Historic Truck Brands
Volvo (Latin meaning ‘I roll’) was formed in late 1926, preparing for the production of cars which started in April 1927, but it was soon clear that there was only modest demand in Sweden for a relatively expensive Swedish car.
The fledgling company tuned its attention to trucks and, in February 1928, the first Volvo truck left the factory in Gothenburg. The first 500 trucks sold out in six months, during which time a second series was planned and manufactured.
The Volvo ‘Series 1’ was powered by a 28hp four-cylinder petrol engine, with a three-speed gearbox and payload was 1500kg. The Series 2 was similar, but with wider-track axles and a changed rear axle ratio. Like its predecessor the Series 2 had two-wheel brakes and wooden-spoke wheels.
In 1932 Volvo released the LV71 and LV73 series, with side-valve engine, four-speed gearbox and hydraulic four-wheel brakes.
The COE LV75 version was introduced at the Amsterdam Motor Show in Holland early in 1933.
In 1934 the LV66 and the LV68 trucks came with more powerful 65hp overhead valve petrol or Hesselman diesel engines. A bus version could carry 34 people.
The LV93 four-tonner was launched in 1936, followed by the five-ton LV290 and six-wheel 61/2-tonner. A bus variant, with 7.6-litre Hessleman diesel was also available.
Sweden was neutral in Word War Two and an LV140 five-tonner appeared in 1944. This truck and the B50 bus version shared the same 5.7-litre, overhead-valve petrol engine.
In 1946 Volvo introduced its own diesel engine in the LV150 truck. The six-cylinder, 6.1-litre put out 95hp.
Volvo’s export business developed in the post-War period and the L395 8.5-tonner proved popular, in 4×2 and 6×2 configurations.
Bus launches included the B658, with underfloor diesel and the B635 and B727 rear-engined models. The L495 heavy truck introduced ZF power steering.
Volvo built a specialised L2304 4×4 military vehicle called the Laplander. This 2.5-ton payload vehicle was designed to tow a powered trailer for the Swedish Army. Other military products were the TL11, TL12 and TL22 4×4 and 6×6 trucks, powered by 105-115hp petrol engines; and the heavy-duty TL31 6×6, with 9.6-litre diesel power.
Titan L39 and L49 trucks were introduced in 1951, with 9.6-litre, direct-injection diesels. Lighter-duty COE introductions in 1956 were L42/L43 models and the bus chassis had grown to 51-passenger size.
Volvo’s first tilt-cab truck was the 1962 L4751 Raske TipTop 7.5-tonner. This truck was powered by a 4.7-litre diesel and had a five-speed synchromesh transmission and optional two-speed rear axle. Also optional were air brakes, exhaust brake and turbocharging to bring output up to 125hp.
In 1963/64 the smaller COE models were upgraded with a Perkins diesel option, complementing the Volvo petrol V8. They were renamed F82/F83, introducing the ‘F’ nomenclature for COE models.
Volvo truly entered the global arena in 1965, with the introduction of the F85/F86 and the F88.
The F85/F86 were based on the TipTop models, but came with turbocharged diesel power as standard. The F88 was based on the bonnetted Titan truck.
The F86 became a huge seller for Volvo all around the world, thanks to its powerful seven-litre turbo engine and R60 eight-speed, range-change, synchromesh transmission at a time when most trucks had ‘crash’ boxes and two-speed diffs. Configurations were 4×2, 6×2, 6×4 and 8×4.
From the outset the linehaul ’88’ model was targeted at maximum legal payload haulage in all markets. Volvo took a step that no other European maker was prepared to do: designing forward (FFA) and rear-set (NFA) steering axle options for these trucks that were G88 and F88, respectively. These dimension changes were critical in complying with some export-market – Australia included – bridge formula legislation.
As direct result, Volvo scored export business the other Europeans couldn’t get. By the time these extreme-axle length laws and front axle load laws were relaxed in the 1980s and the other makers could then compete, Volvo had already established a strong customer and dealership base.
The ’88’ models had a 260hp, 9.6-litre turbo-diesel engine, standard eight-speed R61 synchro box and double-reduction single drive axle. For Australia, the box was upgraded to SR61, 16-speed, splitter/range-change and Hendrickson/Rockwell tandem drive was fitted.
Five years later, the 12-litre, 330hp F89/G89 was released and the B59 monocoque bus appeared, along with the B58 underfloor coach.
Coinciding with these COE developments, the bonneted Titan N86/N88 chassis was redesigned around unique rolled rails with thicker flanges than webs; a new cab and bonnet were designed and the N-Series was born in 1972. It came with forward-set and rear-set steer axles and a choice of seven-litre, 9.6-litre and 12-litre Volvo engines.
In 1977 the 88/89 models were replaced by the F10 and F12 models. Two years later the Globetrotter, high-roof sleeper was added to the F12 range.
