An avid vintage car and truck collector, Fuel Doctors’ founder Steve Marriott wanted to add a vintage fuel tanker to his collection. He had to go all the way to New York to find this extremely rare 1948 EF Mack
|With his love of fuel and the fuel industry, one thing Steve always wanted was a vintage fuel tanker|
I’m pretty sure I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it in the future many times. However, half of you never listen to me anyway so I’m going to start this story by repeating myself. I love my job, I really do. Days like today where I set out to learn a little more about one of the coolest little Macks around, and end up meeting a character that you could honestly make an entire Netflix series on.
Steve Marriott is that man; a Cockney with tales that include being a driver/trailer-man on one of the world’s largest heavy-haulage moves in Saudi Arabia, to selling encyclopaedias in Germany to US servicemen, driving road trains between Adelaide and Darwin or losing four years of his working life to injury from an accident that destroyed his beloved 428 Cobra Jet Mach One Mustang. Calm down people, the Mustang got rebuilt.
Oh, and Steve was ok as well. Meeting people like Steve though is what really makes my job enjoyable. So, let’s get into the story and learn a little about Steve, Fuel Doctors and Little Miss Mack.
While a full-blooded Aussie now, Steve is originally from the land of dreary weather and singing chimney sweeps. He grew up in London surrounded by the influences of the transport industry. As a 16-year-old, one of his first jobs was steering a motorised dolly carrying precast concrete motorway bridge beams. His girlfriend’s father was a driver in the heavy-haulage industry back then and got him the job. Steve got the pleasure of sitting out in the weather though, rather than steering the top-of-the-line Foden. There is probably a fair few of you scratching your heads when I mentioned Foden. WTF is a Foden? We had Fodens in NZ, they definitely had them in the UK, but I can’t say I’ve seen them over here. Fodens were like a slightly uglier version of Series 1 Scania, but with a cuter badge.
Steve openly admits he was never much of an academic, preferring to get his hands dirty working. At the age of 21 he got his semi license and here’s where the diversity of Europe kicks in. He found himself in Germany and amongst other things got involved with some Greeks, buying second-hand Mercedes, then driving them to Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Steve and his mates would drive them down and train back.
|In the US the Little Mack was used to deliver kerosene to apartment complexes in the ’40s and ’50s|
There are so many stories I could fill you in on, but I swear you’ll reach retirement reading them before we even get to the beautiful black Mack, so I’ll just try and time warp over a bit.
There was heavy-haulage time spent in Saudi Arabia driving weird and wonderful equipment. Steve refers to that time as “Thunder Birds Are Go”, pulling anywhere from over-length to 2,250-plus ton loads.
There was a small stint in Iran, but Ayatollah Khomeini machine gun fire really puts a dampener on your work ethic and before he knew it Steve was back home looking for a new challenge.
Sitting at home with mum, he found himself watching a day-time TV program on Tom ‘Mailmen’ Kruse, another of Australia’s forgotten bush heroes. He remembers the last 15 minutes of the program was about modern- day road trains (it was the seventies, so modern-day back then). Before his mum could put the kettle on for another cuppa Steve had decided his next challenge would see him cross the sea and get behind the wheel of a road train or pole truck to complete his CV.
He achieved that goal as well, driving two-up from Adelaide to Darwin in one of Bulls’ iconic Kenworth K125s with a triple in tow. Once again, with more entertaining stories than a drunk at your local, I’ll have to condense them and skim over the next few years as Steve had jobs involving road trains, heavy haulage, oil fields and everything in between.
|There’s not much more he needs to change now, with just a bit of reupholstering to be done|
But what we want to know about is Fuel Doctors and Little Miss Mack. Both the Fuel Doctor business, and Little Miss Mack, came about because of a tragic event. In 1988 Steve’s MACH-1 Mustang was involved in a horrific accident that saw him rear-ended at a stop sign. The pain, both physical and emotional, was gut-wrenching. The damage was catastrophic, leaving long-lasting trauma to all of those who were involved and witnessed it. I personally can’t imagine the level of distress that the accident would have caused. Both Steve and his girlfriend were injured and Steve was unable to work for four years as a result.
Along with an insurance payout though, the local government helped teach Steve how to prepare a business plan. He was told that ‘in a business plan, you have to start with what you know the most about’. Steve’s first thought was ‘I know a lot about driving and shifting gears’, though he admitted there was a 101 other blokes who knew just as much. He also realised he knew a fair bit about ‘shit fuel’ and changing fuel filters. So, from the sickening sight of a smashed-up MACH-1 Mustang, grew the seeds of Steve’s company Fuel Doctors.
We are going to do some more fast-forwarding now as we are getting closer to Little Miss Mack and I’m getting too excited. Over the next few years, opportunities saw Steve establish his Fuel Doctors business model of cleaning downstream fuel tanks, with an initial focus on Queensland.
Queensland has more emergency power generators per capita than anywhere else in Australia thanks to former Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who in the ‘80s riled electricity unions who regularly shut the power down in demand of higher wages. Joh’s answer was to retrofit emergency generators in every government building so they never inconvenienced him or his buildings.
