State of Grace … Rebuilding the Finest Ice Cream Truck in the World

The 8 week restoration project, turned 8 month rebuild.

Remind me again, why did you buy an old ice cream truck?

In 2013 on a little mini world tour I visited 173 gelaterias and ice cream shops in 8 countries over 3 months, found myself at gelato school in Italy, which surprised quite a few of my friends. The world of culinary has never been my strong suit.

Came home, bought a second hand 🍦 cart off Gumtree, gave it a mini refurb and started scooping.

Fast forward to now, there are 3 carts in the Short Batch fleet that do weddings… lots of weddings, corporate soirees and birthdays.

Ok, so not exactly the ‘Lindsay Fox of ice cream carts’ but a growing little fleet of pedallers.

I’ve been watching the food truck biz in the US for 10 years (Kogi BBQ anyone?) and been eyeing off the retro trucks, whilst wondering why every other food category has been given the gourmet treatment in the truck space but ice cream was still just generic soft serve out of god awful pink trucks with tacky stickers on the side served by blokes who look like Under Belly extras.

The movie ‘Chef’ came out in 2014. If you haven’t seen it — do yourself a favour. Here’s the recap: A 260 lb chef punches on with his boss, get’s schooled on twitter by a food critic, goes to Miami, buys an old truck, miraculously refurbs it into a Cuban food truck in 24 hours (How the fuck? seriously! suspension-of-disbelief indeed Hollywood). Drives it back across the country with his kid and mate serving up mouthwatering BBQ in Austin, sharing coming of age moments with his boy and somehow manages to shag two of the hottest women on the planet along the way. John Favreau is the best writer / actor / director in Hollywood and clearly has me covered in the man stakes.

Chef Movie

But I’ve digressed.

After watching Chef for the 22nd time my desire for an ice cream truck grew.

What I didn’t want was a Brighton fucking Beach box on the back of a moving van which is what 95% of the food trucks in Australia are.

I submit exhibit A your Honour.

So I scoured the paddocks of Gumtree and farms sheds of eBay.

In Nov 2014 the search unearthed the perfect retro truck with 50’s pin-up-girl curves, up on the Gold Coast.

After a 3mth dance I was the proud owner of a van named Grace, who’d started life as a delivery van for Myer Adelaide in 1967.

Like an ageing movie star in dim light, she looked grand dame from a distance. Up close, in the harsh day light, maybe not so flash.

I drove her back from the Gold Coast in what was meant to be a Chef Movie style trip until the old freezers died 7 hours into day one, whilst delivering for Uber Ice Cream Day in Byron Bay. In what wasn’t a dull trip, the lights (hi and low) ran out of petrol 3 times (lawn mower-esque sized tank, what!?), back doors flew open (think old school black and white comedy where the coffin flys out the back of a hearse).

Sat at 74 kms on the highway shoulder until Sydney.

Got her back to Melbourne (ok well on the back of a truck from Sydney to Melb).


Restoration Plan Orignale

The original plan was to re-clad the weathered, and dented panels on the back, cut some rust out, get her painted and on the road for Christmas. Xmas 2015 mind you.

At this stage, I know some of you are thinking ‘Scott is very optimistic or prone to kidding himself’. You’re probably right. Probably on both counts.

The panel beater I’d lined up to do the job dropped out late in proceedings.

Visited another 17 panel beaters and paint shops receiving responses like ‘nah mate, too much work in those, we don’t touch them’, ‘For about the same price you’d get more fun and less stress buying a Porsche’ my fav ‘ol fella in Clayton asked me if I’d just won lotto and then told me without a smile that restoring this would be like lighting cigarettes with $50 notes’.

Went round in circles for another couple of months before being told by a friend to go and see a guy who had a bunch of wedding cars.

My response was I don’t need a f$%king wedding car I need F#%king panel beater.

Turns out I really did need a guy with a garage full of wedding cars.

Enter Micky. Mad Serbian wedding photographer turned luxury vintage car fleet owner at Triple R Luxury Car Hire. A bloke with a design eye, a ready knack for engineering and… panel beating skills.

The Man for the job. And he has 50 or so Rollers, Benz’s, Daimlers, Jags and Citroens. He’s a fascinating cat that’s for sure.

Micky and his crew have revived and restored many a lost auto cause.

Two months was the plan (starting in October)

Micky in the role of Mr Miyagi, me as a mature age Daniel san and a supporting cast of Pete the Welder, (toy range coming in time for Xmas) Andrew the giant mechanic and Gino the auto electrician turned welder who brought some Italian styling to the project.

wax on wax off

Then the plot thickened

The floor that looked good initially turned out to be rotten, rusted and thoroughly rooted.

