Letters to the editor

Copyright 2001 FleetWatch magazine and FleetWatch On-Line.

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Past Issues

June 2002

Special Feature


Army veterans. Once the pride of the South African armed forces, these beautiful Magirus Deutz trucks have been refurbished and put into civilian operation. Over 5 000 of these magnificent trucks are still in operation in southern and central Africa. It's hard to believe but Kaiser rebuilds all Magirus Deutz, Samil and Samag trucks single handedly.

Right now, in some far-flung corner of the African sub-continent, the deep-throated sound of V-formatted six, ten and 12-cylinder air-cooled engines pulses through the otherwise peaceful surroundings. If you are in a position to seek out the source of this sound, you will undoubtedly come across the sight of a large and very powerful Magirus Deutz truck plying its trade writes Andrew Parker, who tells the remarkable story of the man behind the continuance of this marque in Africa.

Many of our readers will recall the inherent strength and omnipresence of the mighty Magirus Deutz trucks - once a major force in the South African armed forces.

Today, 26 years after the last locally manufactured Magirus Deutz rolled off the Rosslyn assembly line outside Pretoria, these trucks continue to perform a distinct and critically important function in a variety of operations.

These cover agriculture, forestry, mining and construction. They are also used as general haulage vehicles, fire engines and water bowsers. They see service in in-field seed and fertiliser distribution as well as harvesting. The tourist industry is not untouched and one Botswana-based tour operator swears by them, forgoing more modern vehicles in their favour. Added to this, a number of Magirus Deutz trucks are employed in developing electricity and communications infrastructure in Mozambique. The list goes on.

As their configuration and technical specifications dictate, these trucks take formidable terrain and extreme operating conditions in their stride and are generally found operating in the backwaters of Africa. Right now, an estimated 5 000 of these vehicles are in operation between South Africa and Tanzania and including Zambia, Botswana, Namibia and Malawi.

Quite a number are employed in South Africa with around 180 in the New Hanover, KwaZulu-Natal district alone - probably the largest concentration of Magirus Deutz trucks anywhere in the world.
This Magirus Deutz 232 E20 fire tender was lovingly restored by Kaiser Bill for operation on the family's sugar farm. It is widely used for controlled burning exercises as well as handling runaway veldt fires.

One man's efforts
That Africa has such a large working fleet of ageing Magirus Deutz trucks may be interesting in itself but the fact that this is almost entirely due to the unstinting efforts of one man puts a different perspective on the story.

To get to the heart of the matter FleetWatch visited Rudi Kaiser - better known as Kaiser Bill - in Harburg situated in the New Hanover District of KwaZulu-Natal.

Kaiser Bill - which is also the name of his business - has built a serious reputation for himself as the expert in all things Magirus Deutz. As a factory-approved importer, Kaiser Bill is just about the sole source for Magirus Deutz spares and components in southern Africa and his customers are scattered far and wide. 

Kaiser's association with Magirus Deutz began on the family's sugar estate where they operated five or six of these trucks. He explains that after the demise of the original manufacturer, Truck Makers, the supply of spares became erratic and by 1994 things were getting desperate. Apart from long lead times to acquire specific parts, nobody could tell him just how long spares would be available. 

Kaiser decided to go to Germany to get clarification and in 1994, he and his wife Naomi found themselves in Ulm. "The Germans were unaware that so many of their trucks were being used in a civilian capacity," Kaiser recalls. "They were under the impression they what few vehicles were still running would either still be in the hands of the military or employed in civil services such as fire and rescue vehicles."

As far as the problem of spares was concerned, the Kaiser's were informed that as the vehicles were no longer in production, the supply of parts and components was also on the way out.

"I was informed that according to international law, if a vehicle manufacturer ceased production of a vehicle it has to guarantee spares for only ten years and in the case of fire trucks, 20 years," Kaiser explains. This being the case, time was running out for Magirus Deutz.

