AMC now features a regular double-sided poster. This time we salute Norm Beechey’s Monaro and John Goss Racing’s stunning XB Falcon GT. The No.1 song on 2UW charts in October, 1975: Captain & Tennille’s ‘Love will Keep us Together’.
Bill Tuckey has been called Australia’s greatest motoring writer, but that label doesn’t begin to cover all of his achievements.
Do you remember Romsey Quints? If you do, there’s a fair chance you also know that Bill Tuckey was his creator, handler and spokesman. Quints was colourful, cantankerous and completely content to raise hell and shine a spotlight on the strange and wonderful stories in the world of motoring and motor racing.
It’s the same for Tuckey, who was everything from a Bathurst racer and the man who tagged Ian Geoghegan as ‘Black Pete’ to a magazine editor, prolific book writer, newspaper reporter, television presenter, high-performance driver trainer and talkback radio star.
If you believe Tuckey, and many did, he was on track to win the 1969 Hardie-Ferodo 500 at Bathurst, until his co-driver Sib Petralia destroyed the engine in their Holden Monaro GTS350. Tuckey also claims credit for baptising Allan Grice at Mount Panorama when the pair shared a Fiat 124.
All of this, and much much more, should have been covered in minute detail when Tuckey sat down to write about his life. But bad health has cut short his writing days and so Australian Muscle Car is taking up the story.
It’s a travesty that so few words have been written about a bloke who has written millions about what he has seen and done in a jam-packed life of towering adventure. There is not even a Wikipedia entry for William P. Tuckey.
It’s a yarn, the only word that fits, that begins when Tuckey was born in Lismore on April 20, 1936. Other landmark dates were his wedding to Marcie – a one-time rally driver – on July, 12, 1958, the arrival of their son Stuart on July 16, 1959 and the birth of daughter Elisabeth on July 31, 1965.
Tuckey first made his mark as a crime reporter in Queensland in the very early 1960s, before
joining the Courier-Mail newspaper in Brisbane. On the fateful day when the editor called for volunteers for the motoring writer’s slot, Tuckey’s hand was the first one up.
It was an easy step from there to the editor’s chair at Wheels magazine in Sydney and a career that made Tuckey a force of nature as a writer, editor, talent spotter, promoter and more.
There were some downs with the many ups, but it’s hard to argue when the end result runs to 32 books, successful time in everything from advertising to television and radio, and creation of the world’s first Car of the Year award. He loved to be the centre of attention, was a natural leader, and a ferocious critic of cars he didn’t like and anyone who didn’t agree with him.
Mel Nichols, who followed Tuckey through the motoring mill in Australia and went on to become a writer, editor and publisher in the UK, recently put him into perspective.
“Tuckey wasn’t just a writer whose copy flowed like lava. He criticised cars ferociously. When he wrote that an important new Holden had ‘savage power but drum brakes the size of boot polish tins’, its maker, General Motors, blackballed Wheels. Tuckey didn’t relent.
“Eventually, Australian cars got decent brakes, suspension and tyres that weren’t, as only he could put it, ‘dynamite if a seagull peed on the road’.”
Peter Robinson, who would go on to become the longest serving editor of Wheels and Australia’s most respected motoring journalist, says that he was also inspired by Bill Tuckey.
“Bill’s writing style took putting the reader behind the wheel to a previously uncharted level. His writing was evocative and passionate and beautifully in touch with contemporary Australian culture. He understood Australian writing; he created word pictures that put things effortlessly into cultural context.”
There are far too many stories for one story, but how about this?
“Did you know that in volume one of Australian Motoring Year 1982/83, Romsey Quints predicted the Toyota Corolla would be the number-one selling car in Australia? It only took 31 years for the prediction to become reality,” says Mike Breen, long-time Toyota Australia spokesman and a man with an eye on history.
At this point it’s worth remembering that Quints was mostly comedy, with a twist. He could say and do things that were beyond the reach of a regular journalist and Tuckey also used his alter ego to explore a different writing style.
Sad to say, the roots of the Romsey Quints character are lost, but not the achievements of a character who preferred to go about his business dressed in a deerstalker hat and a Sherlock Holmes-style cape.
He tested vehicles as diverse as a racing Rover and a giant Euclid earthmover and railed against all sorts of perceived wrongs.
Tuckey once said he created Quints to give Wheels and Sports Car World an extra byline on the cheap, but it was a masterstroke.
While Quints was starring out on the flanks, Tuckey was making his own frontal assault.
McLaren supremo Ron Dennis once said that his team made history and journalists only wrote about it, but Tuckey was one of the rare exceptions to this.
He set the standard for motoring journalism in Australia, helped drive the Holden Dealer Team at a time when General Motors was officially out of motor racing, and demanded better locallymade cars. He was one of the pioneers who headed to Japan to investigate its car industry in the 1960s, later also packing his bags to see what was happening in Korea and China.
But he wasn’t perfect, as he showed with an early test review of the Mini 850. “It produces a pleasant chirp from the rear tyres on upshifts,” Tuckey wrote.
He also had lots of hits with a few misses with his mentoring and tutoring of several generations of journalists, from Rob Luck and Mac Douglas and John Smailes to Jim Laing-Peach, Wayne Webster and even myself.
Peter Robinson recalls one story that shows the ability of Tuckey. “I remember, once, abusing Bill because his Wheels column was late. At the time, he was publisher or editor-in-chief, and his office was one floor above Wheels.
There was drama with his next book, The Ultimate Excitement in 1967, when Customs officials thought it was a pornographic publication.