is pretty tight, no rattles or anything,” he says. “You go down the road, and it doesn’t feel like anything is coming loose.”

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