Southpac Legends

 
Fizzing about the transport industry - Willie Malcolm

Fizzing about the transport industry - Willie Malcolm

Southpac Legends

 April 2021   

From cleaning fizzy drink delivery trucks as a kid to meticulously repairing crashed Kenworth cabs, restoring the old and modifying the new as an adult, Willie Malcolm’s attention to detail and buzz about the industry has not only brought him a truck load of ardent admiration from his peers but his enthusiasm has been passed on to future generations to come - that’s why he’s a Southpac Legend.

Although Willie was born in Rotorua, his parents hailed from Sterling in Scotland. His father took up a role as a branch manager of a soft drink company that produced brands such as Schweppes and Coke, and that’s where Willie’s love of trucks began. He says, “As kids we went to work with Dad on Saturdays and washed trucks, it was all Bedfords and TKs back then.” 

Willie recalls that when production stopped in Rotorua, Wayne Ballin of Combined Haulage started bringing the soft drinks to Rotorua on the back of big commercial trucks and Willie’s passion grew along with it. 

With academia not high on Willie’s list of favourite things, he opted to join the workforce although not initially in transport.

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From cleaning fizzy drink delivery trucks as a kid to meticulously repairing crashed Kenworth cabs, restoring the old and modifying the new as an adult, Willie Malcolm’s attention to detail and buzz about the industry has not only brought him a truck load of ardent admiration from his peers but his enthusiasm has been passed on to future generations to come - that’s why he’s a Southpac Legend.

Although Willie was born in Rotorua, his parents hailed from Sterling in Scotland. His father took up a role as a branch manager of a soft drink company that produced brands such as Schweppes and Coke, and that’s where Willie’s love of trucks began. He says, “As kids we went to work with Dad on Saturdays and washed trucks, it was all Bedfords and TKs back then.” 

Willie recalls that when production stopped in Rotorua, Wayne Ballin of Combined Haulage started bringing the soft drinks to Rotorua on the back of big commercial trucks and Willie’s passion grew along with it. 

With academia not high on Willie’s list of favourite things, he opted to join the workforce although not initially in transport.

“I left school early, actually I think they asked me to leave and started doing a bit of commercial cleaning at night time. And then I applied for an apprenticeship in a car panel beating shop. I was there for about a year and a guy by the name of Gary Jackson from Rotorua Motorbodies was after somebody, so I went to work for him - he did all the Kenworths, all the big truck smash repairs and a lot of modifications, he was a very, very clever man.”

Willie says that over time Gary ‘sort of got the shits doing the crash stuff’ and started converting Kenworths from left hand drive to right and that left a gap in Rotorua to do crash stuff, which Willie filled.

He says, “I knew a guy called Dick Moree, he had a diesel shop and he was doing Warwick Wilshier and John Ramsey’s work, servicing all their trucks. Warwick and Dick encouraged me to go on my own. So I started here in eighty four. I was young, I was twenty one or twenty two but it was something I wanted to do, my mates were all doing their OE and stuff that didn’t really spin my wheels.”

Malcolm Cab Solutions seemed to have Gary Jackson’s blessing too.

“When I started, Gary introduced me to a guy from Direct Transport. Direct had trucks that were rusty, bent and twisted. I spent a fortnight fixing each one and sent them off to the paintshop and they’d give me another one. Also Dick was the Hino and Foden agent and that’s where I met Dave Tennant and Maarten Durent.”

Willie reckons that despite his young age, he had no fear about setting up the business. 

“I did the sums and you could pay your rent by Monday lunchtime, and then by Wednesday…”

Willie started his shop just off View Road next to Roadmaster repairs and then a year later moved to Hyland Crescent next to Patchells where he shared a workshop with Dick Moray, Mike Spires and logging trucker Gibbo Dhanjee. 

“Then Mike Spiers and I built a workshop just down the road a bit where I was for quite a few years and I bought Mike’s side of it..”

The business moved to their current location in Monokia Street, Fairy Springs about five years ago and Willie is over the moon about the way things have evolved.

“We’ve just progressively grown. We’ve got nine staff and we’re still doing the same work, we’re still doing rusty cabs if people want them done and we’re still doing the big crash stuff on Kenworths. We’ve got a bit of a name for fixing Kenworths, that’s the sort of support you get from Maarten and Dave.”

