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April 2013


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By Bryce Baird










Feature Article


Feature Article


MACK simum loyalty

By Bryce Baird

When Mack’s current line of trucks first poked their snouts out the kennel, those that had a soft spot for the brand gave a sigh of relief. Mack was back. The French influence had been culled out of the breed, and now Mack’s Trident looks as staunch as. However, an automated transmission, AdBlue tank and other features show that Mack’s pooches haven’t been killing time by sleeping on the porch

Feature Article


T he word loyal has never been quite the same since the ocean yacht racing

crowd hogtied it to their advertising campaign during the glory days of the America’s Cup. However, down in the lower half of the South Island it still means something other than the contrived manipulation the word has been degraded to. Down south loyalty is earned, not created during a brain-storming session in an ad agency. In the lower half of the South Island there are plenty of companies that are either brand heavy or brand absolute, thanks to loyalty. Those salesmen that had the energy to throw on a thick coat, chuck the snow-chains in the boot of the HQ Holden and head south to cold-call and hard-sell products that were at the time unknown, found fertile ground in the south, where once a product proved itself, and they got to trust the salesman, loyalty was an unspoken part of the deal. Mack was one of those unknown brands once upon a time – believe it or not. Apart from the recollections of war veterans who’d seen the Yanks use them in military applications around the globe during both World Wars, they were once as rare as a Ferrari seven-tonne side-tipper on our shores.

The small number of Macks that ended up here after the war were used mainly in heavy haul or house-shifting, but apart from those old war horses, the brand was just a big question mark for those first few intrepid buyers. However, there were plenty of operators in the South Island that could see the potential in the brand, and the lower half of the island became a bit of a Mack Mecca by the time legendary truck salesman Ron Carpenter had finished with it. Stan Francis of North Otago Road Metals could see that these big burly Yank rigs were just the ticket for the work his companies were engaged in, and that they were a huge improvement over the British gear he’d started with back in 1955. The N.O.R.M. R-series Macks eventually became legendary down south, and together with the other brand they took a shine to, Volvo, the die was set. The company has since changed its name to Road Metals, however their loyalty to the brand has never wavered. In a great example of synchronicity, their two brands of choice eventually became entwined, as Volvo now owns Mack, which is reaping the benefits by having an increased amount of Volvo technology built into its trucks. Current Road Metals managing director, Murray Francis, (Stan’s son) knows the strengths of both brands and their place in his fleet, but you don’t have to scratch him very hard to find that his favourite brand has a pup bolted to the bonnet.

that his favourite brand has a pup bolted to the bonnet. Having said that, he still

Having said that, he still gets misty-eyed when talking about the Leyland Octopus he spent three and a half years driving for his dad, when he was barely out of his teens and working on some of the ‘think-big’ projects of the day at Twizel and Manapouri in the seventies and eighties. The Road Metal boys take great pride in that pup on the bonnet so it was almost inevitable that a Trident was going to appear in the colours after a long run of R-series, CH’s, Visions and then a Granite. Road Metals went all out with this Trident, blitzing it with chrome and accessories and making the Christchurch based truck a standout rig in a city that probably has one of the highest densities of bulk truck and trailer rigs working in the world at present. Road Metals runs 23 mainly truck and trailer Mack combinations in the operation that includes four Volvo FM series and a couple of Mack eight-wheeler MC models converted to water trucks, and a crane truck. They have 68 employees spread between their Christchurch and Oamaru bases, and have three quarries in Christchurch, one a joint venture with Isaac Construction, and another 214 hectare (500 acre) quarry about to open at Rolleston, making four in the area that should provide 100 years of resource Murray says. It’s been an expensive process that has taken three and a half years in the environment court and $1.5 million in costs that Murray says, “aged me ten years I reckon! I won’t see much benefit from this, but the next generation and the one after that will thank me for it!” he predicts. Murray has a great sense of history and brand loyalty, and Road Metals’ long term plans for the future will probably mean good things for Motor Truck Distributors.