From Steve’s trucking experience he knew that diesel sitting around year after year would degrade and oxidise. Cleaning and maintaining those underground diesel storage tanks was the foundation of the company.
|When the original owner-driver decided to get the truck restored the old running gear was removed, and the cab and body were placed on top of a 1987 Chevy chassis|
For those uninformed on why fuel tanks need to be cleaned, the main reason is because of gunk (I’m sure there’s a technical term, but I’m sticking with gunk). Gunk grows in fuel, well in fuel tanks. It’s horrid stuff that dirties the fuel lines and blocks fuel filters. When you are at the servo and see a tanker filling the underground tanks, the flow of around 1,000 litres per minute is stirring up all that gunk and swirling it around like the world’s biggest Nutribullet. Getting that stirred up gunk in your system, yeah no one wants that.
As I skip ahead again, we see Fuel Doctors growing from generators to damn near everything that holds fuel. As the company grew, Steve invested in himself and created his own tool of trade to assist in the cleaning. Work smarter not harder right, so Steve wanted a chemical that worked in order to make his job easier. What started as a formula to help him clean tanks then became a consumer and commercial product that, like gunk, grew a life of its own. Steve designed the ‘Fuel Conditioner’ as a one-size-fits-all cleaner, its popularity fuelled by its successful industrial application.
Time warping again, we find Fuel Doctors has become a dependable business. And even though he’s flat-out, Steve is still able to indulge in his hobbies: collecting classic cars and trucks. Seriously, look at The Fuel Doctor fleet, there’s seven Scanias in the fleet, and Steve’s the only one who drives.
But with his love of fuel and the fuel industry, one thing he always wanted was a vintage fuel tanker. Steve’s goal had always been to own one of those awesome-looking Dodge Airflow tankers. They were the definition of streamline. Built in the 1930s, during a time when fuel supply was extremely competitive, there was some brilliant designs from that era. Unfortunately, finding one is about as likely as catching an international flight out of the country.
Steve tried for years with no luck. Then early in 2019 he was laid up in bed with the flu and decided to change the parameters of his search.
“I’ve got a lot of old toys, like a 53 Oldsmobile coupe, a 63 Galaxy coupe, a 69 Mercury Marquis coupe, a 70 Chrysler Newport Custom coupe, and a 77 Lincoln Town coupe,” Steve says, listing a few of his classics.
“I wanted a resto mod, I’m sick of driving old junk that drives like old junk.”
Kind of hypocritical when he has so much ‘old junk’, it could be said! What he wanted was old junk sitting on modern gear. So, he typed ‘resto mod for sale’ into Google and out popped the Mack. In New York.
For those speculating, Little Miss is a 1948 EF Mack. Like the Foden call earlier you may be scratching your head a little, EF? In America they built the E-series Mack’s from 1936 to 1951. There were several models starting with the EE up to EH, rated from 1.5 up to 10 ton. When Mack established production in Australia in 1919, it only built from 10-ton upwards. Hence Australia never saw an EF.
The Little Mack was used to deliver kerosene to apartment complexes in the ’40s and ’50s. It was the first truck in the company fleet and earned its keep time and time again. Eventually, the truck was garaged and retired, and the original owner and driver decided to get the truck restored. The old running gear was removed, and the cab and body were placed on top of a 1987 Chevy chassis. The original hydraulic brake system was replaced with a disc-braked independent front end with power steering, making driving a lot more comfortable. The EF’s original 92hp (69kW) EN290 engine was also retired and replaced with a big-block 454 in front of a GM turbo 400 gearbox. Let’s not forget the addition of air-con also helped turn the old girl into a beautiful restoration project to drive.
After the restoration the original owner clocked up only 1,200 miles (1,931km) in it before retiring it again to the foyer of the company’s high-rise building in New York, where it sat for almost 16 years. The original owners’ relatives eventually decided a barista bar (not sure if this was the case, just a little poetic licence for the story) would be more beneficial to the building foyer and put the old girl up for sale. This was around the same time a sick Steve was laid up in bed doing a Google search.
A deal was done, the truck was put on a boat, and next thing you know Steve has a rare new toy in his collection. Sixteen years sitting as a trophy meant a lot of degradation. Ironically, it included gunk in the fuel lines. Steve spent a fair bit of time replacing parts and rejuvenating the original paintwork. Yes, two weeks of cutting and polishing meant the original paint was still a head turner as the end-result shows. He christened her ‘Little Miss because it is his ‘Little Mack’ and it just seemed to fit.
“It’s just a joy to drive,” Steve admits having taken it to a couple of shows already, with plans to visit many more.
There’s not much more he needs to change now, with just a bit of reupholstering to be down. “I’ll also redo the interior,” Steve admits. “I’m just not a fan of beige.”
That line there, pretty much sums up Steve, the life he’s led, the business he’s built, and now the outstanding hot-rod rig that he’s got. There is nothing beige about any of it. Time to Google the photos now guys. Jeez I love my job!
Written by: Warren Aitken for Trade Trucks