It had to ripped out, re-welded and a new floor laid.

As anyone who’s ever renovated an old house has been told by a builder… don’t rip up the floor boards unless you need to because once you do…

The fork in the road moment.

MIcky resplendant in blinding yellow working on the Mad Max prop.

This raised the question, if we’re going to replace the floor do we attempt to lower it.

Grace’s achilles heel as a working ice cream truck is that the server stands very high in the truck and stoops down over the person ordering.

In a standard food truck or ice cream van — the server stands at wheel nut level. In Grace you stand above the top of the tyre… so it’s a bit like being served by King Kong — not ideal and probably a Worksafe claim waiting to happen.

Lowering the entire floor wasn’t possible but the aim was to lower a area inside the serving window to make it better.

We had a few attempts at designing and rigging this up, testing and tweaking.

That decision meant finishing before summer ended was most certainly out the window.

The floor lowered to make a serving pit. Look, I realise this feat isn’t designing a Tesla but we were fairly happy with ourselves.

While this meant lost initial sales from missing summer trading it’ll result in a much more ergonomic truck for the long haul.

Peter the welder was on speed dial at this stage, with Gino doing some cameos under the mask as well.

Pete the Welder …chippy / builder / furniture maker / welder / star.
Full scale coach building… this used to be a trade.

Summer became autumn, progress slowed as life and other work commitments got in the way.

Fill with putty, sand back… rinse, repeat. Put on more sunscreen.

We pushed on, all the panel beating and undercoating was done by my band of merry men (and I do mean merry… powered by Serbian grappa).

The budget blew out and somehow began resembling the heft of a house deposit.


The new and improved Grace

The new and improved Grace has:

The back barn doors were cut into quarters so the rear could be used as a pick up area at festivals (that’s an order pick ups kids — this ain’t Tinder).

Lowered serving pit floor.

The sexy red driver’s seat is out of an Jag… Michael Caine would be proud. (and who knew you could paint leather? $25 can instead of $1100 to re-cover.. well, me now).

A radiator that’s twice as big as the previous incumbent.

A monster petrol tank transplant out of a Pajero that had been administered last rights. This means she can travel 350kms without need to refill, instead of the mere 90kms of her old tank.

A shiny new exhaust system.

Every panel behind the main cab has been replaced, outside and another layer inside.

Insulation…. no K Rudd / Midnight Oil pink bats scandal involved.

Slots for the new dual generator system hidden under the rear behind the wheels.

A tow bar to drag a cool room & back up gelato when we head deep into weekend festival land.

Wiring is 1/2 done.

Floor has been fibreglassed with a little dressing required.

What’s left to be done?

Paint job

Finish wiring

White walls put on

Branding on the livery

Rear door windows mounted

Benches & serving window timber assembled

Sound system & speaker.

How Long till she’s on the road?

Sept 8th… 7weeks.

Crowdfunding Campaign

Going to run a Pozible campaign to create some pre-launch buzz, offering an early bird discount on truck bookings for weddings, corporate launches, fun days and photo shoots. As part of the campaign there will be tickets to the grand launch party with much gelato and champagne. I’m finishing off some fun packages like Treat-Your-Street where you can pre-purchase ice creams and Grace will come out to your street, there will be a Grace colouring book and she’ll be doing rides to school formals (yep that’s a thing now).

What will grace be like?

If Mr Whippy is Nescafe Blend 43, Grace will be Sri Lankan single origin.

No tacky stickers, no pink… yes, there’ll be Greensleeves … but to paraphrase Spock… ‘yes Jim, but not as you know it’

Every band bangs on about their influences. These trucks were mine. Grace will have characteristics from these beautiful retro ice cream trucks.

The so fine Sweet Lucies ice cream van in Los Angeles
Charlie the CVT Softserve van in Los Angeles
Kurbside Ice Co from the Twin Cities in Minnesota
Carmela Ice Cream’s step van in Los Angeles

More to come over the next few days RE the crowdfunding campaign and how you might be able to help drum up so buzz.

Sign up at VintageIceCreamTruck.com for the latest.
(don’t judge me on that site… Like a landscaper who never gets to his own lawns, it’s getting some love soon).

Cheers

Scott Kilmartin
P.S. You deserve an ice cream for reading this far.

Bonus track: This is me pretending to be a panel beater