Kevin’s Across-Australia Canter trek
In the 1970s, Japanese trucks were a largely unknown quantity. It was a risky proposition, most people would reckon, to use one of these small early-model Mitsubishi Canters to haul a 12-metre boat hull from Perth to Ulladulla, south of Sydney. Jim Gibson spoke to Kevin Pollock, who did precisely that.
First up, some back ground on the Canter and on Kevin.
The first generation of the Mitsubishi/Fuso Canter light-duty truck came onto the market in March 1963 in Japan. Since then, of course it has amazing success and eight generations later the humble Canter has chalked up global sales in the vicinity of four-million units.
In Australia, this little truck became a household name, when it was the first Japanese truck company to introduce a light-duty, wide cab-over-engine (COE) in 1978. The model was launched using the novel and memorable ‘Not So Squeezy’ TV commercial, using Sumo wrestlers to promote Canter’s superior interior space.
Today, the Sumos and ‘Not So Squeezy’ catch phrase are still synonymous with the Mitsubishi/Fuso brand, where Canter still remains a popular choice with light-duty truck operators. In fact, transport company StarTrack, took delivery in 2013 of the 50,000th Canter sold in Australia.
Although our feature 1976 Canter was a third generation model, it was badged ‘Dodge’, because Chrysler Australia was the importer of Mitsubishi truck product and the American and British Dodge-branded products were better known to Australian buyers.
Kevin Pollock’s beloved Canter was purchased new for $5500.
As Jim Gibson sat at the Pollock kitchen table to discuss the life and times of the little Dodge, Kevin’s wife Margaret winked and said, with a cheeky grin: “The truck was his first love, I was his second”.
Kevin was 83 when Historic Vehicles interviewed him and he’d purchased the truck 43 years prior to that.
Kevin Pollock was a boat builder, house builder and fisherman on the NSW South Coast. In the Ulladulla area he was well known as a master of all trades – and we mean ‘master’. He could turn his hands to shaping and working wood with precision and equally fettle metal to tradesman-like accuracy: just one of those talented naturals.
Apart from wanting to use the Canter in his various local business pursuits, Kevin had ordered a 11.6m x 3.8m fibreglass boat hull to be built in Perth and needed the little diesel truck to tow it back to Ulladulla where he could complete its fit-out.
His current truck back then was a 1960s-vintage Dodge 114 with a petrol engine and single rear wheels that he judged nowhere good enough for the task at hand. So, he traded the 114 and took delivery of the African-green Canter in cab/chassis guise – naturally planning to build the body himself.
In addition, he had to construct a bespoke trailer in order to transport the large boat hull from Perth.
The second-hand shop at the local tip, which Kevin affectionately called ‘Green Street Spares’, was where he was able to purchase, at the right price, enough steel for the job, including vehicle springs and wheels.
He built a ‘greasy plate’ turntable using two steel flat plates reinforced with C-section steel channel and a steel two-inch (50mm) diameter pin.
Four Holden springs were shortened and connected to rocker arms as pivots for the dual-axle, load-sharing, four-wheel combo, fitted with vacuum brakes. It was simple mid-seventies ingenuity of the first-order.
The trailer parts – minus two 12-metre, 100x50mm RHS beams that he intended to purchase in Perth – were loaded onto the little Canter. The beams would be the trailer ‘skeletal’ between the turntable, as they would be too long to transport over with the kit). These would become the main runners from the turntable to the cradle over the tandem axles.
Kevin pointed the Canter west, with co-driver Brian Moore beside him and the two of them felt like they were on a Burke & Wills expedition, as they set off to conquer the Nullarbor Plain, colloquially known as the ‘Big Paddock’.
The trip west was uneventful, until they arrived at the boat builder’s premises. Much to Kevin’s disgust, the boat hull’s construction was only in the first stages. (Many WA visitors – before and since – reckon that ‘WA’ stands for Wait Awhile – Ed.)
“As a peace offering I was given a plane ticket back to Sydney,” Kevin said. “ But I had to pay for Brian.
