Mystery Hinos Down Under
Historic Vehicles’ editors combined forces to record two separate Hino evaluation initiatives that didn’t progress to production for the Australian market. Jim Gibson researched the KA test truck of 1965 and Allan Whiting remembers the HH from 10 years later.
Japanese truck makers have increasingly dominated the Australian light, medium and medium-heavy markets since shortly after their impact here in the late1960s and early 1970s. However, despite serious attempts by Isuzu, Hino, Mitsubishi (Fuso) and UD Nissan Diesel they’ve been unable to ‘crack’ the linehaul market.
We’ve been close observers of the Australian market for the past 50 years and we think it’s a simple matter of only a small Japanese domestic market for linehaul trucks.
In Japan, only invisible loads get carried on articulated vehicle combinations and the vast bulk of Japanese heavy trucks are six- and eight-wheel rigids, limited to around 25 tonnes GVM. Most road freight routes are short and heavily congested.
The upshot of this situation is that Japanese makers have no incentive to produce linehaul trucks, because the market for them would be export only and Japan has no history of export success with products that don’t have a home-market base.
However, all global truck makers have been attracted the ‘magic’ of large combination vehicles operating in Outback environments and the Japanese are no exceptions. Success in the most demanding environment, hauling the heaviest road-truck weights in the world speaks volumes about product ‘cred’ and the Japanese wanted that badly. Also, heavy trucks are generally more profitable for dealers than smaller vehicles.
The allure of Australian linehaul business started from their early days in this market and is still there, eluding Japanese makers. However, it’s not for a lack of trying. Examples are Isuzu’s relatively unsuccessful Giga models and UD’s short-lived Detroit Diesel powered prime mover initiatives.
Hino’s first linehaul effort
Hino had a crack at the Australian linehaul market in the mid-1960’s, before Thiess Toyota started importing them in large numbers.
In 1964, Hino’s Japanese market, KA heavy-duty truck was powered by a 10-litre, in-line six-cylinder, naturally aspirated diesel engine, producing 195hp (145kW) at 2300rpm, with 492lb/ft (667Nm) of peak torque at 1400rpm.
The transmission was five-speed constant mesh with synchro on the top four. The rear axle was two-speed air shift actuation, giving a theoretical total of 10 forward ratios. Its GVM was 14,800kg and GCM 24,000kg.
This was the truck that one John Cyril Anderson (1904-1983) thought could make a reasonable linehauler. Cyril Anderson was, without a doubt, a legendary Queenslander. His Western Transport trucking operation was based in Toowoomba and ran a fleet of bright yellow B-model Macks – later R models – pulling closed- and spread-bogie Haulmark trailers, along the interstate black-top to virtually anywhere in Australia.
Cyril also formed Westco Motors to import motor vehicles, with Mack trucks being just one brand. He ran Mack Trucks Australia until the early 1970s and also manufactured his own design Leader trucks during the ’70s and ’80s, blending North American and Australian components, engineered and built in Toowoomba.
Cyril later imported UD Nissan Diesel trucks to Australia, but, in 1964, his first Japanese truck initiative was the Hino KA.
With the support of Hino Japan, four Hino KA trucks were imported for durability evaluation purposes, as well as market acceptance. Cyril, a wily road transport businessman, knew that a Japanese truck invasion was inevitable and was keen to be at the frontier.
The Japanese currency exchange rate in 1964 was ¥400 to the Aussie dollar, making the Hino less expensive than its UK and US sourced contemporaries, whose currency exchange rates were not as competitive.
The 1960s and ’70s currency exchange was a launching pad, by default, for the Japanese automotive industry, wishing to sell its products in Australia. Back then, we considered them to be ‘cheap Japanese’ that wouldn’t last, but we soon found that their products were durable.
The history of the other three trucks – two COEs and one bonnetted model – is somewhat sketchy, but it is believed the COEs ran in the Western Transport fleet, while the bonneted model was taken on a demonstration tour by the Japanese entourage to several other states.
Cyril Anderson decided that a test felt was necessary to see how the Hino would handle Australian conditions and chose Don McMillan Livestock Transport, based nearby, at Surat in Queensland.
Recollections of the red Hino
Jim Gibson spoke with Don McMillan Jnr, whose parents Don and Gloria owned and operated the livestock company. Don Jnr recalled: “I was five years old at the time, but trucks were everything to me.
“I well recall the Hino and Dad’s impressions of it, recounted numerous times by him up until his passing in 1998.
