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Kat Chat: Behind the scenes with John Mueller and the SUPER BOSS!

posted by JohnG 6:50 PM
Wednesday, July 20, 2016

OK modelers, we’ve got a real treat for you this week! It’s an inside look back at the development of one of the most anticipated kits that we announced this year… Tyrone Malone’s AMT Super Boss Kenworth Drag Truck! You don’t get to go behind the scenes like this too often! And who would be better to tell this amazing story than the man who did the development of the kit itself! That’s right, it’s a veteran AMT Kat and talented designer… John Mueller! John played an integral role in more ways than one, but allow us to step aside and let John tell it like it was…

The Tyrone Malone Super Boss kit was one of my most memorable projects, perhaps even my favorite.  Either way it was due to meeting and knowing for a while, Jerry “Tyrone” Malone.  He was a real character – a “wild and crazy guy!”

I think it was spring or early summer of 1977 when AMT’s president (“CEO’s” hadn’t been invented yet) said to me, “There’s a guy who calls himself Tyrone Malone who drag races a customized semi-truck.  He says we should make a model of it.  He’s going to be at a truck show in Cincinnati; go down there and see what he’s all about.”

The CB radio/trucker show was held in an older convention or sports arena.  Malone’s display booth was close to the parking lot entrance so he wasn’t hard to find.  After our introductions, he began his story of getting started in promotional operations, beginning with “Little Irvy the frozen whale”, the “Boss Truck of America” custom Kenworth, and the “Super Boss racing truck”.

Then, while I was explaining model kit design & development, tool costs, etc., to Malone, who should walk up to us, dressed in “Viva Las Vegas” white buckskins, but none other than Evel Kneivel!

Well, the brag-fest started immediately and was more fun than watching an ape eating ice cream!  They bragged about who had the best “show”- sponsors, displays, haulers, etc.  And then a photographer showed up and took pictures of the two of them doing mock “face-off challenges.”

After Knievel moved on, Malone says, “c’mon, let’s go outside an’ I’ll show you what I do… you got a camera”?  We went out to the parking lot where the Super Boss truck was parked on display; he warmed up the engine and told me to station myself with the camera about 40-50 yards down the center aisle of the lot.  Mind you, there’s a lot of cars and trucks parked in this lot.  Then Tyrone Malone commences to do burn-outs & hole-shots right down the middle of it all!

SuperBossBurnout

Tyrone Malone doing one of his trademark burnouts in Cincinnati, 1977

J.W. Mueller photo

That evening over dinner, Malone told me how it all got started by his having dinner in a California restaurant that had a live shark in an aquarium; the owner said his business doubled after he got the shark.  Malone decided he just needed a bigger fish – like a whale!  Well, technically a whale is not a fish, but that shark gave him the idea for “Little Irvy” the frozen whale- that he could haul around the country and people would pay to see it.  Do an internet search for “Tyrone Malone” and you’ll probably find the story.

Anyway, when I got back to AMT and told management about Malone and showed them my photos, I said a Super Boss kit would be a refreshing addition to our truck kit line.  Plus, I thought Jerry Malone was such a good promoter he just might be our best salesman.  But then came the inevitable, dreaded cost vs return question: “It’s a one-trick pony- what else could we do with the tooling”?  With that, the meeting adjourned.

Malone called and wrote several times after that, asking if anything was happening on the model kit idea.  Regretfully, I had to say no, the execs were not convinced it was a good idea.  Finally he says, “I think I need to come up there and show them my trucks”.  I said, “OK, I’ll back you all the way, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll say yes.”

I think it was mid-to-late July when Jerry Malone showed up at 1225 East Maple – for the first time.

One of our security guards called saying, “There’s a guy down here, says his name is Tyrone Malone asking for you and he’s got some kind of custom truck on a trailer.”  When I got to the parking lot and saw that it was indeed “Tyrone” I called our president and VP of operations and asked them to come out to meet the “Daredevil Diesel Driver.”

Introductions were made and while Jerry was giving everyone the 50 cent tour, a local TV station news truck pulled into the visitor’s parking lot.  What we didn’t know was that Malone had already contacted the TV station, giving them a quick run-down on himself and advising what was going to happen that afternoon would be newsworthy.  Turned out he was right!

