Special sauce for classic big Mack

Ken Brower keeps a binder of photos in the 1951 Mack he rebuilt; the pictures document his restoration of the relatively rare truck. At shows, he’ll leave the album open to the page with a photo of the truck as he found it. Then he steps back about 30 feet to watch onlookers.

“You can always see that ‘wow’ moment when they look at the photo and then at the truck,” said Brower, who spent seven years building the Mack.

“Building” is the key word, as Brower began with a dilapidated cab, and he fabricated an entirely new chassis. A regulatory compliance engineer for a medical instrument maker, Brower had some experience restoring cars, including a Pontiac Tempest Sprint, a GTO and a Chevy Corvette.

In the late ‘80s Brower noticed when some enthusiasts were mounting vintage truck cabs on frames from modern 4x4 pickups. He thought he might do the same with a 1951 Mack A51 he’d seen for sale in a field in New York State.

“I love the three-window look with the separate fenders and the headlights on pedestals,” Brower said about the design of Macks from that era.

Mack introduced its A-series of medium-duty trucks in 1950, still sporting a prewar cab design. The A was short-lived, replaced in 1953 by the more modern B-Series, with headlights integrated into the fenders, that’s popular with collectors.

The original plan to use a Ford chassis would have been, most likely, the simpler way to tackle this project. While the Mack’s cab and fenders were fairly well preserved, its original engine and transmission were shot, and there was no frame behind the cab. The front axle was detached, so Brower left it behind. But friends who assessed the cab’s condition helped persuade him to retrieve the axle and rebuild the truck as a pure Mack.

Brower’s interest was further stoked when he learned that his A51 had been built in Mack’s Plainfield, N.J., factory, just 30 miles from his home in North Haledon. It left that plant, which shut down in 1961, as a straight-job tanker that ultimately hauled water for firefighting.

Brower decided to convert his A51 into a dual-axle over-the-road tractor. He fabricated the new frame from steel he had custom-bent, doing all the work behind a friend’s barn.

“I drilled every hole by hand and put the bolts in,” he said.

Brower made the truck a kind of resto-rod, giving it a Mack 673 Thermodyne turbodiesel engine and 15-speed Triplex transmission from a later Mack B-series model. The engine was rated at 205 horsepower and 560 pound-feet of torque.

“It’s a very happy road trip truck,” said Brower, who is often accompanied on long drives to regional truck shows by his 19-year-old son, Kenny.

The hunt for genuine Mack parts, he said, was part of the fun of building it.

“Someone gave me a vintage Mack key but didn’t have the ignition switch cylinder, Brower said. “I found one in a junkyard that fit the key.”

In one way, building the Mack completes a circle for Brower. His only previous experience working on trucks was assembling 1/24-scale kits as a youngster in the early ‘70s.

“I guess I was a truck enthusiast long before I built my cars,” he said.