Historic Truck Brands
Marius Berliet built his first car in France in 1894 but the early Berliet ‘steam train’ emblem was adopted after the American Locomotive Company bought the rights to build Berliet cars in the USA. This enabled Berliet to build a new factory at Lyon and, as a way of thanks, a stylised locomotive badge was used on Berliet cars thereafter.
After World War I, Berliet decided to build one model of car and one model of truck. In 1920 he built a new model based on the American Dodge. It had a 3.0-litre four-cylinder engine similar to the Dodge and a four-speed gearbox.
The first all-Berliet car models were unveiled in 1923. There were three models, all with modern overhead valve engines: a 1.0-litre, 2.5-litre and 4.0-litre, all with four-speed gearboxes. They were unveiled at the Paris Salon in 1923.
Berliet vehicles were imported into Australia after Word War One, principally by Pritchard’s Motors, Ltd, in Adelaide.
In 1926 this company was offering Berliet trucks in 2-, 3- and 5-ton capacities. The truck chassis were derivatives of WWI vehicles and featured double-reduction rear differentials and four-wheel brakes.
Berliet continued to develop its truck range before, during and after WWII, but it’s not known if nay of these vehicle made it Down Under.
The last Berliet car came off the production line in 1938 but trucks continued to be built.
Berliet in the 1970s
In the early 1970s Cyril Anderson, owner of Westco that distributed Mack, Leader and UD trucks, saw heavy-duty Berliets in Europe and arranged for their Australian distribution. A shipment of 18 bonneted GBH and cab-over-engine TRH Berliets arrived in Darwin, Port Kembla, Melbourne and Brisbane in 1976.
For two years, little was done in the way of ADR compliance validation, but the wheels started rolling in 1978 and the TRH was displayed at the 1979 Sydney Truck Show.
By mid-1981 around 40 Berliets had been sold around Australia, with the COEs going into interstate and distribution work and the much heavier-specified GBHs doing heavy haulage and logging work, mainly.
Nick Banavas ran six 6×4 TRHs in the early 1980s.
The GBH specification included hub-reduction axles and it’s thought that this 30-tonne-rated rear end was a major reason for Cyril Anderson’s interest in the marque.
Interestingly, several heavy haulage Macks were optioned with the hub-reduction Berliet drive tandem, to compete with European-truck rear ends.
Berliet’s component list was comprehensive and much was anticipated. Westco could probably see prospects for selling Berliet’s massive off-road haulage vehicles to the mining industry. However, behind scenes, much was happening to curtail future Berliet deliveries Down Under.
Berliet had been on rocky ground since the mid-1960s and was bought out by Citroen in 1967. Citroen itself had already been owned by Michelin since 1934.
Following the oil crisis in 1973, Michelin divested itself of Citroen to Peugeot and Berliet was sold to Renault in 1975, becoming part of Renault Vehicules Industriels (RVI), with Saviem and Mack, in 1978.
Renault integrated the Berliet TRH cab into its own truck lineup and the cab was also sold to Ford Europe for the Transcontinental prime mover (1975-1984).
After seven years of on and off negotiations, RVI was sold to AB Volvo in 2001.