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Tributes flow in for former Wheels editor Bill Tuckey

By Wheels Staff, 14 May 2016 Features

Tributes flow in for former Wheels editor Bill Tuckey

UPDATED: Tributes from readers, former co-workers and the Australian car industry have flowed into Wheels since the death of former editor Bill Tuckey

TRIBUTES from readers, former co-workers and the Australian car industry have flowed into Wheels since the death of former editor Bill Tuckey.

Here's a selection of them. 

Mike Simcoe
Vice-president, GM International Design
When I was still green, Bill was already one of the “Old Guard”….

I wasn’t smart enough to see behind the legend or understand his depth of knowledge and experience, all I saw was the myth, a myth largely created by his own stories.
A warm engaging companion never dismissive of a less experienced passenger.

We live in very different times.

I fear the business is no longer big enough to contain a character like Bill.

Trevor Worthington
Vice-president product development, Ford Asia Pacific and Africa
Bill’s influence on the Australian auto industry can’t be overstated. I grew up reading his columns in Wheels and elsewhere. His demand that all car companies, particularly those developing vehicles locally, become better than they were, really drove and inspired a whole generation of engineers.

The processes and checks and balances that he brought to the industry through the Wheels Car of the Year testing process was second-to-none. The possibility of winning that award for the BA Falcon and later for Territory inspired those of us who were responsible for those two vehicles to keep pushing ourselves to deliver the best vehicles we could.

On a personal note, am I the only person in Australia who didn’t realise that Bill was also Romsey Quints?!  

GM Holden
Holden wishes to express its condolences to the Tuckey family after the passing of Bill Tuckey. 

Mr Tuckey was a true pioneer of automotive journalism, not just in Australia but globally. 

During his decorated media and publishing career, Mr Tuckey  cr eated an original and engaging  approach to  motoring journalism, and a  tremendous body of work.

A long-time editor of Wheels magazine and the man credited with creating the coveted Wheels Car of the Year award, Mr Tuckey was also responsible for covering some of the most pivotal moments in Holden's history. 

Mr Tuckey also shared Holden’s passion for the race, having several starts in the Bathurst 1000.

Our thoughts are with Mr Tuckey’swife Marcia, and children Stuart and Libby.

Jac Nasser
BHP Billiton chairman, former president of Ford Australia
Few make it to the top of their field.  Bill made it look so easy with a unique sense of insight and humour.  A true enthusiast and a genuine, good bloke.

Steve Cropley
Editor-in-chief Autocar (UK), former editor Sports Car World
Bill Tuckey was my first, best and most influential connection with cars and motoring journalism. He's the reason I didn't do well at school (too busy reading Romsey Quints under the desk) and the reason I wanted to get into motoring journalism, though as a feckless kid from Broken Hill I didn't believe his world would ever have a place for me.

Bill's writing had everything I valued: it was warm, inclusive, authoritative and hilarious. And always stylish. In English lessons, when teachers droned on about great writing, I privately reckoned Bill Tuckey would finish any writing race 10 lengths ahead of Shakespeare.

Later, I did get into journalism as a daily newspaper hack. Within a few years, by a miraculous sequence of events, I was working for Peter Robinson in Sydney on Wheels and Sports Car World, the finest upbringing any young hack could have. When Bill dropped into the office one afternoon to see Robbo it was like meeting God, or would have been if he hadn't been such a funny, normal, down-to-earth bloke. Even so, I was pretty much struck dumb. Couldn't even hold his gaze. When it turned out he'd read one of my stories — and said something nice about it — I took days to recover. But that experience definitely applied the afterburner to my determination to do well at this game.

Fifty years later, I can still quote you phrases from Tuckey stories and RQ columns, and I'll bet I'm not alone. One phrase I remember is from a Wheels story called Go See Australia, full of advice about seeing our country before leaving it. It was just a casually dropped few words in the last par of the story, where Bill was describing the noise of the wind blowing through power lines. As a kid from the bush I knew this noise intimately, but could never have described it so eloquently. Bill called it "a mad, strange song in the overhead wires", and as I write those words now, with a lump in the throat, I can hear it all over again.

Pedr Davis
Author and motoring writer
Bill’s passing has touched so many people, not just his family, relatives and friends but also the countess readers who knew him only through the written words. Bill had a magic touch.

I once remarked that his columns seemed so effortless. ‘Yes,’ he replied, flexing his hands like a piano player. ‘The words just flow out of my fingers.’ They did too, much to the envy of us all.

