The glory days of International

By: Steve Skinner


A new book charts the fascinating 60-year history of the IVECO/International factory at Dandenong in Victoria

The glory days of International
An iconic S line International, circa 1979.

 

For decades International was the biggest truck brand in the world, and dominated the truck scene in Australia.

For those who don’t know, or have forgotten, this is all laid out in a new book: Inter to Iveco – an Australian Truck Story, by former chief engineer of the truck division of International Harvester Co. of Australia, Colin McKenzie.

International Harvester was an American company formed in 1902 with its roots going back to  the mid 1850s with the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company.

IH set up shop in Australia in 1912, and went on to lead the local truck scene until the early 1990s.

International became the first company to build trucks in Australia when it opened the famous Dandenong factory in 1952.

It seems strange now but right up to the late 1960s or so, the crux of the operation were fuel-guzzling petrol-powered engines.

The first Perkins diesel engines slotted into Inters were less than 100 horsepower (73kW).

Meanwhile as McKenzie says: "Diesel powered Mercedes-Benz 1418s and Mack B60s showed in the early 1960s they were viable alternatives to the petrol powered Internationals."

Many will also remember how similar some models of Inter and Dodge were, and that’s because International and Chrysler shared some components in the 1960s.

In a situation which continues today, government regulations on axle weights, overall vehicle lengths and engine emissions had a huge impact on the rise and fall of particular models.

Colin McKenzie admits to a few duds amongst them, which overall had good reputations for quality and reliability.

He says the fate of smaller Inter models was sealed by an interesting development in 1980-84.

"In this period the Japanese manufacturers, Isuzu, Hino, UD Nissan and Fuso, appeared in the market, powered by higher performing diesel engines that were durable.

"These trucks had pleasing styling and were keenly priced, thanks to a very attractive currency position, so the writing was on the wall for the longer-serving International, Ford D series and Bedford models."

It all went pear-shaped in a big way for International Harvester Australia in 1982 – the middle of a recession – when the debt-ridden parent company in America put the Australian branch into receivership.

Colin McKenzie says: "IHA was over confident of its ability to maintain its customary market leadership and probably had over invested in support initiatives, such as the massively expensive proving ground in Anglesea and the engineering centre in Geelong."

These assets were later sold off – Anglesea to Linfox.

In America IH sold off its tractors and farm machinery division to Case in 1985, and the truck division was formed into a new company called "Navistar International Corporation" in 1986. So it is now 30 years since the creation of Navistar.

Later IVECO sold Internationals in Australia under a licensing agreement with Navistar.

The last Australian-built International rolled off the production line at Dandenong in 2010.

The brand is due back this year, imported from the US.

Check out the full feature in an upcoming/current issue of ATN.

 

 

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