The main entry driveway for AMT was on the west side of the building and ran north from East Maple (15 mile road) to the rear of the plant about 350 or 400 feet, where shipping/receiving was located.  Malone unloaded and warmed up the Super Boss, told the TV news crew to get ready, and then did a brake-lock burn-out and speed run up the driveway alongside the AMT plant!

Then he turned around and did the same thing on a return run toward the front of the plant.

Just as Malone was racing back toward the street entrance, a UPS truck pulled in to make a delivery.  Needless to say, there was a heavy application of brakes on two trucks – one brown and the other red, white & blue!  I think the UPS driver might have made an unexpected delivery that day!

By that time, there was already an audience of AMT employees who got away from their duties.  Our president, recognizing that a major PR bomb had just exploded in front of him, shouted to his secretary, “Get me a contract, get me a contract!”  The Super Boss model kit was a go project, right now.

We were to start the project as soon as arrangements could be made for Malone to bring the Super Boss back for photography & measurements – he was in the area at this time for sponsor commitments – canny devil, eh?  I would do the reference photography, measuring and design drawings myself, and leave the other designers to work on already scheduled projects.

Malone brought the Super Boss back to AMT sometime in August, and he and his wife stayed in their motorhome on the AMT property – you could say we were definitely “plugged in.”  And as I recall, I think they were suitably entertained at our president’s home in Birmingham during their stay.

I still remember that day he drove the Super Boss inside the plant so I could photo & measure the underside.  He had installed an air horn from a GM Diesel locomotive; when he parked the truck inside the plant he let off a “Casey Jones” blast on the horn. To say that Tyrone made a startling appearance would be an understatement.  More than a few bathroom breaks ensued for the assembly line ladies!

With the exception of the tires, which were drawn later by another designer, I created all of the part design drawings, starting around September of 1977, thru mid ’78.  So, for better or worse, I’m the guy to blame for any design flaws.

During this time, Lesney-USA negotiated the purchase of AMT.  In August/September of ’78, manufacturing moved to Baltimore, Maryland.  A reduced AMT office staff remained in Troy.  The next time I saw Jerry Malone was in Baltimore, when the first Super Boss model kits ran down the final assembly lines.  A few of us got autographed, “first editions” and we all celebrated the event.

Back in ’77 the question had been, “what else can we do with this tooling?”  Thanks to “Tyrone” Malone’s promotional drive (and Kenworth connection), he followed up the Super Boss truck with the “Bandag Bandit.”

Through regular communication regarding radical changes, we were able to economically produce the “Bandag Bandit” from the Super Boss tooling.  And then came the “Papa Truck” & “Hideout” hauler truck models from new Kenworth Aerodyne COE kit tooling.  As I said previously, I thought Tyrone Malone would do as much good for AMT as AMT would do for him.

I think the last time I saw Jerry “Tyrone” Malone was at the fairgrounds in Minneapolis/St. Paul in August 1978, when I photographed the Bandag Bandit truck, along with the rest of his “100 million dollar truck show.”

Bandag

Bandag Bandit & Hideout truck Minneapolis, MN, Aug. 1978

J.W. Mueller photo

I don’t think I’ve ever had a more enjoyable, slightly crazy working relationship with a vehicle owner during all my years as a model kit/die cast product designer.  Had it not been for the short-lived Lesney ownership of the AMT brand and lack of follow-up by ERTL, there might have been more model Malone vehicle replicas for those interested, to enjoy.

So there’s my Tyrone Malone story.  Now I’ll just recall sitting across the table from Jerry Malone a couple of times, hearing great stories, joking and laughing. What a hoot!

J.W. Mueller
5/25/16

… and there you have it folks! We are extremely grateful that John took the time to tell us this awesome tale from the glory days of model kit manufacturing. Thanks again John!

We’re also excited to say that the reissue of the Super Boss Kenworth, after a thirty year absence, turned out great and will be available at select retailers real soon!



One Response to “Kat Chat: Behind the scenes with John Mueller and the SUPER BOSS!”

  1. Todd says:

    Very cool to here John Mueller’s stories John G. Thanx for the share

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