Farewell old friend. We’ve been colleagues for over 50 years and it’s been a long and fascinating journey. May your adventures continue on that great highway in the sky and the magic words never cease to flow.

David Morley
Freelance motoring journalist

A lot of people  who reckon they know the industry were keen to point out Bill's ego and his unwillingness to suffer fools. But having worked with him for many years, I know the ego was justified and the fools could make their own arrangements. Aside from anything else, when Bill was being Bill, he was also the first to admit it.

And he was a great boss. I won't say we never had differences of opinion at how things should pan out, but it was pretty rare and it was always a professional exchange. Usually followed by a beer or two and maybe a plate of pasta while we plotted the next issue.
What I really liked about Bill was that he identified and rewarded loyalty. It's easier, when you know you're valued, to dig that bit deeper.
He was very good to me, both in terms of giving me more than one break and for being generous with his knowledge and creativity.
I tried a couple of times after Bill's initial stroke to make contact but was told each time that it wouldn't be a good idea. Which I interpreted as Bill not wanting to be remembered as anything but the powerhouse he was for many decades.

Mel Nichols
Former deputy editor, Wheels and former editor, Sports Car World

Bill was one of the world’s best and most influential motoring writers and car magazine editors. As a writer he was vibrant, inventive, witty, often provocative and always entertaining. As editor of Wheels from 1963-68, he was original, innovative, energetic, brave and stylish. He was the agenda setter in Australian motoring journalism. The character and class he brought to Wheels endures today.

What he did and how he did it influenced a generation of young motoring journalists and editors. A number of us went to the UK and through CAR magazine (which has had seven Australian editors) Bill’s influence flowed on to the next generation of British motoring writers, Jeremy Clarkson and Chris Harris (part of the new Top Gear team) among them.

Via CAR, and the work of Aussie Angus MacKenzie at Motor Trend, it reached the US too.
It's no exaggeration to say that the shape of modern motoring journalism owes a huge amount to Bill. Everyone who enjoys reading good writing about cars, and may thank informed and fearless automotive criticism for contributing to the massive improvement in cars over the past 50 years, should raise a glass in thanks and tribute to Bill.

Angus MacKenzie
Wheels editor 1994-99  
They've probably never heard of Bill Tuckey. But if they've read Motor Trend over the past 12 years, or Automobile since 1986, or CAR since the 1970s, or even watched Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear, they've felt his influence. As editor of Wheels, Bill's energetic, intense, provocative and entertaining approach to writing and editing helped change automotive journalism forever, and not just in Australia.

Bill succinctly communicated a car's strengths and weaknesses, often to the discomfort of car companies when they failed to live up to his high standards. But he was also a consummate storyteller. He delighted in capturing those ephemeral moments that distilled the essence of our love affair with the car. He put his readers behind the wheel, in the moment, and revealed the soul in the machine.

As editor of Wheels, I was acutely aware I was custodian of a legacy that had been polished and tuned and honed by outstanding editors before me such as Peter Robinson and Phil Scott, but traced its roots right back to Bill's time in the Big Chair. It wasn't a daunting thing, or a constraint. On the contrary, it gave me a lot of freedom; freedom to tell the stories I wanted told, in the way I wanted to tell them. Robbo, Scotty, me... we all put our own spin on Wheels. But Bill had shown us the way.

In 2001, I became the sixth Australian in 40 years to have been made editor of CAR, and every one of us had worked on, or for, Wheels. Like me, Mel Nichols, Steve Cropley, and Gavin Green had all been a part of Wheels in the post-Tuckey era, and his vivid, lyrical writing style influenced us all. This excerpt from a story written by Nichols and published in both CAR and Wheels in 1977, about driving three Lamborghinis from Italy back to London is a perfect example:

"It had the unreal quality of a dream. That strange hyper-cleanliness, that dazzling intensity of color, that haunting feeling of being suspended in time, and even in motion; sitting there with the speedo reading in excess of 160mph and two more gold Lamborghinis drifting along ahead. Not even those gloriously surreal driving scenes from Claude Lelouche's film A Man And A Woman were like this: that grey, almost white ribbon of motorway stretching on until it disappeared into the sharp, clear blue of a Sunday morning in France, mid-autumn, and those strange dramatic shapes eating it up. What a sight from the slower cars as that trio came and went! What a sight from the bridges and the service areas: witnesses there would have seen the speed! So would the police, of course, those same gendarmes who one after another apparently chose to look and drink it in, to savor it as an occasion rather than to act."

It's vintage Tuckey.