Acquired the rights
In the maelstrom of acquisitions and mergers that beset global truck manufacturers, Magirus Deutz was subsequently acquired by Iveco and it was through this source that, in 1996, Kaiser Bill eventually acquired the rights to supply spares to Magirus Deutz operators in Africa - an agreement that survives to this day. 

However, since then, problems have arisen with some components being difficult to get hold of and the exchange rate has also had an adverse impact making them exorbitantly expensive. Consequently, Kaiser Bill has resorted to utilising South African foundries and automotive engineers to manufacture a range of parts and components. No short cuts are taken and all parts are made to OE spec and are thoroughly tested prior to application. Incidentally, transmission parts are sourced through ZF South Africa.

When he started out, Kaiser Bill had no dreams of dabbling with automotive antiquity. His concerns were very real. He says quite simply that all he wanted to do was to ensure that his own and similar trucks operating in the neighbourhood were kept in operational trim. However, it didn't take long before the African bush telegraph went into operation and enquiries for parts, information and advice - and even vehicles - started pouring in from far and wide.

Some of the 180 Magirus Deutz trucks operating in the New Hanover district of KwaZulu-Natal.


Rudi Kaiser (known far and wide as Kaiser Bill) poses with his reconditioned Magirus 192 B7 AL.

The rest, as they say, is history. Nowadays, in addition to supplying a complete range of spares to customers all over Africa, Kaiser Bill undertakes any type of work on all Magirus Deutz trucks. This covers complete vehicle rebuilds from chassis upwards including complete drivetrain, transmission, engine and suspension. Individual components are painstakingly repaired and refurbished to bring them back to OE specifications. Only spray painting and upholstery are contracted out.

So all is well on the farm. There is, however, a little more to this story than a man called Kaiser Bill taking advantage of a previously under-estimated business opportunity. The really interesting part is that Kaiser does all the work himself.

Walking through his comprehensively tooled workshops and absolutely pristine spares department, there is no sign of a workshop assistant anywhere in sight. No one at all in fact. Everything is in the right place, no tools lying around, floors are swept and everything is in order. Kaiser Bill's premises would put many 'traditional' workshops to shame.

More amazing is the fact the Kaiser is a former toolmaker's apprentice who used to swing a spanner to earn extra pocket money. He never qualified as a toolmaker or a diesel technician and still describes himself as a backyard mechanic - although he is obviously far from that.

This chassis is awaiting the cab which was being re-sprayed during FleetWatch's visit.

Kaiser Bill supplies spares for all Samil, Samag and Magirus Deutz trucks throughout Southern Africa. While some of the stock is still imported, local manufacturer of some components is ongoing.

Harking back to the halcyon days of trucking is this early 1950s truck cab from a Magirus Deutz Jupiter.

A refurbished V-10 Deutz engine ready for installation.

Unprecedented dedication
In my personal experience, Kaiser's dedication to the cause of Magirus Deutz is unprecedented. Kaiser, the man, appears nonplussed and unassuming over the ongoing interest in and success of Magirus Deutz trucks. Take a closer look, however, and one sees a fierce determination burning within Kaiser that goes way beyond your average commitment to turnover and profit. Some would call it a passion. 

When pressed for detail, Kaiser smiles and does not overly expound on what keeps him going or why. He says he does what he does because it is part of the business. But there is visible pride in his eyes and you can see he is thoroughly enjoying what is happening and that he is still willing to go to extraordinary lengths to keep the Magirus Deutz legend alive and running in the heart of Africa. He readily admits that as long as he is alive, he won't have any other truck operating on his farm.

Thanks must go to Kaiser Bill's most charming wife - and our hostess for the day - Naomi whose enthusiasm easily matches that of her husband. She says it is simply amazing how much the company has grown in just six years. It is true to say that behind every successful man, there is an equally determined and passionate woman. 

Well done Mr and Mrs Kaiser Bill - your hard work, dedication and commitment are an inspiration to the transport industry throughout the world! 
Bell Equipment's latest vehicles are now being fitted with Mercedes-Benz engines. This 'old timer' is powered by a B17 Deutz engine.