Vale Bill Tuckey
It’s a travesty that, until Bill Tuckey’s passing on May 7 aged 80, so few words had been written about a bloke who has written millions about what he has seen and done in a jampacked life of towering adventure. There is not even a Wikipedia entry for William P. Tuckey. Perhaps there will be now.
Tuckey was everything from a newspaper reporter to magazine editor, prolific book writer, television presenter, high-performance driver trainer and talkback radio star. He not only influenced several generations of motoring journalists, it’s not overstating things to suggest he changed the magazine publishing game.
As editor of Wheels magazine, he initiated the world’s very first Car of the Year award and introduced, to Australia at least, hard-hitting vehicle comparisons.
He was also a Bathurst racer, making three starts in the late 1960s, introduced Allan Grice to Mount Panorama, and was even an outright contender in a Holden Monaro GTS 350.
These starts could easily be overlooked as sideline adventures in a packed life, but they gave Bill first-hand experience from a race driver’s perspective. This enabled him to bring the subject matter to life when, a decade later, he wrote the definitive history of the Great Race.
Tuckey was born in Lismore on April 20, 1936 and first made his mark as a crime reporter in Queensland in the very early 1960s, before joining the Courier-Mail newspaper in Brisbane. 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. 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, 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.
AMC readers’ thoughts from Facebook:
“This man should be considered a national treasure in motorsport journalism. His unparallelled insight into our sport spanning decades was infamous. I own his Bathurst annuals and it’s sad to see this doyen pass away. RIP Bill.” – Daniel Bridge “Laconic and witty, without Bill’s sharp prose I would never have known what a ‘poofteenth’ of a second meant.” – Michael Deal
“Eventually Australian cars got decent brakes, suspension and tyres that weren’t, as he said, ‘dynamite if a seagull peed on the road’.”
Peter Robinson, who would become the longest serving editor of Wheels and Australia’s most respected motoring journalist, says he was also inspired by 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.”
His alter ego Romsey Quints was a comedy act with a twist. He could say and do things that were beyond the reach of a regular journalist and Tuckey also used this device to explore a different writing style. Sadly, the roots of the 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.
Bill set the standard for motoring journalism in Australia, helped drive the Holden Dealer Team via a spell at the George Patterson advertising agency at a time when General Motors was officially out of motor racing. He was one of the