I wasn't the only future automotive journalist who vividly remembers reading that story for the first time and being forever impressed by how it put me right there with Mel as we stormed across France in three howling Italian supercars. "I remember thinking that it was a great, very well written story and how much I'd like to write stuff like that," Jeremy Clarkson told Nichols in 2011. "I still think it's the best-ever drive story. Now I'm trying to do stuff like that, only on television."

These were the stories that made CAR stand out from the stuffy, heavily formatted, road test-centric British automotive weeklies of the time. And when David E Davis Jr sought to shake up the American magazine establishment with the launch of Automobile in 1986, it was CAR's attitude, exuberance and, most of all, its vibrant storytelling he sought to emulate.

Make no mistake, the talented, erudite, literary David E made Automobile what it is. But I like to think that right from the start there was just a little bit of Bill Tuckey in the mix, too. Just like there still is in everything I write.

Chris van Wyk
Caterham Cars Australia
We are saddened by Bill’s passing. After Marlene and I arrived in Australia in the mid-1980s, he was one of the first motoring journalists to make us feel really welcome. 

Always good company, yet with the critical eye on the PR "bullshit", it was always nice to have a refreshing discussion about the latest BMW products.

Bill and I also agreed that the ridiculous emphasis of imposing unrealistically low "open road" speed limits on the long suffering Australian motorist was not justified. In fact, being counterproductive to road safety due to people falling asleep behind the wheel, being forced to drive too slowly.

Nonetheless, we had to opportunity for some memorable drives on occasion, both locally and overseas.

He will be remembered as an icon of Australian motoring journalism and as an all-round nice guy. Our thoughts are with the family.

Paul Gover
Motoring writer, News Ltd
Bill Tuckey is the person who inspired me to become a motoring writer.

His words in Sports Car World, especially when he was writing as Romsey Quints, captivated me.

Many years later, I learned from the master, travelled with him, and shared far too many days and night of silly stories and new experiences.

Bill was a towering presence. A fearless inquisitor. A brilliant writer.

There are so many, many stories but one thing shines through.

He was my inspiration.


Tom Floyd
Former editor, Australian Hot Rodding Review
I was fortunate to meet up with Bill when he head-hunted me from a small publisher in Surrey Hills sometime around the mid-1960s, and I was delighted to join him at K.G. Murray Publishing. Bill was then editor of Wheels, Rob Luck was then with Sports Car World and I was brought in to head up Australian Hot Rodding Review and, in short order, Bill and I were able to get Two Wheels under way as well. The three of us, while having our own specialty magazines, all worked very hard for Murray Publishers – one of the best little publishing companies since WW2. It was absorbed into the Consolidated Press monolith by Kerry Packer about 30 years or so ago.

Bill was not only a great managing editor of the motoring group, he was also my editorial mentor. He taught well, I listened intently and we became good friends both at Murrays and socially for some years. Although retired from publishing for eight years, I have been forever in his debt.

Bill was always ready to help others. One interesting story (as I understand it) came after Evan Green left the position of motor editor of the Sydney Morning Herald. There were a number of hopefuls vying to join the then powerful paper, but a young Scot, David Robertson, whom had been introduced to Bill for one reason or another, put his hand up. Suddenly it was realised the Scot didn’t have a driving licence, so Bill and a couple of others quickly took him out, taught him to drive and he eventually got the job - and made a good fist of it until he later died after a jet ski accident during a car launch on the Central Coast.

In later years, while each involved in our own media companies, Bill and I had hooked-up with a guy who became a true advertising guru in the automotive world, Ray Berghouse. The three of us eventually formed Chevron Publishing Group. We concentrated on Australian motor racing publications such as the annual Bathurst 1000 program and the 256-page annual book of the 1000, The Great Race, on which we all worked like absolute mad men for 12 weeks to get published for each Christmas. Bill had a great team for the Bathurst efforts, but the finished products were in essence a tribute to his skill, his insights and his perseverance. Among Bill’s other work we published was the coffee table tome on the solar car race won by the American vehicle “Sunraycer”. Again due to Bill’s writing speed and accuracy we were able to present the finished book to the backers of the team in New York on New Year’s eve, just a couple of months after the finish of the race. They couldn’t believe it.

Even in his early days at Wheels, Bill was already earning considerable plaudits for his writing, but not always from his peers. Bill was essentially a writer, and his work stood out in the motoring media of the time. It’s one thing to have automotive knowledge and be a fan of motor racing and become a journalist. It’s another to quickly be able to dash off 5000 words, interesting, informative and insightful writing that earns lasting praise from readers. The motoring industry quickly reached out to him for his skills, his way with ideas, and with words. Eventually the incentives were too much and he joined the esteemed George Patterson advertising agency in Melbourne and moved south to that city, hoping to also write some of the books that had been gnawing away at him.

