Old Cars Weekly archive – March 20, 2008 issue
Tempo truck restored to perfection
Story and photos by Ron Kowalke
Part of my excitement of traveling to Scottsdale, Ariz., every January has nothing to do with attending the high-profile auctions that take place there. In fact, getting away from the auction scene for a few hours on a Saturday morning to attend The Pavillion’s car show is a welcome relief.
This particular show, held on Indian Bend Road in Scottsdale in a mall parking lot, attracts both a large assortment of collector vehicles and an equally large number of spectators. Because I have auction coverage duties that same day, I attend the show early in the morning, before the crush of spectators arrive. This early arrival allows me ample time to “gawk” at the variety of cars and trucks on display, and chat with their owners.
While walking down one of the many rows of military-precision-aligned vehicles, one truck with such an unfamiliar design (to me) stuck out of the pack so much I had to go investigate.
Doing a quick scan of the people standing near the truck, I waited for someone who appeared to be connected with it to step forward. In the meantime, it was fun to people-watch, as this truck acted as a magnet, pulling spectators toward it, verbalizing their guesses as to what it might be. Most of these guesses, including my first attempt – that being it was some derivative of Skoda – were wrong.
Probably sensing spectators’ confusion as to the origins of his truck, owner Eric Parsons of Valley Village, Calif., was kind enough to place a manufacturer’s brochure in its windshield. It quickly identified this stunningly restored truck as a one-ton Tempo Matador, manufactured in 1951 at the Vidal & Sohn Tempo-Werk in Hamburg, Germany. Even though both the marque and model names were boldly visible in script on the Matador’s blunt nose, the manufacturer is so obscure that spectators (and I) overlooked this obvious hint and tried to verbally rewrite history.
Eventually Parsons broke away from the crowd and came over to ask why I was photographing his truck. Seeing the Old Cars Weekly logo on my jacket, he asked if I wanted a good story. “Sure do,” I replied, and for the next 20 minutes, Parsons took me through the great adventure he encountered getting the Matador from where he acquired it to the mall parking lot in Scottsdale a mere two years later.
A real scrapper
When Parsons said he found the truck in a scrap yard, my initial mental image was of it elevated on some old barrels, propped up in the back row of a California desert yard where it had been abandoned decades earlier. Wrong again, Skoda boy!
Parsons explained that a friend knew that he had a passion for Volkswagens, and had found a great truck that Parsons should buy. Probing a bit more, this friend told Parsons that it wasn’t actually a Volkswagen, but it was powered by a Volkswagen engine. It was also in a scrap yard, but it was still being used. Used? It turns out, the truck was the work vehicle for this particular scrap yard, and was purchased new in 1951 for just this rough line of duty.
Parsons was intrigued by the one-owner aspect of this truck, and the fact that his friend described the vehicle as appearing complete. Convinced the truck would be worth looking at, the next hurdle Parsons would need to clear was traveling to inspect it. You see, his friend lived overseas, and this truck was hauling scrap metal in a yard in Antwerp, Belgium.
The work begins
After inspecting the Matador and agreeing to purchase it, getting the truck back to Parsons’ California restoration shop involved a long journey back to the West Coast via Canada. Once back in California, the work began to restore the Matador, but not to its original scrap yard-worker appearance.
The truck was in driving condition, according to Parsons, but it needed new glass, a new wooden bed, various small parts that had gone missing through the years and would have to have the 10 layers of house paint applied over the years stripped off. After blasting the body down to bare metal, Parsons selected a new look for the truck; it would be reborn in the finish of a German beer delivery truck.
After applying a mint green base color, Parsons applied graphics to each of the truck cab’s doors that read “Weizenbierbrauerei.” The English translation is, according to Parsons, “Wheat Beer Brewery.” To give the Matador a more realistic appearance when displayed, Parsons, from a friend who operates an antiques business in San Francisco, obtained several wooden crates filled with empty Weizenbier bottles, that now fill the truck’s new bed.
Of all the work Parsons did to restore the Matador over 16 months of continuous labor, rebuilding the truck’s wooden bed offered the biggest challenge. Parsons explained, “The wood used to re-create the original bed is #1 clear Poplar (no knots). It’s a hard wood that accepts milling of any sort, without cracking or splitting. Poplar also accepts paint very well. Since the wood was initially just raw stock, it had to be custom planed, then milled to match the dimensions of the original metric construction of the truck, and then custom milled to the correct length of tongue and groove to duplicate the original. All wood joints were glued, clamped, then nailed prior to assembly. The whole bed was built to fit, then broken down for prime and paint, in slab form.”
Included in the restoration process was the rebuilding of the 25-hp four-cylinder Volkswagen engine and the ZF four-speed manual transmission. When it came time to work on the transmission, Parsons found an additional piece of metal that took some research to comprehend.
“[It] was a block-off plate for third and fourth gears,” Parsons said of this additional tab. Because of Antwerp’s complicated taxation laws governing motor vehicles, the owners of the scrap yard found a creative way around paying this tax by negating the top two gears of the Matador, which spent its life hauling scrap in either first or second gear only.
Parsons said when he purchased the Matador from the Antwerp scrap yard, it still had its original registration on board. He believes that this Matador is one of the final trucks assembled in 1951, which was also the final year for Matador production. According to Parsons, Tempo, which was well-known for producing three-wheeled service vehicles, built 1,362 one-ton Matador trucks between 1949 and ’51. It was during 1951 that Volkswagen terminated its supply of engines to Tempo, instead deciding to produce a single-cab pickup of its own. Parsons said that only 10 Matadors are currently known to exist in the world.
Come full circle
With other restoration projects to finance, Parsons was offering the Matador for sale in Scottsdale. Since then, he said, “The Tempo has been sold to a good home. It will be on permanent display at the Volkswagen Autostadt Museum in Wolfsburg, Germany.”
He added, “The most difficult part of this restoration was saying goodbye to such a unique project.”
With the Matador returned to Germany where it was created at Tempo-Werk some 57 years ago, well, there’s nothing wrong about that.