will probably mean good things for Motor Truck Distributors. Mack have increased the rating of their

Mack have increased the rating of their MP8 power-plant to 535hp and have gone to SCR to meet Euro 5. The cockpit is classic Americana with lots of woodgrain, buttoned lining and silver bezels giving the cab a plush feel. The lack of a gearstick on the floor opens up the cab as well giving more room for the operator.




it standout of of



















and give













Feature Article


The company have had most of the range of Mack conventionals over the years as well as COE Qantum and MC versions under their colours. Murray admits that he’s been very happy with the Granite, but he thinks the Trident has more to offer his operation. “We’ve got three now, and we like the better cooling and think they are a stronger truck for the job and we probably now prefer the Trident over the Granite to be honest.” Compared to the Granite, you get a bigger, harder, more capable tool for the job with the Trident, it can be spec’d with a GCM of 131 tonne whereas the Granite only gets 106 tonne. The Trident gets a power boost and a stronger spec if you need it too. That suits Road Metals as they are air-horn deep in the Christchurch deconstruction and rebuild work and know there is plenty of work for the rig over the next few decades. Murray’s son Dan Francis, the third generation in the company, was happy to throw a bit of bling at the truck when he specified what they wanted, as it’s going to be around for a long time and much is going to be asked of it over the next few decades. The attention to detail on this rig is impressive, such as the Ali Arc bumper, stainless air-intake caps, and even white aerials to better match the company colours! Quenton Cattle, who at 39 has ticked off a lot of boxes on his driving wish list, is plenty thrilled to be entrusted with Road Metal’s new flagship. We caught up with Quenton at dawn on a typical day at the coal face that would see him scooting around the city carting aggregate from quarry to wherever it was needed, but the main focus at the moment for the Mack is a massive new subdivision on Preston’s Road north of Christchurch, that is being readied for a couple of thousand new houses. “It has to be said that Quenton didn’t want to be put on the truck in all honesty,” Murray claims, “he liked the CH he was on and it was hard to get him out of it.” Quenton had a couple of reservations, the prime one being that he didn’t

really want to be put into a truck with an automated transmission, but he had grown fond of the old Mack. He says that when he drives manual transmissions, “I don’t use a clutch, and Murray said, ‘well you won’t mind the auto then!’ Damn – he’s got me I thought!” His dedication to the job and his attention to detail and how thoroughly he prepares for and carries out his tasks is quite something to behold and it didn’t take us long to see why Murray wanted Quenton on the Trident, as he treats this rig like it was his first born. Quenton considers that he’s found a good workplace, he says, “that’s what I love about this company, they have a real passion for trucking”. Road Metals’ drivers have long been regarded as amongst the best on the road down south and their level of professionalism and how well they present their gear is bordering on legendary. It’s probably unfair to single anyone out from the old brigade, Road Metals still have five of the original dozen drivers they had in the Twizel days on the payroll, but Billy Sergeant is probably the best known of that team down south and it’d be fair to say that Quenton is carrying the torch that Billy lit when he jumped into his R-series Mack back in the seventies. In fact, Quenton said that the only drivers he’d like to see in this truck if he took a break would be either Billy or Murray. And we suspect Murray would only be allowed a drive because he owns it! Quenton’s passion for trucking was ignited when he worked at a local garage at Washdyke, where some of the customers were truckies. His first experience behind the wheel was in a TK Bedford artic which he used to cart urea between Ravensdown and Timaru Port when he was working for Bob Merhtens. He progressed to driving Hino FS and Nissan CW330s for City Care on landfill cartage in Christchurch, shuttling between the refuse facilities at Bromley, Styx and Parkhouse and the Burwood landfill carting rubbish and green-waste.