Bill Thomas
Hyundai Australia public relations general manager, Wheels editor 2010-12
I didn't know Quints was Tuckey. How could I have? I was a reader, 11 years old when I first discovered the Great Magazine and immediately became devoted to every word Quints wrote. Apologies in advance to Peter Robinson, but I would pick up the 'latest Wheels' my father brought home from work - as soon as possible after the publication date, because there was pressure to buy it please Dad - and read Quints first, Robbo's 'Wheels Within' editor's letter second, and the rest third. Only 32 short years later I landed my dream job as editor of Wheels.

Romsey Quints was my biggest single inspiration, no question. Even at 11, I was reading him as a writer, trying to work out how he built his humour and how to do it myself. Of course, I couldn't - nobody other than Jeremy Clarkson in the motoring sphere could ever touch Tuckey for sheer writing brilliance - but Quints' unrelenting hilarity and brilliant observation drove me forward into my career. Had I known he was also Tuckey I'd have been even more impressed.

There was a particular Quints column about a trip he had in a small car with a cat. Remember it? He was reluctant about the idea of transporting this cat, but he did it anyway, as a favour. In the beginning the cat was safely in a box on the rear parcel shelf, but then it went wild and escaped, ended up at Quints' feet getting mashed into the pedals and then jumped onto his head and clawed at his face. In the end he flung it into the traffic.

It was probably just another column to Tuckey, bashed out in no time at some point in the Wheels monthly schedule over a glass of red. But boy, was it was well written. I would laugh and laugh, even at the fifth or 10th or 20th time of reading, and what a gift laughter is. Tuckey gave that gift to millions. He was a genius, a legend, an inspiration, world class. Rest in peace, Bill.

Bill McKinnon
Freelance motoring journalist
When I began writing about cars 30 years ago, Bill Tuckey was already a legend, certainly as far as he was concerned and among most of his fellow motoring writers as well. I found this out because as a young ingénue I quickly learned that the motoring press corps was made up of two groups: the genuine professionals and the freeloaders, wannabes and junketeers. That’s still the case, although today the latter, sadly, far outnumber the former.

Bill Tuckey was the ne plus ultra of motoring writers. He was fearless, knowledgeable and possessed of a rare talent in being able to share his expertise so effortlessly and imaginatively with his audience.

To me and many other young writers, he was also kind and generous with his time and his counsel. Thanks Bill.

Gordon Lomas
Editor-in-chief, Speedcafe.com
It was a Jaguar gig to Coventry and bit of a product briefing, a drive program through the Yorkshire Dales with the sweetener being a drive of the XK180 prototype around Donington. Win Percy would also be at the track offering fast tours in a stonking Le Mans-spec XJ220.

From memory the trip was a bit of a suck-up job to make up for the shambolic S-Type launch in Australia when the car broke on the journo launch. 

During the product briefing, Geoff Lawson, the then Jaguar chief designer, suddenly took ill after fielding some questions from the small group of Australian journos.

Soon after, we learned of the tragic news that he had suffered a massive stroke and was dead. 

Colin Cook and a few of the other Jaguar guys were clearly devastated at the events but still wanted to oblige in being the perfect hosts for us wanting to continue the program of scheduled events.

Tuckey immediately took control of the situation politely telling the Jaguar people that 'we are all grown journos and you people have got more to worry about at this time than us'.

In that situation Tuckey was the consummate professional, showing great compassion and leadership in his capacity as the elder statesman.

Bob Watson
Author, automotive and motor sport consultant

I was a huge Bill Tuckey fan. The quality of his writing put him apart from his contemporaries and his a passion for the auto industry was unmatched. I was fortunate to work with him several times, once as a judge on the Car of the Year panel, and then as a writer for Car Australia which he was editing. His wife Marcia drove in the Renault team which I was managing in the 1970 Ampol Round Australia Trial, so that also gave us a common interest.

Honest, no bullshit, and immensely knowledgeable about motor cars. He was good, fun guy, and he will be sadly missed. We will not see his like again.


Michael Stahl
Freelance motoring journalist

In these days of a tweeted press shot and a hashtag, it seems quaint to reflect on a motoring writer who really was passionate about cars and motor sport, who raced and rallied competitively at a national level, whose industry acumen could have steered a car company - and whose writing was simply up with the best in any genre.

