Warren Caves visits the Rockhampton tribute to MACK Trucks
Everyone needs a hobby, something to fill those idle moments in your life with an interest that inspires you. Some collect stamps or coins, some find solitude in bushwalking or fishing. Then there’s Tony Champion. Tony’s hobby is, well quite frankly, it’s next level. Tony collects and restores Mack Trucks.
A cavernous industrial building located next to the VCV Truck dealership in Rockhampton, Queensland gives little away as to its contents, that is, if you can manage to look past the half Mack Titan, which looks to be emerging from the front glass windows.
Behind these walls reside no less than 50 or so restored Mack trucks (and that’s just inside, there’s a further 25 that wouldn’t fit in the main building), comprising Australian and American models and prototypes spanning the entire 100 years of Mack manufacturing.
Tony showed me around the main building and It quickly became clear he had an intimate relationship with each and every truck, an animated story for each one. The stories rolled off the tongue quicker than my pen could write them down, all the while with my senses in Mack overload so much that I didn’t know in which direction to point my camera.
As I wandered around in awe of this marvellous collection, I imagined a long life of collecting and restoring, a life of never-ending parts hunts and securing that elusive model to make the collection complete.
This was not the case. Tony informed me that the collection began quite recently in 2006, with the restoration of the very first orange B-Model still on display.
“Two restorations were completed in 2006, after that it sort of got out of hand a bit,” laughs Tony.
Selling up his interests in a coal-mining operation at Blackwater Queensland in 2006 obviously freed up a good deal of time for Tony to focus on his passion.
“Growing up in Tasmania, in the heart of logging country, I developed a passion for Mack as a kid,” he said.
“I drove my first Mack at the age of 19. When I should have been at school I was out riding around in B-Model Macks. Mack and Caterpillar have always been big part of my life.”
Some of the trucks have been purchased as is and some have been restored by Tony, his son Bernie and their small team of employees, while others have been outsourced to various parties. To amass such a large collection of trucks in a relatively short time frame is definitely impressive, but as Tony says, “there have been a lot of late nights and early mornings to get the collection to this point.”
Parts for restorations are sourced both domestically and from the U.S.A, although, according to Tony, some bits are getting hard to find. In the outside shed sits a line of V8 Mack engines on stands, Tony says that these engine in particular are getting rare and these are basically donor engines of unknown worth, which may give up some usable parts on disassembly.
The collection of trucks comprises a very diverse model line-up, with domestic and imported North American trucks covering everyday workhorses to limited edition and one-offs. A black Magnum sits proudly outside the front doors and, according to Tony, this is the only genuine, limited-edition Magnum model in Australia. Other notable residents are a 1919 AC model featuring solid tyres and carbide headlamps, a 1961 G73 (the only one of its type in Australia), and a 1976 Cruiseliner prototype based on an American cab. This particular truck went to work in Australia and eventually morphed into the domestic Cruiseliner model familiar in Australia.
A purple B-model Mack with custom sleeper is also a highlight within the collection. It is a North American model, purchased from Canada, shrink wrapped and imported into Australia by Tony. This truck has won virtually every award possible when entered into shows in America and Tony reckons this truck is the most photographed Mack in the world.
“I believe that we have the most diverse collection of Mack Trucks in the world. It may not be the biggest, which is not what we’re trying to do, we are looking to cover a broad cross-section of unique models,” said Tony.
“We try to keep the trucks as they were. Over the years we have had some drivers come in and see their old trucks and remark at how they look exactly original, they are historically correct, which is important to us.”
Tony plays down his role in preserving these trucks, saying that his collection is all about the trucks. While this is true to a point, without enthusiasts with the time and means to act as custodians to our trucking heritage, a lot of old historically-significant trucks could spend their days rusting away on a farm somewhere, only to ultimately end up as scrap.
It’s this philosophy that draws Tony like a moth to a flame in the direction of his next project. The first truck Tony ever owned was an R700 and an R700 proudly graces the workshop wall in the form of a grainy photo of a moment in time long since passed.
Some 40-odd years ago, Tony traded that truck in whereupon it then found itself a new home at Port Macquarie in NSW. As luck would have it, that second owner would go on to keep that truck until he passed away, with the truck remaining in the family following his death until Tony located it and bought it back.
Tony’s original V8 R700 is currently in the process of a full restoration in order to very soon take its place in the big shed of Mack’s.
To cover the whole spectrum of Mack models from the past 100 years there appears to be a glaring omission from the line-up, but Tony says he has this under control. A 2019 limited-edition Centenary model is currently in the build.
This in turn creates a unique problem. With the walls of the existing building closing in fast and trucks literally parked inches apart in places, the conundrum for Tony will be: Where to keep it?