But he had ambitions to drive bigger gear and hopped over the ditch to Perth where he attended a driving school attaining the credentials to drive road trains. He achieved a 99 percent pass rate which gave

though he didn’t have a position at the time, took him on because, “anyone who would do that for a dog has got to be a good person in my book,” and being

dog lover himself, he helped house Quenton, and

Heidi who lasted another five years. Quenton still had the itch to drive road trains and had one last spin of the dice to get it out of his system, however the job didn’t meet expectations. He was driving a Mack Titan with a Cummins 620 doing the sweating. With gross weights of 171.5 tonne, four trailers and an overall length of 57.5 metres, that Cummins probably didn’t do much grinning, as Quenton says, “the work was tough on the trucks”. “It was preferred that you didn’t use your engine brake with these combinations, you

ease up and roll for a couple of kilometres before inter- sections,” he remembers. But the real crunch for him, besides the terrible living conditions (the accommoda- tion was right beside the workshop) was that animal strikes were an inevitable part of the job. “If we hit a horse or a cow we had to finish the job with what we had on the truck, usually a hammer. Being animal mad, I couldn’t physically do it, and was lucky that I never had to,” Quenton says. Murray had held his job and his old truck open for him, and even paid for his flight back gambling that road train work isn’t always what

is cracked up to be and picking that Quenton would be back.

a him his MC (multi-combination) rating, and then start- ed working for West Australia Freightliners
him his MC (multi-combination) rating, and then start-
ed working for West Australia Freightliners in a K104
Aerodyne B-double doing a Perth-Brisbane-Sydney
run two-up. Eventually the work overwhelmed him,
with the distances and time on the road burning him
out and he returned to New Zealand and started driv-
ing for Neta New Zealand on a 450hp Nissan Diesel
which he spec’d with extra lights, air-horn and other
items. He was hunted down by Steve Laing in Oz who
convinced him to come back and drive again and he
stepped into “pocket-sized” road trains of 90-tonne
all up carting from Iron Knob for BHP Steelworks.
After a spell in a C-15 powered Sterling B-double in
Wollongong, he eventually found himself running a
crushing plant in Queensland. He’d rented a place
for two and a half years that came with a German
Shepherd dog, Heidi, as part of the deal. He moved
on and to cut a long story short, he found out a few
months later that Heidi was in a terrible state with
the new tenants not looking after her. He phoned the
owner, who was overseas, and said he was taking
the dog. He brought her back home to New Zealand,
where she regained her health and blossomed. He
still hankered for Australia and made his way back
there, with Heidi of course, but neither were happy,
so he came back again which was when Murray
came into the picture. “Heidi was the only reason I
came back to New Zealand,” Quenton mused, and he effectively gave up his road train
came back to New Zealand,” Quenton mused, and
he effectively gave up his road train dreams to care
for the dog. Murray Francis heard the story and even

The ride and

traction capabilities

from Mack’s AP460

Air Suspension

is impressive

compared to

the other Macks

he’s driven says

Quenton Cattle, the

Trident’s driver.


The Road Metals boys

are known for keeping

their gear looking

stand-out, and this

rig’s Transport

Trailer’s bin and

four-axle trailer are

equally as impressive

as is the Mack.