He says that they’ve also got a name for modifying trucks.  

“We’re passionate about fixing them but then we started modifying them too. Guys were coming in to us and saying I want this bit chromed or I want an old school grille on my brand new truck or I want to make a cupboard in the dashboard, things like that.”

It’s not all been sunshine and lollipops though, Willie says that as with all businesses there have been some rough times, particularly around staff, saying that he had a guy working for him that was just toxic ‘he would  just wreck everybody around him’. However, rather unusually it was Willie’s ‘customer’ that came to his aid. 

“After years of having hassles I had a cup of tea with Warwick and although he wouldn’t tell me what to do, he said ‘this is what I did once before’ and this fixed my problem. So it’s good to have guys like him, Mark McCarthy and Maarten Durent to bounce stuff off. They’re great people, really influential customers.”

Willie goes on to say that these guys are really interested in what he does. “Maarten will turn up here out of the blue and ask what’s happening. He’ll ask about staff and help me out and advise with all sorts of stuff. He’s so passionate about the industry and people like us. He’s there to encourage me.”

It may sound like a (refreshing) strange way to do business but as Hayden Woolston points out, “I think if you really simplify it, you’re taking the worst part of what happens within their businesses, truck crashes and sorting the problem out. They don’t have to worry about it. And you’re a good bastard too, that helps.”

The business may specialise in repairing crashed cabs and modifying new ones but Willie finds joy in restoring a few old ones too. 

“We’ve got a few customers, older guys that have slowed down a little bit and are wanting to get some toys. So we do up their pride and joy. A lot of them are their first new Kenworths and they’ve bought them back off people, some they still own and they want to do it up. But also there’s the ‘childhood dream’ trucks as well.”

When he’s not sorting out trucks for others, Willie works on his own ‘project’.

“I’m actually doing something completely out of the gate, we’re building a Rat Rod truck. I thought we’d do something that no-one else has. There’s a Rat Rod in the Hotrod scene but I’ve never seen one in a truck.”

Nowadays Willie is less hands on and has plenty of praise for his staff, young and old of which he’s trained and inspired.

“My foreman Dave Wasley turned up as a 19 year old and he’s been with me for 20-years. Now we’re trying to take him off the tools a bit to run the workshop and help train the staff. I need to be running my business.”

Willie says that attracting the youth to the business is an ongoing issue, however he’s really proud of his foreman’s niece Sam.

“I used to put up a notice in the local high school for kids to come and sweep up the floor. Young guys would turn up and ask ‘how much do I get?’ I tell them $60 a week for an hour a day and they’d say no. Another guy turned up for two days’ work and then went missing for three days. He’d turn up again and then go missing for a fortnight - in the meantime, I’m paying a tradesman wages to sweep the floors. After two years, you just get sick of it. It’s hard to get the youngsters involved.”

He continues, “When Sam first turned up here she said I hear you’ve got a job sweeping up the floor. She didn’t ask how much, she just said ‘what time would I have to start?’ I told her half past three to half past four. She then said ‘if I was to get the job when would I have to start?” I told her whenever you’re ready. She said, ‘where’s the broom?’ She was finished by ten past four and then cleaned the smoko room and other jobs.”

Willie says that Sam’s just signed up for her apprenticeship. “MITO hasn’t been able to give us a coachbuilding apprenticeship until now, they’ve been revamping it for the last three or so years. But she signed up this week.”

As far as business expansion goes, Willie feels that it’s not likely.

“I’m too old to expand, I probably need to be working on an exit plan. There’s not one right now but my 15-year old son has shown interest in the trucks. My older son is 20 and he’s an apprentice electrician, he says I’m too pedantic to work with.”

Willie agrees that he can be a bit of a perfectionist.

“We have to be. We don’t always get it right but we try our best for the truck to be better than before the accident. So if it was 100 percent before the accident it’s got to be 110% when it leaves here.” 

Despite having decades of experience within the industry, Willie still gets fizzed about each and every truck.

“One of my guys is just valeting one now to go to Napier and I just go wow.”  


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