Historic Truck Brands
Consolidated Freightlines was a US haulage company, founded in Washington State in 1929 by Leland James. In 1932, James, dissatisfied with the tare weight and hill-climbing performance of existing trucks, designed his own, in conjunction with Fageol Trucks.
The first CF100 hit the road in 1937, with an aluminium cab and power from a four-cylinder Cumins ‘H’ diesel engine.
When Fageol was acquired by Sterling Motors in 1938 Leland James was on his own.
From then on, his trucks wee bonded Freight-Liner and that was later contracted to Freightliner.
After making aircraft and marine components for the War effort, Freightliner resumed truck production, introducing a sleeper cab and a 10-speed transmission. Freightliners weighed around a ton less than their competitors, so demand rose quickly, leading to a larger plant.
In 1951, Freightliner signed a distribution agreement with the White Motor Company, greatly expanding its network. In the 1960s, manufacturing expanded to Canada and to Portland, Oregon.
In the early 1970s Freightliner introduced 120-inch and 115-inch bumper-to-back-of-cab bonnetted trucks. However, White was in financial trouble and by 1977 the White-Freightliner agreement was abandoned, but many dealers stuck with Freightliner.
President Carter deregulated the USA’s trucking businesses in 1979, removing the almost guaranteed income of most fleets. Forced to concentrate on its primary haulage business, Consolidated Freightways Corporation sold its Freightliner business to Daimler AG in 1981. By 2002 Consolidated closed its doors: the end of an era.
Freightliner and Daimler
Although Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz brand was a global leader, its European-based product range wasn’t suitable for North America’s high-speed, but relatively lightly loaded heavy truck business. Freightliner was a perfect fit, especially after 1982, when overall true length in the USA was also deregulated: only trailer length was restricted tp 53-feet( 16.1m).
Freightliner had never had a presence in the vocational truck market and Daimler soon remedied that situation, with the FLC112 model. This truck used a Brazilian-made, Mercedes-Benz, two-axle-distribution-truck’s COE steel cab, set behind a FRP bonnet.
Beside the new FLC model, the traditional aluminium-cab FLD continued, for line-haul applications, but with a restyled FRP bonnet. The ancient Freightliner FLT line-haul COE truck was upgraded to the FLA model that became the slightly improved FLB, in 1993.
In 1991 the FL range was introduced as ‘Business Class’ and employed the FLC’s cab, but on a smaller-truck range of models: FL50, 60, 70 and 80. In 1994 they were joined by the FL106 and FL102. Engines were from Cummins, Daimler and Caterpillar.
Daimler R&D and investment bore fruit in 1996, with the introduction of the Century Class. This bonneted truck was a brand new design, with a high-tech aluminium cab that met Europe’s ECE R29 crashworthiness requirements. It also featured Waeco’s electronic brake system.
Short-bonnet Century Class models had Detroit Diesel 55, Cummins ISM and Caterpillar C1 engine choices, while long-bonnets had Detroit Diesel Series 60, Cummins ISX and Cat C15/C16 choices.
In 1989 the FLA was replaced by another high-tech model, the Argosy COE, with four day- and sleeper-cab lengths and swing-out ‘staircase’ cab entry.
A ‘fleet-spec’ version of the Century Class, the Columbia, came in 2000 and the less-aero Coronado in 2002, to compete with traditional ‘West Coast’ styled Peterbilts and Kenworths.
Also in 2002, the Business Class range received a purpose-designed aluminium cab, to replace the older steel one. The new M2 models were powered by MBE 900 and 4000 engines.
While all this was going on, Daimler had something of a speeding spree, acquiring Oshkosh and American La France in 1995; Sterling in 1997; Thomas Built Buses in 1998 and WesternStar and Detroit Diesel in 2000.
In the early 2000s, emissions compliance and market conditions dictated some rationalisation of the Daimler US product range and the introduction of all-new engines.
Momentum returned in 2007, with the introduction of the Cascadia, to replace the Century Class and, in 2009, the Coronado range was expanded to take over from the FLD Classic and a severe-service version was added.
With the demise of Sterling in 2009, the M2 range received additional severe-duty – SD – models.
In 2012 the Argosy was upgraded to allow emissions compliance with EPA-2007 (ADR80/03).
