The most comprehensive display of the history of Mack Trucks, with some of the rarest examples of the Bulldog Breed, is not preserved in the US as most would assume but here in Australia – and the collection of restored vehicles keeps on growing.
Tony Champion is a man with a passion about dogs, not the furry family pet version but those sitting on the bonnet of a Mack truck, and if you ask him, Tony will politely tell you they too are ‘man’s best friend’. The man has suffered from the bite of the Bulldog and carries the Mack disease proudly. A conversation with Tony heads in just one direction – models of Mack trucks in his collection, those he is seeking and how the brand shaped the road transport industry in so many parts of the world.
Tony is based in the city of Rockhampton and while it is considered Australia’s Beef Capital, it is rapidly gaining a reputation as Mack Trucks’ history headquarters. The search continues for Macks that most have never heard of let alone seen, and Tony is hot on their trail.
A large building on the city’s outskirts, right next door to the Mack/Volvo dealership, is unobtrusive. It carries no signs to reveal activities within, but inside the four walls is a staggering collection of nearly 50 examples of trucks produced by Mack including some of the last in existence in the world, making Tony the envy of truck operators and enthusiasts around the globe.
Included in the Tony collection are some extremely important Mack trucks that forged the Australian trucking industry including the legendary Antill Ranger B Models and H Series cabovers operated by Mayne Nickless that helped to establish the overnight transport business in this country.
Every truck has a story but Tony’s story of his association with the Bulldog is just as interesting. According to Tony it all began before he left school when he fell in love with the Mack truck and spent time in and around them, rather than being in the classroom in Tasmania in an area where his family worked the land.
“It really kicked off when I left school and went to the Atherton Tableland in Queensland to take on a job as a dozer driver. I actually was at a logging site when a chap asked if I was looking for work. I told him I had been working operating heavy machinery with my family and yes a position with the company would suit me fine. Turning up for work I was told I would not be driving a dozer, rather my role had changed to driving the timber truck, so my first paying job was behind the wheel of an NR Mack on logging at the age of 19,” Tony tells.
Tony went on to continue in the excavation field and invested in mining sites, along the way obtaining dozers and the like, requiring a truck and lowloader to meet his own requirements. The obvious choice for a truck was Mack and Tony bought a second-hand R700, later progressing to a brand new truck.
“I went into Mack at Chipping Norton in Sydney to buy a dip switch for the R700 when a salesman told me if I liked he could supply not only a new dipper switch, but the rest of the vehicle to go around it. So I came away from there with a new Super-Liner Series 1,” he recalls.
“That truck was ordered with a Caterpillar engine as it had a higher horsepower rating than the current Mack engine, but about six weeks into the build, Mack rang to say a 440hp V8 engine was being released and they would not be going ahead with the Cat installation. I could either have the Super-Liner with the Mack engine or not have a Mack.
“Naturally the Mack V8 was my choice and while I did not get the first one, actually the first 440 went to my uncle in a Cruise-Liner, my truck had the second. The Super-Liner I ordered was a heavy spec for my type of work and that truck gave me incredible service from its delivery on June 4, 1982,” he says with a smile.
Tony’s mining ventures continued until 2006 when he sold his interests. He was also in the business of rebuilding mining truck engines at his Rockhampton premises, an activity that was also sold. He kept the premises and at that time had collected three Mack B Model prime movers intended for full restoration – the dream was underway!
“Everybody told me the disease I had was worse than cancer, people have been cured of cancer but there is absolutely no cure for what I’ve got,” Tony laughs. “I took the stress of mining out by working on the B Models and I guess things grew from there.”
If the United States lamented the Global Financial Crisis, the ball fell into Tony Champion’s lap as Mack truck collectors in that country held crisis asset sales and the Aussie dollar went through the roof – suddenly trucks Tony had wanted but were extremely expensive became exciting purchase propositions.
“In 2008 the GFC made expensive collector trucks in the US go on the market at a discount price. Some of those Macks were trucks only seen in photographs but they are now a reality here in Australia,” Tony indicates.
One of those is a completely restored H60 model and it is the only example of its kind in the world, a totally original truck. Only 80 of these trucks, powered by a Thermodyne gasoline engine, were ever made.
“This is the only place in the world where you can see all the H Models. We have the H60, H63 and H67, all in beautiful condition. They are extremely rare and attract a lot of interest,” Tony says.
“Another rare truck is the Mack LTL, the Cadillac of trucks, and it is one of the most expensive trucks I have invested in. In the LTL, the second ‘L’ stands for lightweight. It has the equivalent of a Holden 186 motor in every cylinder and has a lot of aluminium components. I am going to carry out an extensive restoration on this vehicle.”
Walking around his complex you see some stunning vehicles including an A30, the predecessor to the A51 that was the forerunner to the B61; an LTH (heavier version of the LTL); DM800 with offset cab; a W71 that is one of only two in the world; a 1930 chain drive; and a host of others, some in various stages of restoration.
Tony Champion is a walking encyclopaedia of Mack truck models and nomenclatures. You will find him religiously browsing the internet, reading magazines and compiling a concise history with specification sheets, old advertisements and all available forms of Mack memorabilia.
He obtains a lot of trucks simply through word of mouth and he is extremely well-known in the US for his activities in tracing the existence of Macks in all corners of the country.
“We are regarded in the US as the people who have plundered the Mack history market,” he laughs, “but I will continue to seek some of the rarest Macks on the planet. I have seven more coming, some are already on the water, and it is exciting to obtain some of these units,” he says.
On its way to Australia is a vehicle that really is an exceptional Mack, a Mack Junior. Again it is a rare vehicle with only eight remaining. The lightweight Mack produced in 1937 is, Tony admits, the most expensive Bulldog vehicle he has invested in, the small vehicle surpassing the LTL in dollar value, and he is eagerly awaiting its arrival.
Currently all the trucks are stored in his shed. That has some limitations in terms of one open wall and not enough clear area for display, but all that is about to change.
Under construction is a display building that will feature glass walls to seal the trucks from the elements. This will allow Tony to maintain high presentation standards in his quest to share Mack trucks with the people.
“It will not become a tourist attraction but I am always interested in showing those with an interest in Mack trucks around,” he says. “I hope to have the building complete by April next year and will possibly open to the public a couple of times a year to assist charity. Nothing has been planned as yet but I am keen to have the trucks housed in an attractive display that will protect them.”
Tony Champion’s passion for Mack is in no way diminishing as his search for history continues. He has a comprehensive array of the best of Macks on display in one place, Mack heaven if you like, preserving the trucks of the Bulldog Breed.
“There is an old Mack saying: long bonnet, long legs and long gone and that is epitomised in what is my favourite truck in the collection, a Bicentennial Super-Liner Kingsford Smith, a real example of how Mack and the E9 engine shaped Australian transport.”
Just don’t mention any other truck brand to Tony Champion.