The Ken­wor­thys’ 75 years at Ford

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle News -

If you name a high-per­for­mance Ford from the past 50 years there is a fair chance Max Ken­wor­thy has owned it – in­clud­ing an ac­tual Bathurst-win­ning chas­sis.

One of his ear­li­est cars was the very Cortina GT that Bob Jane and Harry Firth took to vic­tory at Mount Panorama in 1963, and he’s also owned a string of GT Fal­cons in var­i­ous body shapes, an orig­i­nal Mus­tang, both Laser and Tel­star tur­bos, then ESP and XR Fal­cons.

“I’ve al­ways been a real mus­cle car man. I’ve sorta got Ford blood,” Ken­wor­thy says.

That’s no sur­prise, con­sid­er­ing he has seen it all at Ford after start­ing as an ap­pren­tice tool­maker and work­ing his way through to se­nior man­age­ment in hu­man re­sources dur­ing 42 years with the com­pany.

Not only that, but his father com­pleted 43 years with Ford Aus­tralia and trod a sim­i­lar path from the trim shop through to the board, although he was also one of the men re­spon­si­ble for es­tab­lish­ing the Ve­hi­cle Builders Union in Aus­tralia.

“My father was a real leg­end of Ford. He held the first union meet­ing, out in the garage at the front of the plant, and the man­age­ment put the fire hoses on them. Ford was dead against any­one join­ing the union.”

It’s ironic, then, that he was even­tu­ally moved into the per­son­nel of­fice, join­ing the board in the 1950s and con­tin­u­ing in the post un­til he re­tired in 1977.

“He also be­came the Mayor of Gee­long West in 1966,” Ken­wor­thy says of his father’s post-Ford life.

He is proud of his dad and what he achieved, as well as the pair’s 75 years of con­tin­u­ous fam­ily ser­vice with Ford. That’s right, three-quar­ters of cen­tury ser­vice from one fam­ily! Beat that!

“Dad started off in the 1930s. He was a boot maker by trade and he started in Gee­long in the trim shop. Back in those days things were very tough,” he says.

“His nick­name was ‘Tun­ner’ but his real name was Wil­liam Her­bert. Dur­ing the hard days of The Great De­pres­sion he was a boxer, a re­ally good boxer. He would stand in the crew for Jimmy Sharman’s box­ing tent for three quid a fight. He paid for his house that way.”

It was Ken­wor­thy se­nior, not sur­pris­ingly, who opened the door to Ford for his son.

“Dad got me a job. I fin­ished school in 1966 and I got an ap­pren­tice­ship in 1967 as a tool­maker. For a car fa­natic like me, it was dream­land.

“We had the draw­ing of­fices and the pro­duc­tion de­vel­op­ment of­fices in Gee­long. I couldn’t wait for my lunch breaks, wait­ing to see the new mod­els to come out.

“The Fal­con had just come out and the XR GT was a pro­to­type. I re­mem­ber, they put a cover over it so no-one could see it. And I re­mem­ber pulling the silk cover up and see­ing the beau­ti­ful gold paint, and the badge for the High Per­for­mance 289. Look­ing in­side and see­ing the

four-speed floor shift; that locked me in.”

He worked through a string of jobs in prod­uct de­vel­op­ment and pro­duc­tion, in­clud­ing as a “trou­ble chaser” who was able to solve var­i­ous prob­lems in de­vel­op­ment and the fac­tory, which meant he was the com­pany’s high­est-paid trades­man.

Not sur­pris­ingly, he has plenty of in­sider sto­ries. In­clud­ing on the rac­ing front.

“I re­mem­ber when we were build­ing all the spe­cial panels for the Al­lan Mof­fat Fal­cons in the sev­en­ties. I was hand cut­ting the door panels in alu­minium for the two-doors.

“And the ex­tended fuel tanks. In the 36-gal­lon race tanks we could draw an­other inch-and-a-half from the metal at the bot­tom of the tank to get an­other cou­ple of gal­lons. Those were the tricks we could do.

“When I got into the Hu­man Re­sources depart­ment all the race driv­ers would come into my of­fice at the plant. I re­mem­ber telling John Bowe all the se­crets from the Mof­fat era and he was rolling around my of­fice with laugh­ter.”

He knew all the race driv­ers, and other Ford icons like rally driver Gra­ham Hoinville, and even has a per­sonal tie to Craig Lown­des.

“Do you re­mem­ber the Cortina from the Ford Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre that Craig did? I’ve got the en­gine in my garage. I’ve got all the orig­i­nal bits, the diff and gear­box as well. I’ve had them for about 20 years.”

Ken­wor­thy moved into the HR depart­ment in 1977, work­ing along­side his dad, and he re­calls the de­mand for work­ers.

“Things were re­ally boom­ing in 1976 to ’78, they could sell ev­ery car they put out. We were hir­ing peo­ple like you wouldn’t be­lieve. They would want 40 peo­ple a day. That went on for a long time.”

But the boom time didn’t last and he re­mem­bers gi­ant union dis­putes through the 1990s, as well as the de­cline in the Ford lineup.

“From about 1977 right un­til the 1990s we didn’t have many cars that in­ter­ested me.

“Then Ge­off Po­lites came along and we got back into the V8s and

got go­ing again.”

Even though he worked at Ford un­til 2009, Ken­wor­thy has no doubt about the high­light of his four decades there.

“For me it was the 1970s. They were the best years,” he says.

“The man­age­ment in those days were all car peo­ple. They would all head to Bathurst to­gether in their Fal­con GTs. He also has deeply per­sonal mem­o­ries. “I can still re­mem­ber the first XW grille com­ing up out of the chrome plat­ing. And the first XW GT nearly brought me to tears. Those cars had the look, the trim, the tyres and the power as well.

“Back then, hav­ing a Fal­con GT was like hav­ing a Fer­rari to­day. It was a big deal. And then the GTHO, that was just in­cred­i­ble.”

But Ken­wor­thy could also see the chang­ing tastes of Aus­tralian car buy­ers and the im­pact on his com­pany.

“I could see it com­ing, with peo­ple go­ing away from the Fal­con and Holden. As good as they were, I could see peo­ple – even neigh­bours – start­ing to buy Volvos, and even Mercedes-Benz.

“My big­gest dis­ap­point­ment in the last few years was that we didn’t have enough car peo­ple in the plant. I don’t re­ally know what the an­swer is go­ing to be in the fu­ture.”

After a brief dal­liance with a Volvo when the Swedish com­pany was part of the Ford fam­ily, he still drives a lo­cal Ford and is con­sid­er­ing the mod­ern equiv­a­lent of the old-time GT for his next daily driver.

“Since I’ve re­tired I’ve just been get­ting a base XR ute. I’m up to my ninth one. But I’m look­ing at a Mus­tang be­cause ap­par­ently they’re a beau­ti­ful car, re­ally well done, not like the one I had in the old days.”

Above left and right: Max Ken­wor­thy has owned many Fords over the years in­clud­ing the red Cortina GT that was the Blue Oval’s first Bathurst win­ner. That car has long since gone to God, but Max to­day has a GT 500. Be­low: Max was some­thing of an iden­tity dur­ing his many years work­ing at Ford.

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