Eighty years old and happily retired, Malcolm King’s work with Ford has taken him to high speeds in the Australian desert and the boardrooms of the Far East.
There can be few greater blessings than looking back on your working life and being as satisfied as Malcolm King. “It’s been a fantastic time, and I’ve had a terrific life,” the 80-year old says. Having moved from England in his early 20s to work for Ford in Geelong, Malcolm’s career has been spent almost entirely with the Blue Oval brand in various capacities, including stints in Taiwan and South Korea.
At his age and long retired, you’d perhaps expect his tools to have been hung up for good. Not so. His property boasts two giant shed workshops, with machinery, tools, cabinets, oil cans and parts large and small beautifully arranged and organised. Tucked away is his classic 1950 Riley Drophead Coupe 2.5-litre RMD, while being rebodied just down the road is his ex-racing 1929 Riley 9. “I still get a buzz from fixing things,” he explains. “As you get older you need to keep physically fit, but you need your mind to stay healthy too. The cars keep me mentally active.”
Despite an always busy career, Malcolm has restored or tinkered with numerous classic cars. A Standard Flying Nine, 1933 Vauxhall, Mercedes 230SL, two MG TCs, two Model A Fords and a Rolls-Royce Phantom I. “The engineering on the Rolls-Royce was the best I’ve seen,” he says. “The engine design was simple but excellent and very robust. That was the car that impressed me most.”
Malcolm built billy carts as a youngster in Kent, England, and at 16 was given a 1922 Maxwell Roadster by an elderly neighbour.
The budding mechanic worked on it but sadly couldn’t get it running before his father gave it away instead of clogging up his back yard. Malcolm did a six-year apprenticeship at Vauxhall starting in 1957, learning welding, grinding, milling, turning and fitting.
Once qualified, he spotted an advert for rig test engineers at Ford. “That’s where you take component parts, test them to destruction, modify then, re-test and develop,” he explains. “For example, we worked on early Cortinas and their wood rim steering wheels. Owners were climbing in, pulling on the wheels and splitting them, so we developed them in a way they’d stop breaking. At that time the models we were working on were the Cortina, Zephyr, Consul and Zodiac.”
“Henry Ford Came Over From The States, Told Us We Were Raving Mad, But We Managed To Break 44 Speed And Distance Records.”
His life-changing course began after spotting an advert by Ford Australia seeking engineers. “I met the personnel manager at Australia House in London, was told we’d get assisted passage for 10 pounds, and we planned to go for two years, make some money then come home. But we never went back.” He began work in Geelong a few days after arriving, upgrading the suspension on early 1960s XK and XL Falcons. “It was a different world,” Malcolm says. “After work on a Friday afternoon everyone would head down to Bells Beach and go surfing. In England, we went home and hid from the rain and snow!”
Malcolm was working with Lewis Bandt, Ford’s designer responsible for building the very first ute in 1934. “He was a genius,” Malcolm says, “but I got bored sitting in that little office as he was hardly ever there.” He was soon modifying trucks imported from the UK and USA for Australian conditions, before controlling the drawing office for upgrading Ford’s 144, 170 and 200 cu in engines for manufacture.
When he began looking after cooling systems, he’d be stationed in Broken Hill or Charleville, “testing at over 90F with an open throttle on dead straight roads.” A good showing here led to becoming supervisor of vehicle testing and development, including being involved with the 351 cu in Flacon GTs. “For a publicity stunt we did 70mph runs over 70,000 kilometres,” he says. “Henry Ford came over from the States, told us we were raving mad, but we managed to break 44 speed and distance records. There were no problems with mechanicals, only damaged bodywork through hitting rocks and kangaroos.”
When Ford Asia Pacific was formed Malcolm managed the design of the Escort-based Ford Fiera, a Suzuki Jimny-type model with flat sheet metal sides for the Philippines. He moved to Seoul in South Korea to integrate the Cortina into Hyundai’s production line, before introducing the same model in Taiwan as director of engineering in that country. Latterly, his expertise moved to braking systems through PBR, developing aluminium twin-pot calipers for export to America on the Chevrolet Corvette and Camaro. “We provided full braking systems to the five car companies in Australia at the time: Ford, GM, Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi.”
How he found time to continue restoring cars as a hobby is anyone’s guess. “I’d work until midnight if I had to,” he says. “I’ve always enjoyed stripping them, cleaning them, putting them back together and checking the machining dimensions. But it’s also the rallies and people involved with the classic, vintage and veteran car scene that has always interested me.”
“Get A Solid Skills Base And Your Interests Could Take You Absolutely Anywhere.”
With parts replacement rather than actual diagnosis and repair such a large part of modern mechanics, Malcolm says there’s more satisfaction working on older cars. “They’re much easier too! A modern car isn’t something you can easily fix yourself, they’re so full of electronics and sophistication. Back in the day, with a twin SU carbie for example, we’d put a tube to our ear to listen and get them to balance. It was very satisfying.”
After such a long career, Malcolm suggests a mechanic’s life can be hugely varied.
“If you refuse an opportunity you’ll never know,” he says. “Get a solid skills base and your interests could take you absolutely anywhere.” And hopefully, in retirement, we can all be as content as he.