SPECIAL REQUEST: Astra 8x8 with Shermac Engineering water tank on board.
SPECIAL REQUEST: Astra 8x8 with Shermac Engineering water tank on board. David Meredith

Claim to fame – custom trucks

ASTRA is not a name that easily comes to mind when thinking of tough, dirty, isolated and rugged work in Australia's distant mining regions.

But elsewhere in the world, it is reasonably well-known as an off-highway specialist brand that is part of the Iveco range.

The product suits Iveco's roots as a manufacturer of industrial vehicles and equipment, and enables established technology to feature in places that the on-highway trucks would never feature.

But it wasn't always a part of the giant Fiat-owned Italian conglomerate.

In 1946 Mario Bertuzzi, a young Italian engineer, saw an opportunity in surplus war equipment and founded the company to refurbish ex-military vehicles for civilian work use.

He'd been modifying Shermac and M47 tracked vehicles for five years before he moved the backyard operation from his home town in Sardinia to a decent factory on the northern Italian mainland in Piacenza.

The company's main claim to fame is the promise to design and build custom trucks in any volume - from just one to hundreds if required.

The primary competition is Scania and Mercedes-Benz, with MAN at the lighter weights but, with these global brands, you'd probably need to order a large batch before the customisation would be worth your while.

With Astra, if you want a water truck, you go and see the Iveco dealer and spec the truck from the ground up.

There are two Astras in stock in Perth at present.

Shermac Engineering at Dalwallinu was keen to show its talents, so it's installed one of its 27,500-litre water tanks on the back of one.

With a 44.6-tonne GVM, the Astra tanker is bigger than the biggest of the on-highway water tank conversions, but smaller than the pure off-road behemoths.

That makes it the largest highway-legal unit available, which means it doesn't need a low-loader to get between operational sites.

It's just spent a few days in Kalgoorlie being eyeballed by some operators, and is now scheduled for visits by Perth-based mining and construction people.

Looking closely over the cab-chassis recently, it was obvious that the Astra chassis componentry is built to be bullet-proof and will likely outlast several bodies.

At just under 12-tonnes tare weight, it is clear to see where that weight is.

The single section chassis rails are 320x90x10mm high-elasticity steel with riveted cross members.

Rail bending moment is 202.02 Nm.

A 13-litre Cursor engine is standard, with horsepowers from 480 to 560.

A range of gearboxes, from 16-speed manuals to Allison automatic allows tailoring to task.

WA Iveco have ordered the ZF 16-speed AMT for stock, as it includes an overdrive ratio in top gear, which should drop the fuel use a bit on those long transit legs compared to the direct-drive manual, which is limited to 90kmh.

Off-road, the driveline engineering and gearing will cope with whatever terrain is thrown at it.

When a truck is heading for territory where it will rarely see the city and suburban sprawl, these are the key specs that mean the difference between profit and loss.

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