The birth of Kenworth in Australia
This month marks a significant milestone for Kenworth, with the iconic brand celebrating 50 years of manufacturing down under. Big Rigs takes a trip down memory lane.
The year was 1971 when the first Australian made Kenworth hit the road, but the story of Kenworth down under started almost a decade earlier.
Way back in 1962, two men named Ed Cameron and George Blomfield started the truck manufacturer’s Australian story, when they imported the first fully built Kenworths from the US.
Ed Cameron passed away in 2016, at the age of 93. He was in the business of transporting fresh produce, initially throughout Melbourne, before expanding into Sydney. He joined his family’s business D & E Transport after serving in WWII.
Born in Victoria in 1905, Blomfield passed away in 1995. He moved to Red Hill in 1932, where he began his career in transport. Post-WWII, he too began transporting fruit interstate.
In their search for a suitable truck with enough grunt and power to tackle their interstate routes, they were convinced there had to be a better alternative to the trucks that were currently available to them – and they found that in the form of a Kenworth.
They traveled to the US for the first time in 1955 in search of a truck that could stand up to the tough Australian conditions. After numerous visits to the US, phone calls, and changes to Australia’s import rules, their hard work finally paid off. Seven fully assembled S-models arrived by ship into Sydney in October 1962, each one custom engineered. These Kenworths were the first to be fitted with Detroit Diesel engines. Four were for Cameron and three for Blomfield.
In addition to running his transport business, Cameron went on to set up Australian Kenworth Truck Sales Pty Ltd, which imported and sold over 100 Kenworth prime movers, before PACCAR’s predecessor Pacific Car and Foundry acquired his business in the late 1960s and established Kenworth’s 56,000 square foot Australian plant at Bayswater in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs in 1970, which continues to produce trucks to this day.
According to PACCAR, Cameron was instrumental in the brand’s decision to manufacture Kenworths in Australia. He continued to serve as a director at PACCAR until the 1970s.
THROUGH THE DECADES
Nicknamed the ‘Grey Ghost’, the first Australian-made Kenworth rolled off the production line in 1971. It was a K125CR cabover, built using locally manufactured parts where possible.
The W900AR, or ‘Long Nose’ as it was affectionately known, was introduced soon after.
Then in 1975, the brand achieved a significant milestone with the launch of the W900SAR. This was the first Kenworth fully designed in Australia, specifically for Australian conditions. With its striking angled bonnet and ability to utilize a high horsepower engine while still getting maximum payload, all within existing length limits, it proved to be an immediate hit.
But its predecessor – the W900AR – had gained such a following that Kenworth decided to reintroduce it in 1977 after length limits were eased.
With business booming, Kenworth expanded the plant to double its original size in 1978, which created 300 new jobs.
Soon after, Kenworth received one of the biggest orders placed by a private company in Australia at the time, with a $3 million order for 31 prime movers placed by Finemores Transport.
In 1980, the first Australian managing director took the reins of the business. His name was Andrew Wright. Kenworth was now a division of PACCAR Australia Pty Ltd.
Following $35 million of investment in Australia, the Kenworth C500AR was launched in 1981. A true workhorse, this model was built tough for off-highway applications such as the logging and mining industry. The model had already proven its grit in the harsh landscapes of Arabia and Africa.
PACCAR’s first state-of-the-art parts warehouse and distribution center soon followed, a 45,000 square foot space that opened in 1986. That was also the year that the K100E was launched. Then in 1987, the company’s biggest new truck launch to date came in the form of the revolutionary T600. Its sloping aerodynamic nose resulted in the nickname of ‘Anteater’. This truck looked very different from past models, which made it somewhat polarising, particularly among purists. Though once its impressive fuel figures were revealed, demand for this model soared.
By 1988, Kenworth had celebrated the 10,000th Australian-made truck. It was a T600 for Cleveland Freightliners. Another new model was also launched that year – the C500T. This replaced the C500AR.
As well as a string of new model launches, the 1980s also brought about changes in design processes, with new computer technology being introduced from the end of the 1980s and into the early 1990s. For example, CAD drawing replaced traditional drawing boards.
The early years of this decade were marred by the recession, which affected many businesses – and the transport industry was not immune.
Nevertheless, Kenworth was still able to continue on its growth trajectory.
The iconic T900 was introduced in 1991. It was modeled on the legendary W-model, combining a classic look and style with the ability to stand up to almost any application and condition.
Then 1993 was another important year for the manufacturer. Along with introducing the T480, Kenworth’s Bayswater plant became the first PACCAR plant to receive International Quality Standard ISO 9001 accreditation; and the first New Zealand dealership was appointed.
By 1996, Kenworth had been producing trucks in Australia for 25 years. It celebrated by adding another 10,000 square feet to its Bayswater plant and welcoming its 15,000th Kenworth, a T601.
But it seems that wasn’t quite big enough. In 1998, the PACCAR Parts warehouse was expanded to 100,000-plus square feet. And more new models were added into the mix, with the C510, T604, and T904.
Boasting futuristic safety features such as a collision-avoidance system, GPS, and infrared night imaging sensors, the T604 ‘Technology Truck’ was previewed in 2000. The showcase vehicle aimed to demonstrate how smart technology could be utilized to address critical safety issues including driver fatigue.
Much of the innovative technology used on this truck found its way into Kenworth production trucks over the preceding years.
In 2004, the T404SAR was launched. It paid homage to the much-loved W900SAR, which ceased production in 1987. Flexible engineering allowed for customization to suit customer needs, with so many design options available.
Kenworth’s largest model to be designed in Australia, the C540, was introduced in 2007. It was made especially for off-highway mining applications and utilizes a 19-liter engine with a GCM of 350T, without any power-assisted trailers.
To meet ADR 80/02 emission standards, the entire Kenworth range was redesigned ahead of the launch in 2008.
Kenworth capped off the decade with the delivery of its 40,000th truck, a T608, in 2009.
The latest brake safety technology, Electronic Brake Safety Systems, was also released across the entire range.
In 2010, Kenworth revealed its 2011 models ahead of their introduction the following year, meeting ADR 80/30 emissions standards across the entire range. Kenworth also introduced its iconic K200.
By 2013, the manufacturer had produced its 50,000th Australian-made truck. It was a K200 purchased by long-time customer Rodney’s Transport Service.
In celebration of 90 years of Kenworth, the limited edition T909 Director Series was launched in 2014, combining the best of classic and contemporary. This was followed by the release of the Legend 950 in 2015, with only 75 of these produced – they sold out within a couple of days.
The launch of the hotly anticipated T610 followed in 2016. This model was the result of over 100,000 Australian design hours and more than 10 million kilometers of testing.
The iconic T610 represents Kenworth’s largest single investment in product development in Australia. It remains one of the most aerodynamic and fuel-efficient trucks to come off the Kenworth production line.
The second Legend iteration arrived on the scene in 2017, with the unveiling of the Legend 900 at the Brisbane Truck Show in 2017. Only 257 of these trucks were manufactured.
In 2017, truck number 60,000 also hit the road, a T610SAR purchased by Wickham Freight Lines.
Though the past 12 months or so have been challenging as the result of a global pandemic, Kenworth remains stronger than ever. The company is now working to increase its production capacity. This will include a $40 million expansion of the Bayswater facility, with upgrades due to be completed this year.
With 50 years of Australian manufacturing already under its belt, the future is certainly looking bright for Kenworth.
This article was originally published on Bigrigs.com.au and can be found here