IRON-CLAD IRON­MAN

IRON­MAN 4X4 MARKS 60 YEARS IN AUS­TRALIA.

4 x 4 Australia - - Industry Insider -

JUST AS we are spoilt for choice when it comes to buy­ing a new 4x4 ve­hi­cle, there is no short­age of op­tions when it comes to equip­ping and ac­ces­soris­ing that ve­hi­cle. There are plenty of com­pa­nies out there that can sell you qual­ity products for your 4x4, and a few that of­fer not-so-good qual­ity you should prob­a­bly stay clear of.

There’s only one com­pany that of­fers a com­plete ve­hi­cle fit-out – top to bot­tom and bumper to bumper – all with its own en­gi­neered and branded products. Iron­man 4x4 doesn’t sell products from other com­pa­nies; in­stead, if it sees a need for a prod­uct in the mar­ket­place, it en­gi­neers its own and ei­ther man­u­fac­tures it or seeks out the right com­pany to source it from. Iron­man 4x4 mightn’t be the old­est brand of 4x4 products in Aus­tralia, but it’s one that can trace its roots back six decades as it cel­e­brates its 60th an­niver­sary in 2018.

In 1958, Gunter Ja­cob was mak­ing leaf springs for trucks in a back­yard shed in Melbourne’s eastern sub­urbs. He soon moved his fledg­ling busi­ness to a work­shop at the back of a black­smithing shop in Oak­leigh, where Gunter would help the owner Harry Lark shoe horses in re­turn for the rent on the shed. It was no sur­prise that Gunter would be work­ing as a spring­maker in a black­smithing work­shop; the Ja­cob fam­ily had been in the steel busi­ness in Europe since the 1950s, when they were in the scrap-metal trade. In the 1960s in Aus­tralia, spring-mak­ing was a grow­ing trade as more and more peo­ple bought cars and trucks in the grow­ing na­tion.

Gunter opened a sec­ond work­shop in Oak­leigh and es­tab­lished Ja­cob Spring Works (JSW) and, four years later, opened Dan­de­nong Spring Works a bit far­ther east. At that time, 4x4s were mainly trucks like the Chev Blitz and other war-sur­plus ve­hi­cles like Jeeps, while Land Rover was an emerg­ing brand. Us­ing a 4WD for recre­ational use was al­most un­heard of.

The Aus­tralian Army was hav­ing trou­bles with the sus­pen­sion on its Se­ries 2A Land Rovers and ap­proached JSW for a so­lu­tion. Gunter re­designed the fac­tory springs and shock ab­sorbers to solve the fault, and JSW sus­pen­sion went into the many Land Rovers in the army’s fleet.

The Land Cruiser FJ25 and the more pop­u­lar FJ40 Se­ries spread the pop­u­lar­ity of 4x4s for both ex­ploratory work and recre­ational use, but Tom Ja­cob re­calls that it wasn’t un­til the 60 Se­ries Land Cruiser was re­leased in 1980 that recre­ational four­wheel driv­ing spread fur­ther.

“The 60 Se­ries was the first wagon that Aus­tralia fell in love with,” Tom told us at Iron­man 4x4’s head­quar­ters in Dan­de­nong, Melbourne. “It be­came the re­place­ment for the fam­ily ve­hi­cle that could tow a van or boat and dis­cover Aus­tralia.”

Tom and his sis­ter Bar­bara had both joined the fam­ily busi­ness just two years ear­lier and were wit­ness­ing the growth of the 4x4 as a pri­vately owned fam­ily ve­hi­cle used for tow­ing and ex­plor­ing. More and more own­ers were com­ing to JSW for up­rated sus­pen­sions to bet­ter sup­port their 4x4 ve­hi­cles, and the busi­ness grew through the 1980s.

By the end of the 1990s, JSW was man­u­fac­tur­ing and ex­port­ing sus­pen­sions to more than 20 coun­tries glob­ally.