Freightliner Down Under
Mercedes-Benz trucks had sold well in Australia in the post-War period, but the shift to longer, heavier combinations in the mid-1970s didn’t suit the current COE M-B product, with its set-back front axle. Also, the change from the 1418’s in-line six-cylinder diesel to V-engines that suited European operators was another issue.
When Daimler bought out Freightliner in the USA in 1981 there was a possible solution to this problem: using a bonneted Freightliner truck instead of the COE ‘Benz for Australian operators.
Two FLC120s were converted to right hand drive and shipped Down Under in late 1982. They underwent severe testing and one of them still survives, in the national Road Transport Hall of Fame Museum, in Alice Springs. Despite its durability, the FLC120 was too long for Australian dimension regulations, but the 1983 FLC112 was just the ticket.
Unfortunately, US operators liked the FLC112 very much, so product availability was limited. However, the RHD conversion work was done and testing began in the USA. By 1988 the US and Australian engineers were satisfied and the Aussie FLC112 was released here in 1989.
Product shortages plagued the new Freightliner, so although it was very well received by the market, it took MBA four years to sell the first 500 trucks. Local assembly allowed some degree of customisation.
The original specification was Cummins NT365, Eaton RTO-14613, 13-speed box, Rockwell SP40 diffs and Freightliner four-spring steel suspension, but the options list grew to incorporate more powerful Cummins engines, as well as Detroit Diesel’s Series 60 and Caterpillar 3406 engines, rated at up to 550hp, with 18-speed boxes and heavier back ends on Airliner air/leaf springs.
In 1995 a lower-spec’, short-haul version was released, with single headlamps replacing the line-hauler’s twin pair and a choice of Cummins M11, Cat 3176 or Series 60 11.1-litre diesels. Because tariffs had been reduced, this spec’ was fully imported.
The short-haul FLC112 had limited success, because it was often ‘too much truck’ for the urban task, so in 1997 it was replaced by the Business Class FL112.
The proved FLC112 was replaced by the new Century Class in 1999, after 2012 trucks had been sold.
The first Business Class model in Australia was the FL80, in 1994. Development of RHD models had been difficult, because of restricted under-bonnet and firewall space. The solution was a Unimog-style cross shaft behind the dashboard, with universal-jointed connections between two bevel-gear boxes.
The Aussie FL80 was launched initially with Cat’s 3126 engine and Cummins’ C8.3 as an option, but the C8.3 proved more popular. Boral took hundreds of FL80s, with Allison MD3560 six-speed auto boxes. Additional FL80s were crew cabs and 6×2 and 6×4 versions.
In 1995 the larger Business Class FL106 was launched, with four-cylinder, 315hp Detroit Diesel Series 50 power and a nine-speed Eaton. Heavy rotating mass made this truck difficult to shift smoothly and it wasn’t popular.
The largest Business Class truck was released in 1997. The FL112 was powered by a Cummins M11, with Eaton 13- or 18-speed box, Rockwell RT-40-145 tandem and Airliner suspension.
In the USA, in 2002, the FL was replaced by the new M2 Business Class and no RHD engineering had been done on this truck, so that was the end of the FL range in Australia, after total sales of 2095 trucks. Daimler’s acquisition of Sterling filled the agitator market gap and the Columbia replaced the FL112 in 2004.
B-Doubles had virtually taken over the Australian line-haul scene in the early 1990s and, even with the increase in overall length to 25 metres from 1995, the best fit for a 34-pallet combination was a COE prime mover with a set-forward front axle.
Freightliner had kept its COE in production in the USA, although sales were limited. So, a RHD version of the aged FLB was released at the 1997 Brisbane Truck Show, after Mercedes-Benz Australia had agreed to take 100 units. It wasn’t pretty with its letter-box-sized windscreens, but it tared under nine tonnes with N14-460, 18-speed box and Meritor RT46-160 diffs on Airliner suspension and 1000 litres of fuel on board.
The 40-year-old FLB cab sold reasonably quickly, in time for the launch of the modern Argosy in 2000.
Being imported American-built units, initial Argosys suffered from US production quality issues that were gradually rectified and a relaunch was done in 2006.
For 2008, ADR80/02 dictated a larger cooling package and that problem was solved befitting an auxiliary radiator in the left front wheel arch.
Freightliner Down Under isn’t slowing down. The Cascadia was announced in 2020.