Historic Truck Brands


In the 1930s, loggers in Washington State hauled felled timber to the river’s edge and floated it downstream to the mills. This arrangement didn’t suit Tacoma plywood maker and timber seller, T A Peterman, who wanted a quicker, more reliable way of getting his logs.


He began by rebuilding used military trucks, upgrading them where he could. In 1938, after the Great Depression, he purchased the assets of Fageol Trucks, which had gone into receivership in 1932. 

Peterman built his new Peterbilt trucks on the Fageol designs and initially produced two chain-drive logging trucks that proved unsuccessful. However, post-1939 models incorporated innovations that included aluminium chassis, for on-highway trucks. Engines came from Cummins, Hall-Scott and Waukesha.  

T A  Peterman died in 1944 and his widow, Ida, sold Peterbilt Motors Co to seven employees, but retained ownership of the plant and the land. Peterbilt flourished as a maker of bonneted 6×4 and 6×6 on- and off-highway trucks and also introduced a COE model in 1952.

In 1953 the distinctive ‘Peterbilt’ red oval badge was adopted.

An interesting innovation in the mid-1950s was the ‘Dromedary’ design that was jointly developed by Peterbilt and Pacific Intermountain Express freight company. This vehicle was a 4×2, 6×4 or 8×4 long-wheelbase truck, fitted with van bodywork as far aft as a fifth wheel coupling for a following semi-trailer.

It was the precursor to West Coast Doubles that were single-drive prime movers hauling single-axle 20-feet trailers.

In 1958, Ida Peterman announced plans to sell the property, to develop a shopping centre. The shareholders, not wanting to invest in a new manufacturing facility, sold the company in June 1958 to Pacific Car & Foundry Co, then primarily a manufacturer of railroad freight cars, had already acquired the assets of heavy truck competitor Kenworth in 1944. 

Pacific Car & Foundry started construction of a modern 176,000-square-foot (16,400 m2) manufacturing facility in Newark, California in 1958 and, in 1960, Peterbilt production moved to the new facility. Pacific Car & Foundry Co changed its name to Paccar in 1972.


Peterbilt truck models

The first Peterbilts were Fageol designs – the 260 4×2 with chain drive and the 334 with a shaft-drive tandem bogie – were produced for two years, before new Peterbilts were released in 1941. The Peterman-designed truck models were 270 (4×2) and 6×4 on-highway 334 and heavy-duty 6×4 345, 354, 355 and 364. The 350 COE, ‘bubble-nose’ was released in 1952.

In 1954 the 351 conventional line-up had horizontal radiator shutters, instead of vertical ones and the 351 COE had a new cab. In 1959 that became a tilt-cab. A short-bonnet version of the 351, the 341 was also launched in 1954.

The conventional 351 scored a tilting bonnet in 1965 and, in 1972, a FRP bonnet. The severe-service 351L log-truck model had steel mudguards

In 1967 the 281/351 conventional models were replaced by the 289/359 that had a wider bonnet and larger grille, to accommodate bigger radiators.

The post-1970 348 and 353 models were aimed at construction and agitator work. The 348 replaced the 341 and featured a sloping FRP bonnet.

The low forward entry refuse truck cab on the Peterbilt CB300 was shared with Kenworth and released in 1975 and replaced by the CB310 in 1978.

Severe-service 381 and 383 trucks were 6×6 configuration and the 397 and 391 were 6×4 coal hauling or log trucks. Daddy of them all was the one-off 397, with 600hp and 250-ton capacity.

In 1981 the 362 COE replaced the 352 and offered multiple axle options, including twin-steer. A raised-roof, sleeper-above-cab version, the 372 ‘Darth Vader’, was launched in 1988.

Peterbilt’s 377, 378 and 379 were released in 1986-87. The 377 aped the Kenworth T600’s aerodynamics and the 378 was a higher-cab, sloping bonnet version of the classic 379.

The 357 severe-service, sloped-bonnet conventional was also released in 1986. It was similar to the 378, but with a heavier chassis.

Mid-Ranger 200 models we’re low-forward-entry COEs that used the Volkswagen/MAN LT/G90 cab. These trucks were launched in 1987 and replaced by the 210, with DAF LF cab, in 1999.

The 320 replacement for the low-forward-entry COE 310 was also released in 1987, as was the lightweight 349, sloped-bonnet prime mover that could be had with forward or set-back steer axle.

The 385, sloping-bonnet truck was released in 1996, to compete with the Freightliner FLD112.

In 1999, the aero 377 was replaced by the 387 that shared its new wide-cab structure with Kenworth’s T2000.

The 386 combined an aero bonnet with the traditional Peterbilt cab in 2005. The shorter BBC 384 was released two years later.

The venerable 379 was replaced by the 389 in 2006, with an even longer 131-inch BBC. This model was available in Australia, through third-party RHD conversion.

In January 2018 Peterbilt produced its 1,000,000th truck: a 567 Heritage.



Stay informed and receive our updates

From Jim Gibson & Allan Whiting directly to your inbox

You have Successfully Subscribed!