“I remember that Don always highly praised the Hino truck and, in his words, ‘It was a big powerful truck for its time and could give the B-Model Macks a run for their money’.
“Don was well qualified to judge a truck’s capabilities.
“He first built a livestock crate on an ex-military Blitz truck and then he and Gloria started in Surat with a Fargo and a Lend-lease Ford.
“The fleet grew to include 14 Ford F600s – semis and truck and dog rigs – followed by Leylands, Inters, Dodges and B-model Macks.”
Don Jnr remembered Cyril Anderson supplying the 1964 Hino truck. Haulmark Trailers built the single deck cattle/two deck sheep crate at its Evans Road factory in the Brisbane suburb of Salisbury. The KA regularly hauled a 30ft (10m) dog trailer.
He said the Hino evaluation truck had to endure the harsh western Queensland outback environment and high ambient temperatures, while loading and unloading livestock and transporting them over undulating terrain, on roads that varied from bitumen to unmade bush tracks.
Because of his young age at the time the Hino arrived at the depot, Don Jnr wasn’t quite sure, but thought that Jimmy Albeck was chosen as the driver by his father, to work the Hino in the fleet.
Don Jnr thought he still lived in the district, so we scoured the White Pages and bingo there he was, living in Wallumbilla, near Roma. He was a septuagenarian, but remembered the truck well and said he enjoyed the time he sat behind the wheel for some 80,000km during 1964/65.
Jimmy recalled, “Before I got the Hino I was driving an F600 and, believe me, it was chalk and cheese.
“The Hino was much quieter than the ‘Henry’ and very comfortable over rough terrain.
“It was great to sleep in, as you could stretch out, not like in the Fords or the Macks.
“The tilt cab was also a bonus, giving better access to the engine bay for daily checks.
“It had 24-volt electrics and a compression engine brake – both new to me.”
Don told Jimmy, ‘not to spare the horses; give it a good workout and we’ll see how well it can do the job’.
He drove it all over Queensland and at times he’d even pull two trailers.
Jimmy Albeck thought the KA was ‘too high geared’, but when he told the Japanese engineers his theory, they didn’t quite understand what he meant.
“The only problem I had with it was the engine getting too hot, so I took it to Gary Walton a ‘gun’ truck mechanic in Brisbane to see what he thought,” said Jimmy.
“He removed the oil-bath air cleaner, as he thought it was restricting air flow into the engine and, after doing some checks, he replaced it with a Donaldson dry cartridge air-cleaner and Mack pre-cleaner.
‘Those changes fixed the overheating problem and gave it some extra grunt.
“The Hino really went well after that mod and would pull better than the Macks up hills, but they’d out-run it on the flat.
“I remember pushing it up the Tollbar climb into Toowoomba once with a 20-ton load of drums on board: it was in low first, but still holding revs OK.”
Jimmy Albeck concluded by saying that he was sad to give the Hino back in early 1965.
It is believed that Cyril Anderson was unable to make a satisfactory commercial alliance with Hino Japan and the truck was returned to them. Cyril’s company, Westco, became the importer of UD Nissan Diesel trucks and buses in 1972, after the Thiess Group began importing Hino trucks during 1971.
Don and Gloria McMillan finished up with an all-Mack fleet and sold the business in 1974.
A second Hino linehaul initiative
A little over 10 years later, in 1975, Hino brought six HH340 evaluation trucks to Australia. One was lent to TNT for evaluation the heavy-duty Hino product, because several medium-duty Hinos had served in TNT’s local distribution fleet with great success.
At the time, Allan Whiting was writing stories and taking photos for Truck & Bus Transportation Magazine and pursued TNT for a drive in the new truck. Despite having a good working relationship with TNT’s senior driving instructor, John Watt, Whiting was unable to get his bum into the Hino seat. It was all top secret, he was told.
In 2018, Jim Gibson was told about a dilapidated old Hino sitting in a paddock on the NSW South Coast: could it be that very truck?
As it wasn’t too far from where he lived, Gibbo went with camera in hand to investigate. Hino Australia had indicated some interest in restoring the old machine.
It was an HH340 all right, and as you can see from the photos it was a basket case and well beyond redemption. Apparently, its career ended somewhat ignominiously, being used to haul boats out of the water, as evidenced by a rusting winch and low-loader turntable. Salt and steel have never been good mates.
Gibbo’s photo and the TNT Hino photo show that the bull bar does look the same, but he couldn’t find the chassis number. We’ll keep trying to solve the mystery.