Looking back at Kenworth history

Kenworth has played a major part in Australian trucking history since manufacturing began in Bayswater back in the 1970s.

Here, we take a look back at where it all began, the brand’s evolution over the years and where it is today.

1912

The Kenworth story began in Seattle, Washington, where brothers George T and Louis Gerlinger Jr ran a car and truck dealership known as Gerlinger Motor Car Works.

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1914

The Gerlinger brothers designed and built their own truck, with a more powerful six-cylinder engine than the typical four-cylinder engines of the time. It also had a cab with steel framing rather than wood.

1916

The company attracted the attention of businessman Edgar Worthington, and the following year, he and his business partner, Captain Frederick Kent, bought it.

1923

Worthington, along with Kent’s son Harry, reincorporated the business in Seattle as the Kenworth Motor Truck Company. The “Kenworth” name was formed from both their surnames put together.

1962

Two enterprising Australians, Ed Cameron and George Blomfield, imported the first fully built Kenworths from the US.

Cameron went on to set up Australian Kenworth Truck Sales Pty Ltd, which imported and sold over 100 Kenworth prime movers, before PACCAR’s predecessor Pacific Car and Foundry bought the business in the late 1960s.

Kenworth’s Bayswater manufacturing plant opened in 1970

1970

Pacific Car and Foundry opened Kenworth’s 56,000 square foot factory and office complex in Bayswater, Victoria. It continues to produce trucks there to this day.

1971

The first Australian-made Kenworth – a cab-over K125CR nicknamed the ‘Grey Ghost’ – was born, using locally manufactured parts where possible.

The W900AR, or ‘Long Nose’ as it was known, rolled off the production line not long after.

1972

Kenworth introduced a computerised inventory management system, which made customising their trucks easier. The company then began exporting fully-built trucks overseas, to countries such as New Zealand and Zambia.

1975

The brand launched the first Kenworth that was fully designed Down Under – the W900SAR.

Made specially for Australian conditions, it boasted a unique angled bonnet and was able to utilise a high horsepower engine while still getting maximum payload, all within existing length limits. It was a huge hit.

1977

Despite the success of the W900SAR, the W900AR had gained such a following that Kenworth decided to reintroduce it after length limits were increased.

1978

Kenworth expanded its manufacturing plant to double its original size, creating 300 new jobs.

1981

Kenworth launched the C500AR – a true workhorse specifically built for off-road trucking.

The C500AR was built for off-highway applications
A Kenworth prime mover carries Australia’s most famous yacht and its winged keel – Australia II – through Melbourne after its historic America’s Cup victory (1983)

1986

PACCAR opened its state-of-the-art PACCAR Parts warehouse and distribution centre.

That same year, the K100E was launched.

The K100E was released in 1986

1987

Kenworth launched the revolutionary – and controversial – T600.

Nicknamed ‘The Anteater’ because of its sloping, aerodynamic bonnet, it looked so different to other trucks on the market that purists struggled to accept it – but they soon changed their tune when the fuel figures came in.

The controversial T600 was dubbed the ‘Anteater’

The entirely Australian-designed and built T650 also rolled off the production line in ‘87 – a great all-rounder just as suited to urban deliveries as carting livestock on regional roads.

The T650 was launched in 1987

1988

Kenworth celebrated its 10,000th Australian-made rig, a T600 for Cleveland Freightliners.

The C500T was also launched, replacing the C500AR.

The C500T replaced the C500AR

1991

Despite a crippling economic recession, Kenworth continued its growth throughout the 90s. In 1991, the iconic T900 was launched. Modelled on the legendary W-model, it combined style with practicality.

The T900 arrived in 1991

1994

In another big year, the Bayswater plant became the first PACCAR plant to gain International Quality Standard ISO 9001 accreditation, and the first New Zealand dealership was appointed.

The T480 was introduced in 1993

1996

Kenworth celebrated 25 years of manufacturing in Australia – and added another 10,000 square feet to its Bayswater plant.

Kenworth celebrated 25 years of manufacturing in Australia in 1996

1998

The expansion of the plant didn’t stop there, and in 1998 the PACCAR Parts warehouse was enlarged to over 100,000 square feet. More new models were added to the mix too: the C510, T604 and T904.

The C510 first rolled off the production line in 1998

2000

Kenworth looked to the future with a preview of its T604 “Technology Truck”, fitted with an array of safety features including a collision avoidance radar, infrared night imaging sensors, and advanced GPS.

2004

The T404SAR was launched, paying tribute to the popular W900SAR, which went out of production in 1987.

2007

The largest Kenworth yet designed in Australia, the C540, is launched.

Made especially for off-highway mining applications, it utilises a 19-litre engine with a GCM of 350T, without any power-assisted trailers.

To meet ADR 80/02 emission standards, the entire Kenworth range was redesigned ahead of the 2008 range launch.

2009

Kenworth capped off the decade by delivering its 40,000th truck, a T608, in 2009. The company also implemented the latest brake safety technology, Electronic Brake Safety Systems, across their entire range.

2010

Kenworth revealed its 2011 models ahead of the launch the following year, meeting ADR 80/30 emissions standards across the entire range.

2013

Kenworth delivered its 50,000th Australian-made truck, a K200 purchased by Rodney’s Transport Service, a longtime customer.

2014

The PACCAR MX-13 engine was introduced in the Kenworth T4 series, and the limited edition T909 Director Series was launched. Celebrating 90 years of Kenworth manufacturing, it brought together the best in classic and contemporary features.

2015

Kenworth released another very special limited edition – the Legend 950. Only 75 of these beauties were made and they sold out within just a few days.

Only 75 of the limited edition Legend 950 trucks were made.

2016

After over 100,000 Australian design hours and more than 10 million kilometres of testing, the T610 was launched. The T610 is the single largest investment in product development Kenworth has ever made and is still one of the brand’s most aerodynamic and fuel-efficient trucks.

Kenworth delivered its 60,000th truck in 2017

2017

A second truck in the Legend Series, the Legend 900, was unveiled at the Brisbane Truck Show. That same year, Kenworth produced its 60,000th Australian designed and built truck – a T610SAR sold to Wickham Freight Lines.

The Legend 900 was unveiled at the 2017 Brisbane Truck Show

2021

In a double celebration, Kenworth marked 50 years of manufacturing in Australia and the production of its 70,000th truck. The first fully Australian-built Kenworth, the Grey Ghost, returned to its origins at Kenworth’s Bayswater plant for the occasion.

2022

Kenworth released the K220, marking the next step in the evolution of the K200 model.

The “next level” K220 was released in 2022

2023

Kenworth officially turned 100 years old, and handed the keys of its 80,000th Australian truck over to Booth Transport.

Kenworth handed the keys of its 80,000th Australian truck to Booth Transport in 2023

In a record year for truck sales, Kenworth defeated rival Volvo to come out on top in the heavy-duty sector – proving that the trucking giant’s popularity is going nowhere.

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