Around 2003, Tom asked him­self, “Why do so many peo­ple need up­dated sus­pen­sion on their 4x4s?

“It was be­cause they made the cars heavy,” he re­called. “They had bars and racks and ac­ces­sories and lug­gage on the cars and they just weren’t able to carry the load. We thought that maybe we could sup­ply the ac­ces­sories as well.”

It was also around 2002-03 when JSW brought in two key em­ploy­ers that would see the com­pany suc­cess­fully make the move to the 4x4 ac­ces­sories busi­ness.

“What Kris­tian Ris­tell and Adam Craze brought to the busi­ness was a real-world un­der­stand­ing of how a 4x4 ve­hi­cle should per­form,” Tom said. “These guys were con­sumers and we started think­ing less like a man­u­fac­turer and more like a con­sumer. This in turn al­lowed our prod­uct pro­cesses to change from not just mak­ing the best springs, to mak­ing what the buy­ers want.”

In 2003, JSW im­ported a con­tainer-load of 12-volt re­cov­ery winches that it had en­gi­neered to its own spec­i­fi­ca­tion. Tom

says they sold well, with auto-parts gi­ant Repco tak­ing the lion’s share of what was the first Iron­man 4x4 prod­uct. It then be­came a pro­gres­sion of what products came next.

“We had a cus­tomer-base buy­ing sus­pen­sion for their 4x4s,” Tom said. “We asked them what ac­ces­sories they wanted. We were al­ready un­der the cars and now we were on the front of them as well.”

From the front to the rear and all points in be­tween, the Iron­man range has boomed and the cat­a­logue now holds more than 400 products, each driven by what the cus­tomers de­mand.

Tom marked 2005 as the next ma­jor land­mark in the busi­ness. “It was a re­ally im­por­tant year for us, for the 4x4 in­dus­try and for the di­rec­tion of where 4x4s were head­ing,” he said.

“The 2005 evo­lu­tion of the dual-cab was the crit­i­cal point.”

Dual-cab 4x4 utes are now among the most pop­u­lar-sell­ing ve­hi­cles in Aus­tralia and around the world. In line with that growth has been the num­ber of Iron­man 4x4 stores. The first opened in 2014 in Bal­larat and by the end of 2018 Tom says there will be 100 stores around the coun­try. These stores are fed by mas­sive ware­houses in Melbourne, Bris­bane, Townsville, New­cas­tle, Ade­laide and Perth, while hubs in Thai­land, the UAE and South Africa sup­ply Iron­man 4x4 re­tail­ers in more than 160 coun­tries around the world. All the mar­kets are dif­fer­ent in what they want and need. “The Mid­dle East mar­ket is very dif­fer­ent to Aus­tralia,” Tom told us. “It feeds the African mar­ket as well as the Gulf States and it is a dy­namic, so­lu­tions­based busi­ness. We can sup­ply end-toend so­lu­tions for gov­ern­ment, NGOS and fleet so­lu­tions in these mar­kets.” While Iron­man 4x4 grows glob­ally, it re­mains a fam­ily busi­ness. Both Tom and Bar­bara still work there and, ear­lier this year, Tom’s son Samuel joined the team. The trade mar­ket is where Tom sees Iron­man’s products; products that are af­ford­able, de­pend­able and func­tional for ev­ery per­son. “Af­ford­abil­ity re­spects the fact that the av­er­age fam­ily should be able to go four-wheel driv­ing, not just an elite few,” Tom added. This stays true to the vi­sion of what Iron­man 4x4 has come to rep­re­sent: great products, good value for money, and en­sur­ing peo­ple can en­joy four­wheel driv­ing safely. It’s a mantra that has seen growth for six decades, and with the third gen­er­a­tion of Ja­cobs join­ing the busi­ness among a staff of more than 200 peo­ple na­tion­ally, we see that suc­cess con­tin­u­ing for many years to come.

Racks of in­ven­tory fill the halls of an Iron­man 4x4 ware­house.

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