and as you’d expect, “this truck eats the Vision for

dinner. Its performance is impressive, especially when

pulling away at the traffic lights. The auto gives a nice

flow of power, but it’s the sheer horsepower that makes

the difference. The Vision was slow off the mark and

wouldn’t start pulling until it was in the high box,” he

says. Quenton used to drive CX Appeal and Just Magic

II, a CH, but the Trident has won him over. However, he

still reckons that it’s too early to tell if this will be one

of the great models. After all, he drove a CH so he’s

got high expectations! On paper however, there’s not

much to prove and plenty to like. This latest evolution

of the new Mack range has become even better than

its predecessor with a power upgrade to 535 horses

from the 12.8 litre MP8 engine, which now features

SCR to meet Euro5 (ADR80/03). It achieves 1920lb/ft of

torque (2603Nm), which is a nice improvement over the

1770lb/ft (2400Nm) in the last Granite we looked at in

late 2010. While it has slightly less horsepower than the

14.8 litre 560 horse DD15, it has more torque than the

Detroit’s 1850lb/ft (2508Nm) and the 15 litre 550 horse

(410kW) ISX EGR Cummins. It can be ordered with the

500 horse setting, but we doubt many will.Even though

we never got to experience any real hill work with this

Trident, we’d expect to feel an improvement in pulling

power over the 500 horse version of the MP8 and for

the type of work this truck undertakes torque is king. It’s

also equipped with “performance mode,” Quenton says

that will make the transmission change at 1850rpm,

instead of the usual 1400, and use every gear instead

of jumping over a few at the low end of the box. He’s

used it a few times and it does make the truck strain on

the leash a bit more, but he’s happy with what he’s got

under the foot without engaging that mode.

The other major improvement is that this pup has

Mack’s keenly awaited mDRIVE transmission. It’s taken


while for Volvo to slide this technology over to the

Mack desk, but it was worth the wait as it fills a gap in

the Mack option sheet which didn’t have Eaton’s Ultra

Shift lurking there like many of its competitors. It’s not

hard to understand why Mack has waited for the Volvo

automated box of cogs when Volvo arguably leads the

herd with automated transmission technology. There’s

still a lot of engineering time and money that has to be

spent to integrate an Eaton Ultra Shift and that money

was better spent implementing in-house products.

The 12-speed, Tm D12AD (direct) transmission is one

choice in a five option list, with Mack’s highly regarded

T31821 18-speeder still on offer for true traditionalists,

and the three remaining options being increasingly

beefy Eaton 18-speeders. The rear axle options are

equally comprehensive with Mack, Meritor and Dana

options from 44,000lb to 50,000lbs (18 to 22.7 tonne).

This particular truck has Meritor’s well proven RT46-

160GP diff-locked axles riding on Mack AP460 Air

Suspension, and the combination of the MP8, mDRIVE

transmission and Meritor axles has to make for a robust

toolset. The extra torque of the 535-horse version of the

MP8 lends itself well to having fewer cogs and follows

the path that most European manufacturers have been

on for a few years now – more torque means fewer

cogs are needed. One thing that Quenton would like is


few more notches on the engine brake as even though

the ‘Powerleash’ unit offers 315kW (495hp) of engine

retarding at 2100rpm, which is effective, it is either on

or off and doesn’t offer fine control. Add to the mix

that this Mack has disc-brakes all around, ABS, front

under-run protection, alloys all around, polished alloy

fuel tanks both sides combining to give 610 litres of

fuel, 240 litres of hydraulic fluid and 125 litres of AdBlue,

this truck has plenty of range and is right up there with

modern safety equipment initiatives. At the moment the

truck will probably be sticking around Christchurch for

the time being, however the Road Metal boys often get

to roam over much of the South Island including the

West Coast and Fiordland, so that extra fuel capacity

may well come in useful sooner or later when the big

pup points the snout south. Mack’s new Trident has

an overwhelming sense of bulk when you take a walk

around it. Quenton says “It’s a lot of truck to drive, it

feels much bigger than the other Macks, but the view

out of this thing is remarkable for the height of it.” The

extra bulk probably means extra weight, however it’s

hard to judge against the Granite as this truck has

AdBlue, more fuel tanks and plenty of extras. Road

Metal’s Granite is carting around 500kg more than the

Trident. He does miss the mirrors on the Vision which

could toggle up and down, and reckons the Trident’s

mirrors, “look dated as if they should be on a ’95 CH.”

