Ron Bennett was an architect-engineer from Orange County who set out to redesign the skateboard truck and make it more functional. In a June 1977 interview with SkateBoarder magazine, it was clear that Bennett understood the problem with the conventional roller skate truck: “In order to get the truck to turn, it had to be loosened up so much that it got speed wobbles.” In 1975 Bennett introduced the Bennett Hijacker. It was truly different from traditional trucks.
The kingpin was placed well below the axle. This meant that skaters would not have to worry about the kingpin dragging on the ground. The parts were of high quality: Bennett used air-craft-quality locknuts and a special compound for his “rubbers” (the part that fits between the kingpin and axle).
The only area where Bennett’s trucks seemed to have a problem were the baseplates — they tended to break. Fortunately, the baseplates came with a guarantee — you could mail them back to Mr. Bennett and he would replace them for free. Although Bennett’s were the freestyler’s choice, slalom skater John Hutson also won a number of contests using the quick-turning Bennett trucks. In 1978 Bennett introduced a baseplate and truck designed of “Magalum,” a metal compound.
These new trucks were called Bennett Vectors. However, as truck competition heated up, Bennett was forced to start promoting other products. Eventually, Bennett concentrated on his Lightbeam and Spacedeck boards and stopped advertising his trucks towards the end of the 1970’s.
As readers of the Concrete Wave book are aware, there are a number of sections (or waves) that give insights into the significant companies, skaters and stories that make up each era.
I featured an overview of three very popular truck companies – Bennett, Tracker and Gullwing that made their debut in the mid to late 1970s. I also wrote a two-page spread about Independent, but I’ll save that for an upcoming blog post.
What is interesting about these three companies is that after the book was published, I wound up getting to know them quite well – all for different reasons. While there are many stories I could tell, I’d like to share three that I think gives you some insight into the rough-and-tumble world we call the skate industry.
I am going to start with Bennett because it was really interesting what happened to this brand. First, some crucial history – Mr. Bennett is credited with designing the world’s truly professional skateboard truck. It was light years from what Chicago or other roller skate companies had. His timing was perfect and Bennett’s became the trucks that every skater aspired to have.
But there was a critical problem with Bennett Trucks. Their baseplates would crack under the slightest pressure. Ingenious skaters took a Bennett hanger and married it to a Tracker baseplate. This fixed the problem pretty quickly. Unfortunately, the broken base plate (and all the replacements it most likely required) was a huge PR problem for Bennett – not to mention the financial consequences. Tracker Trucks also started to take a huge bite out of their market share too.
Unfortunately, at the beginning of the 1980s, Mr.Bennett and his trucks, Alligator wheels and Lightbeam boards were left to the collectors to find. He exited the industry and that was that. But nostalgia is a very curious thing and sometimes things happen that you just don’t expect.
And so it was that around 2006, Mr. Bennett’s son, Brian along with his father Ron, decided to revive the brand and return to the industry. This was to me quite amazing but not as amazing to find myself at a tradeshow actually meeting the very mysterious Mr. Bennett. That was the one thing about Mr. Bennett during the heyday of the 1970s – you never, ever saw his face. People knew there was a Mr. Bennett – but the mystery continued for years as to who he actually was and what he looked like.
We ran a story about the return of Bennett and the Alligator Wheels in Concrete Wave. You’ll note that Mr. Bennett has his back to the camera – just as he wished!
Even though it’s probably over 16 years ago, I still have a very vivid memory of Ron and Brian showing me a beautiful new prototype of their Bennett Truk at the ASR Show in San Diego. Ron was truly a generous person – he had a hearty laugh and a very firm handshake. You could tell he’d experienced life to the fullest. I recall an all you can eat Brazilian buffet in San Diego with the Bennetts, Erik Basil of Silverfish and myself. I don’t think I’ve eaten that much food in one sitting ever in my life!
There is no doubt that their intentions were in the right place. The product they brought out was excellent. The amount of money Brian poured into marketing was astronomical. Despite their best efforts, the Bennetts enjoyed limited success. The re-introduced Bennett Truk was definitely respected by slalom and freestyle skaters but this was and remains quite a small market. Sadly, things sort of drifted into obscurity without much of the needle being moved forward. Sales were just not that great.
However, the good news is that you can still purchase Bennett Truks and Alligator wheels should you wish.
Ron Bennett died on Jun 15, 2013.