The Mak­ing of Le­gends

Spawned in the shad­ows of the iconic W-model, it was per­haps in­evitable Ken­worth’s clas­sic T900 would one day notch ‘Leg­end’ sta­tus. Yet em­bed­ded in this story of a re­mark­ably re­silient truck are the steely pride and erce pas­sions of peo­ple de­vout in the

Australian Transport News - - Contents - WORDS STEVE BROOKS

Spawned in the shad­ows of the iconic W-model, it was per­haps in­evitable Ken­worth’s clas­sic T900 would one day notch ‘Leg­end’ sta­tus

The year was 1990. Busi­nesses across the board were tak­ing a se­vere belt­ing and, among many, Ken­worth was do­ing all it could to sim­ply en­dure Trea­surer Paul Keat­ing’s in­ter­minable ‘re­ces­sion we had to have’.

Al­most a decade into his long and laud­able ca­reer as Ken­worth’s fi rst Aus­tralian man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, An­drew Wright had been quick to re­act to the down­turn. As he saw it, the eco­nomic signs were fore­bod­ing.

With his bean- counter brain kick­ing into sur­vival mode, re­trench­ments at the Bayswa­ter ( Vic) head of­fice and fac­tory came hard and fast.

Ev­ery­thing de­pended on the fac­tory’s on­go­ing vi­a­bil­ity and Wright was un­com­pro­mis­ing in his de­ter­mi­na­tion to pro­tect the fu­ture and avoid Ken­worth be­com­ing just an­other im­porter.

Yet seem­ingly overnight, Ken­worth, gen­er­ally, and Wright, specif­i­cally, be­came pari­ahs as com­men­ta­tors and com­peti­tors pub­licly lam­basted the cuts

“Some­thing was miss­ing and it was that ‘some­thing’ which at the back end of 1990 rst came to life as a pro­to­type T900”

as cor­po­rate overkill. Cries of ‘too much, too soon’ and ‘put­ting profit be­fore peo­ple’ were loud and long.

As time would soon show, an as­tute Wright had sim­ply seen the writ­ing on the wall clearer than his con­tem­po­raries. In fact, as the ex­trav­a­gance and ex­cesses of the ‘80s col­lapsed into the eco­nomic dol­drums of a new decade, and truck sales con­tin­ued to slip lower than a frog’s freckle, there were more than a few ex­ec­u­tives openly wish­ing they’d fol­lowed Wright’s lead and made the tough de­ci­sions sooner rather than hov­er­ing in vain hope of a quick re­cov­ery.

Whether we had to have it or not is de­bate­able, but this was cer­tainly a re­ces­sion that hung around far longer than any­one ex­pected. Road transport was ham­mered par­tic­u­larly hard, and dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions were forced on com­pa­nies of all per­sua­sions – es­pe­cially those with sig­nif­i­cant in­vest­ment in lo­cal man­u­fac­tur­ing tai­lored al­most en­tirely to the do­mes­tic mar­ket. Com­pa­nies like Ken­worth.

In fact, things were so crook in the Bayswa­ter bunker that then sales man­ager Russell Davey rang a town crier’s bell af­ter ev­ery or­der that had been credit-ap­proved. A col­lec­tive cheer went up ev­ery time it rang, but the clangs were few and far be­tween.

Be­hind the scenes, though, with busi­ness in the pits and the fac­tory build­ing barely half a truck a day, Ken­worth was qui­etly work­ing on the cre­ation of some­thing new. Some­thing for bet­ter times ahead but with the im­me­di­ate abil­ity to gen­er­ate in­ter­est and ex­cite­ment in an oth­er­wise de­pressed and de­press­ing mar­ket. Some­thing big, bold and home grown.

Back then, the star of the Ken­worth camp was un­ques­tion­ably the revo­lu­tion­ary T600. Launched on the Aus­tralian mar­ket in 1987, the slip­pery ‘Anteater’ had turned con­ven­tional truck de­sign on its head with its in­tense ac­cent on aero­dy­nam­ics. Yet as well re­ceived as it was by fuel-fo­cused op­er­a­tors, T600 did not tick all the boxes for ev­ery­one.

Some­thing was miss­ing, and it was that ‘some­thing’ which, at the back end of 1990, fi rst came to life as a pro­to­type T900.


Prob­a­bly the most re­spected en­gi­neer in the heavy- duty truck busi­ness, and re­garded by many as one of the most like­able and prin­ci­pled peo­ple you’re likely to meet any­where, Gary Hart­ley re­calls those days with the re­laxed con­fi­dence of one who has both sur­vived and suc­ceeded.

In years to come, Wright would pro­mote him to chief en­gi­neer and un­der his watch would evolve an eclec­tic range of trucks which, whether they made it to pro­duc­tion or not, would at least typ­ify Bayswa­ter’s ca­pac­ity for ap­pli­ca­tion en­gi­neer­ing on a defi antly Aus­tralian scale.

Ex­am­ples are plen­ti­ful but in some minds, in­clud­ing this one, the abil­ity to rad­i­cally trans­form an ar­chaic K-se­ries cab- over into the mod­ern form of the K200, and most re­cently cre­ate an en­tirely new fu­ture with the

Above: The orig­i­nal T900 pro­to­type. Born tough in tough times

Op­po­site: The re­tir­ing type. Gary Hart­ley just a few weeks be­fore his last days at Ken­worth Right: Steady! The one and only Al­lan Stead

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