As far as the drive goes, Quenton says, “for traction

this would be the best of the three [Macks] I’ve driven,

and its far better than the Vision. The front wheel is so

far forward that the weight is over the axles. The only

time I’ll dump the airbags is to be a little lower if I’m

under a little digger to give him more room to work

with. The Vision gave quite a rough ride, I don’t miss

the Vision at all”. The 6x4 has a 5445mm wheelbase

and an axle spread of 1370mm. With 16,500km on the

clock, Quenton says he can start to feel the engine

loosen up, at the moment he’s averaging 1.8 km/litre,

but the Vision managed 2km/litre and he reckons the

Trident will improve over time. Inside the cab the feeling


luxury with deep burgundy buttoned linings, walnut

dash, the optional ‘Elite’ leather grip steering wheel and

sheepskin covers on the ISRI ‘Big Boy’ driver seat. We

couldn’t think of many better places to spend a day.

It’s great that Volvo has recognised that the classic

American cab has plenty of appeal and shouldn’t be

homogenized with their European designs. Perhaps the

only thing that jars is a couple of blanks above the radio

that ideally would have been filled with coms devices,

however the MCX780 Road Metals use wouldn’t fit

in the dash. Quenton points out that the lack of a

gearstick means he can have the hand-pieces down

low and handy. He doesn’t like having them above

the windscreen. Road Metals have even ordered the

full windscreen over the two-piece, an option more

commonly ticked by the fuel cartage industry. Together

with the stainless steel intakes, exhausts, the big grille

and other touches, this truck has plenty of presence.

Adding to the presentation are the Transport Trailers

four-axle trailer and the bin they created for this

combination. There’s some real pretty engineering on

show here, and Quenton has added extra mud-flaps in

strategic locations to further protect the underpinnings.

There is little doubt that the CH Mack provided the

benchmark that all future Macks will have to meet. With

an axle forward distance of 737mm against 1297mm

on the Granite, an “adequate” turning circle, as well

as extra grunt under the pedal and good cooling – on

paper the Trident looks to be an even better tool for this

application than the Granite. Quenton summed it up

by saying, “It’s quieter and smoother and I think this is


much, much better truck than the Granite.” Despite

his reluctance to get into the Trident’s saddle due to

losing the gearstick, Quenton is impressed by his new

mount. He’s not the type to make rushed decisions, but

we reckon that the combination of the mDRIVE, more

horsepower and great ergonomics of this big pup may

yet unseat the CH someday.

Feature Article

Flash forward a few years, and Quenton is wrestling

with what to name the Trident. It was his partner

Cyndi Friend, that came up with ‘Leader of the Pack,’

which struck a chord with Murray as well. The Mack

is undoubtedly the ‘Alpha’ in the fleet and Quenton

is meticulous in his attention to detail and how he

drives it. He’ll drive it in manual until it’s warmed up

as he explained that when in auto mode, “it uses the

engine brake to slow the revs between changes, and I

don’t like that happening when it’s cold. I don’t use the

engine brake until it is up to temperature. “A truck’s life

starts from day one,” he emphasises and he’s particular

about giving this truck a good start in life, “you are

representing the company when you are driving it and

you should treat it as if it is your own.” Despite coming

from the Volvo parts bin there is little resemblance to

what you will find in a Volvo with how the transmission

is controlled. It’s a true two-pedal operation, however

the auto on the Trident is controlled by a panel on the

console, with plus or minus buttons instead of the more

usual lever or control stalk to walk up or down the gears.

The transmission controller is simplicity personified.

You’ve got a R, D and M button, for Reverse, Drive and

Manual, and large plus and minus buttons for when you

are in manual. It can’t get any simpler, and Quenton

said he finds it easy to use in the real world of quarry

trucking despite his initial reluctance to an electronically

controlled transmission. He has turned into a believer

already. “I don’t think you can find harder driving than in

Christchurch at the moment,” he reflects, and reckons

the auto helps negotiate the endless obstacles that

rebuilding a city throws up in the way of roadworks,

traffic jams and inconsiderate drivers. Having the auto

has made the day easier Quenton reckons. “I think

Volvo have done their research and, as for fatigue at

the end of the day, I don’t go home tired. I would be

at home with either [manual or auto] but for the nature

of this job I don’t think you can fault it. You do feel you

have a lot more control.” His last truck was a Vision,





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