Bill Tuckey was the package, the business. For all his hard won knowledge and skill, he was a fearless innovator. He revolutionised motoring journalism - not least through the pages of our beloved Wheels - by introducing out-there irreverence and entertainment to the dry and Pommy-proper arena of motoring reviews. Contemporaries tried to emulate it; a younger generation basked in it. Some of those Aussies took Tuckey's disruptive influence international.

He was deserving of comparison, on many levels, with Barry Humphries. Tuckey was writing gonzo five years before Hunter S Thompson.

Bill long pre-dated me at Wheels, but I had the pleasure of seeing him regularly at Bathurst and on car launches, most particularly through the 1980s and '90s. I'm unembarrassed to admit that I was always in awe of his having the whole suite of talents: the writing, the humour, the driving ability, the eager ear of the industry. As a newcomer, but not a stranger (he was a friend and contemporary of my father, Max), Bill often encouraged me and occasionally upbraided me. I know that I grew as the result of both.

I can recall one rare occasion on which I saw through the Derryn Hinch-like armour of ego. A group of about half a dozen Australian journalists were on a five-day drive through Europe in Jaguar XK8Rs. We were in Italy, near Lake Como, about to turn in for the night when we received word that Bill's elderly mother had taken gravely ill in Melbourne. I suddenly saw in this colossus, this unflappable force of nature, such emotion and care as I'd never imagined existed in him, as he raced to arrange the first available flight.

More recently, in 2013, I was writing the feature story in celebration of this magazine's 60th anniversary. Two figures, of course, loom large in Wheels: Tuckey and Robbo. Bill had suffered, in 2010, the first of a series of strokes, but I wanted more than anything for him to be able to contribute to the magazine's major milestone.

Bill's son Stewart described how Bill was as observant and sharp-witted as ever, but that he struggled to communicate. Using words, whether writing or speaking them, was the respirative process for Bill's over-active mind. His frustration, Stewart told me, sometimes reduced him to tears.

With all that Biill Tuckey achieved, and the influence that he has had across our profession, no more need be said.

Harvey Grennan
Former motoring editor, Sydney Morning Herald
For half a century larger-than-life pillar of the motoring (and other) media, truly prolific scribe, industry icon, great companion on launch test drives on every continent.  Bill can now swap notes with that other multi-talented great Evan Green.

Graham Moore
Bathurst endurance driver
Bill Tuckey, great guy, great writer, RIP. 

Chris Mullett
Publisher, Motoring Matters Magazine Group
Bill was indeed one of the true characters that created an enduring larger than life impression on all that came into contact with him. He belonged to an age of personalities based on immense personal knowledge and ability in motoring that has all but disappeared with the advent of the web. 
Cheers, Bill, for that final glass of red.

John Edds
via Facebook 

That SCW piece that Bill wrote on the Lancia was a turning point for me as an 18-year-old. Bill changed my perception of cars so that I realised that there was a world beyond BMC, Holden and Ford. That I couldn't afford a Lancia was irrelevant, but the 1200cc VW Beetle that took it's place became every bit as good in my mind.

That vision of an early morning drive inspired me and scared the life out of me in an oversteering, swing axle-inspired moment. A fortuitous opposite lock twitch of the wheel saved me. Little skill, plenty of luck. Vale Bill Tuckey.

Bruce Bailey
via Facebook

Started reading Wheels in the mid-1960s, and Bill's articles were one of the must reads. Tragic that someone like him should suffer such a fate. I just hope he burnt rubber on his way through the pearly gates.

Iain Rossiter
via Facebook

Devastating. Maverick in every sense. I grew up reading his brilliant articles and no-nonsense dry humour. One of the greats around the world. Rest in peace.

Mark Standen
via Facebook
I remember clearly Romsey Quints' description of rallying, musing that he would worry that the umbrella in the boot would make dents every time he took a corner at speed. RIP.

Holden wishes to express its condolences to the Tuckey family after the passing of Bill Tuckey. 

Mr Tuckey was a true pioneer of automotive journalism, not just in Australia but globally. 

During his decorated media and publishing career, Mr Tuckey  cr eated an original and engaging  approach to  motoring journalism, and a  tremendous body of work.

A long-time editor of Wheels Magazine and the man credited with creating the coveted Wheels Car of the Year award, Mr Tuckey was also responsible for covering some of the most pivotal moments in Holden's history. 

Mr Tuckey also shared Holden’s passion for the race, having several starts in the Bathurst 1000.

Our thoughts are with Mr Tuckey’swife Marcia, and children Stuart and Libby.