“I left the Canter in the builder’s yard, and they promised to inform me when the build was completed.”
Finally, a month later, Kevin was back in Perth, busy assembling the trailer. Then with rego effected and a wide-load escort hired:
“I set out on the return journey,” said Kevin. “But this time, with friend Barry Stanford as a co-driver, we headed east with the escort vehicle in front and the rising sun beaming through the windscreen.
“We left our WA escort at Eucla, then crossed the border into South Australia, where an escort wasn’t required.
“The Nullarbor was ahead and as we travelled further east the head-wind became more relentless, with the 3.8m beam of the boat retarding our progress.
“I had the accelerator pedal hard to the floor, but progress was slow, despite the four-cylinder DR5 2.7-litre 59kW engine revving at its maximum 3700rpm.
“Sometimes I had to drop down a gear, so as to push harder.”
Kevin said they could smell and feel the heat transfer from the gearbox and by the time they reached Ceduna it was a little noisy.
On the positive side, the boat had been useful as their sleeping quarters!
They pressed on across SA into the top corner of Victoria, finally reaching NSW and headed along the Hay Plains.
At the halfway point between Hay and Darlington Point the engine started to run on three cylinders.
“We pulled into a large property called Gundaline Station near Carrathool and with their help were able to contact a mechanic who diagnosed it as a burnt-out valve. He then organised it to be taken to a workshop at Griffith for repair.
“Barry and I caught the train from Wagga to Sydney, then on to Bomaderry and finally made our way to Ulladulla.”
After the repair was completed, Kevin hopped back on the train to Wagga, to collect the truck and its load.
“You wouldn’t want to know, as we made it into Ulladulla and were crossing the bridge on the highway heading to the wharf to unload, a tyre blew on the trailer!”
The gearbox was also very noisy by the time Kevin reached home, so he took the truck to Crocker Chrysler/Mitsubishi at Ulladulla, where the gearbox was removed and stripped.
The gears were black from heat generation and the bearings were rattling. According to Alan Crocker it was a miracle the bearings hadn’t completely collapsed from the heat generated during the 4000km west-east trip across the continent.
We asked Kevin if the boat was worth the epic journey and all the drama.
“Well I’ve got to say it was certainly an experience and something I did enjoy,” he said, with a grin.
The Canter, with a repaired gearbox and tray body in place of the turntable, worked hard in Kevin’s various ventures, as well as in his son’s house-building business, for the next four decades.
Kevin’s custom-built, stainless-steel tray floor also made it suitable for hauling fish, crabs and lobsters. However, the cab floor eventually rusted away, from the salt water on his shoes, so being an innovator, he made (as you would) a full fibreglass floor – problem solved.
A new life
Kevin parted company with the little battler quite recently. It was sold to the Mitsubishi/Fuso dealer in Geelong in Victoria, as they wanted it for a display in the showroom, where customers could appreciate the longevity of a Canter that served the one owner for 40+ years.
However, Kevin’s faithful little truck is back working, but on light duties at a plant nursery on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula. Its current owners reckon the style and colour of this 1976 Canter complement their horticulture business.
While Kevin Pollock’s rebuilt adventure machine was doing coastal haulage duties around Ulladulla in the 1980s, Jim Gibson, the writer of this yarn, was the national marketing manager at Mitsubishi Motors Australia Ltd’s truck division.
‘Gibbo’ recalls that Young & Rubicam (Y&R) had been Chrysler Australia’s advertising agency, prior to the takeover of the company by Mitsubishi in 1980 and had been the brains-trust behind the very successful ‘Hey! Charger’ ad campaign for the Valiant Charger. Some oldies may also recall the ‘two finger’ solute in that campaign during the 1970s.
So, Y&R’s creative juices were used for the ‘Not So Squeezy’ campaign.
Finding the ‘talent’ to portray three Sumo wrestlers was a task and at one point it was thought to film the ads in Japan. However, three overweight guys of Greek extraction were found and, with the help of a skilled make-up artist and some tuition on grunts and groans, Mitsubishi Trucks “Not So Squeezy’ campaign was in business.