Volvo’s medium truck range was updated in 1975, with the introduction of the F4 and F6 trucks. The models used the so-called ‘Club of Four Cab’ – a joint sheet metal venture between DAF, Magirus, Saviem and Volvo.
This shared cab proved very successful and in 1977 a widened version of the F4/F6 cab was fitted to the F86 replacement, the F7.
After Daimler-Benz took over Freightliner in the USA, in 1981, Volvo acted to protect its US business, by buying the White Motor Corporation.
When Volvo took over the truck assets of White, the White/Autocar product programme consisted of the Road Boss conventional truck, the Road Commander 2 COE truck, the low-built Road Xpeditor 2 COE truck, the Autocar DC heavy duty construction truck and the Road Constructor 2.
During the 1980s, improved versions of these trucks were introduced, including the Integral Sleeper (1982) long-distance truck, the Conventional (1983) upgraded Conventional truck, the Autocar DS (1984) successor to the Road Constructor 2, the Integral Tall Sleeper (1985) truck which was the ‘Globetrotter’ of America, the aerodynamic ‘Aero’ (1987) truck, the Autocar (1987) construction truck with the option of using an integrated driveline (engine+gearbox+rear axle) designed and produced by Volvo and the short conventional WG (1988) truck.
From 1981, White and White-GMC – after Volvo bought GMC from General Motors in 1988 – increased their market share and, since 1995, all US-market trucks are sold under the ‘Volvo’ name.
The FL range replaced the F4 and F6 in 1985 and the FL7 replaced the F86. A new model, the FL10 was added and the F10 was dropped.
In 1987, Volvo’s new 16-litre engine powered the F16 and, in 1989, the N-Series was replaced by the NL10 and NL12. The seven-litre was dropped from the bonnetted range.
Volvo’s big news in the 1990s was replacement of the F12 and F16 trucks with FH models. The FH was awarded Europe’s ‘Truck of the Year’ award in 1994. In 2000, the upgraded FH12 won the award again – the first time a single truck model has done this.
In 1996 the VN conventional truck was released in the USA and, a year later, the VN770 models. The Australian version was the NH that was dropped after the Volvo-Mack takeover, under which arrangement Australian bonneted trucks would be Macks and COEs would be Volvos. However, the NH lives on in Brazil.
In 1998 the FM range replaced the FLs.
Volvo is the world’s second largest truck manufacturing company, after Daimler-Benz.
Volvo Down Under
The success of Volvo in Australia began with the efforts of one man: Max Winkless, who left school at the tender age of 13 and, after labouring jobs, found himself driving a truck around Sydney.
By age 24, Winkless had worked himself into the role of manager and part-owner of Sydney-based road transport company Antill Ranger, while continuing to do the occasional driving stint.
He would often check out new routes, including triple road-train trips across the Nullarbor. With the need to do its own vehicle servicing Antill Ranger also formed Truck Sales & Service – a company that also held import and distribution rights for Commer and Mack.
Antill Ranger sold out to Mayne Nickless in 1960, but Max Winkless continued to operate Truck Sales & Service.
The Macks were at top-shelf, linehaul pricing and the Commer ‘Knockers’ were much lower-priced, but there was a need for a truck range to compete with the successful ‘Benz 1418.
So Max travelled to Europe looking for a new product and settled on Volvo. Swedish Motors in Wollongong was set up to import and assemble Volvo trucks. With his intimate knowledge of the Australian road transport scene Max Winkless was able to advise the Swedes on the necessary specification changes needed for market success.
Most European trucks were 4x2s or 6x2s and only heavy haulage trucks used 6×4 configuration, with 26-tonne rear suspensions and low-speed hub-reduction axles, so a lighter-weight tandem drive rear end was an obvious necessity for Australian-market rigid trucks and prime movers.
Early Volvo three-axle trucks Down Under came with Volvo-approved, US-made Hendrickson walking beam suspensions and Rockwell drive axles. Later on, Volvo developed its own lightweight tandem drives and suspension systems.
There was some doubt about the viability of Volvo’s all-synchromesh transmissions in the Australian environment, but the Swedes resisted a change to Roadranger boxes.
The first four F86 Volvos arrived in Australia in early 1966 and went into service on the Melbourne to Adelaide run with Mayne Nickless. They were followed by F88s and G88s and the subsequent market success has been well documented.
However, it wasn’t plain sailing for the new marque. Australian truck drivers in the 1960s and 1970s were accustomed to constant-mesh transmissions that needed very little clutch pedal use when gear changing. Volvo’s synchromesh gearbox needed a full clutch pedal depression to avoid premature wear.
While driver education was stepped up, a transmission rebuild program was set up at Volvo’s Sydney HQ. The need for significant ‘Australianising’ was soon understood by the Swedes, who later used Australia as the testing ground for its prototype vehicles.
That early reliability issue was later mirrored in other ‘teething’ problems with engines and transmissions, but support for operators was obviously sufficient for the brand to have continued success Down Under.