Vale Colin McKenzie
Our good mate, Colin McKenzie, joined the great celestial truck convoy in April 2023, following a short illness. He left this world peacefully, surrounded by family and with the knowledge that his wife of 67 years, Verna, would be well supported by family and friends.
Long before Jim Gibson and I started the Historic Vehicles website, I had been involved with Colin, through our mutual interest in heavy vehicles: Colin’s from the view of engineering overseas componentry to suit Aussie conditions and mine from the journalistic mission of reporting to truck buyers through magazine and newspaper articles.
Firstly, some facts about Colin’s career:
Colin graduated in Mechanical Engineering in 1953, did five months of national service training in the RAAF and joined International Harvester in June 1954, as a cadet engineer with the product engineering office in Dandenong.
When Colin joined Inter’, the AR series was in production and, in the following year, work began on the Army 4×4 and 6×6 program: an exciting time for a young engineer.
Colin McKenzie worked his way through many truck model iterations to become chief engineer of the truck division of International Harvester Company of Australia.
During this time he spent two years in Detroit, managing a design team for International Australia’s second-generation ACCO truck range, which was introduced into the Australian market in 1972. This vehicle had enough of the ‘right stuff’ to be in production some 50 years later. Its Iveco replacement has failed to match the ACCO’s market share.
Following his engineering success at International, Colin spent the second half of his career at the Ford Motor Company in various management roles. He was the manager of truck product planning at the time the Louisville was being developed for introduction into the Australian market and it proved to be an even bigger market success than the venerable ACCO.
Later, marketing was added to his responsibilities and he had direct contact with truck journalists as well. We all dreaded getting a phone call from Colin, following a published review we’d written on a Ford truck. Any errors of fact in these reports were treated with a harsh rebuke from the ‘ACCO Engineer’, as we respectfully dubbed him. He would, however grudgingly, accept valid criticism.
He also played a role in truck industry affairs and for a number of years was chairman of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries’ truck group.
Colin Mc Kenzie and I developed great mutual respect, but friendship was postponed, in the true journalistic manner, until he retired from Ford in 1990 and ended a brief consultancy role with Daimler’s truck division.
He and Verna joined me and partner, Keryn, on many bush trips, while I was wearing my outback travel hat and writing stories for various 4WD magazines. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s it was relatively easy for me to get loan press vehicles for the McKenzies for these outback jaunts. Of course, Colin designed and built a modular kitchen and water tank that could fit into the back of any wagon or ute.
Our bush adventures included several runs across the central Australian deserts, plenty of coastal travel and trips to the Victorian High Country. On one occasion we had a narrow escape from a raging bush fire in the Vic alps.
We also spent many nights at the Malvern Mansion discussing politics and current affairs, downing the odd beer and glass of red. It was always pleasant to be in what we reckoned was the only house in Malvern/Toorak that didn’t vote conservatively!
Throughout this period we had many encounters with the McKenzie clan and reckon that Verna will have all the support she needs from this wonderful group of people – including from the grand kids and great grand kids. Keryn and I felt privileged to join some of them at Colin and Verna’s 60th wedding anniversary.
Colin knew he’d lived though a pivotal period in the Australian road transport industry’s development, from fledgling haulers of rural produce to the absolutely essential logistics operations of today: ‘without trucks, Australia stops’. He wanted to record the developments he witnessed, from an engineering point of view and determined to publish some books.
Colin thought and wrote like an engineer and he asked if I would help translate some of his engineer-ese into connected copy and I was only too happy to become the editor – way in the background.
He managed to tease enough coin from budget-conscious truck and engine makers to fund the production of four books, but never took a penny for his own efforts.
The books are: Louisville to Sterling – The Story of an Australian Truck Legend (published in 2012); Freightliner Trucks – an Australian Perspective (published in 2013); Cummins Diesel Truck Engines Down Under (published in 2014) and Inter to Iveco – an Australian Truck Story (published in 2015). These are Colin’s professional legacy, but he also penned a McKenzie family history.
At Historic Vehicles we’ve been asked about these truck history books that are now out of print and we intend to have discussions with Verna on this topic when she’s ready.
In the meantime, I have treasured memories of Colin McKenzie and resort to the words of Callimachus, rhymed by William Johnson Cory:
They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
I wept as I remembered how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.
And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake:
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.