The 1970s was a decade of refinement in the truck industry. More European manufacturers were beginning to fit their trucks with tilt-cabs (a move pioneered by Volvo in 1962) and turbocharged engines (Volvo had been the first back in 1954). The horsepower rating of engines also grew, resulting in increased average speeds. The decade also saw the emergence of a new breathtaking series of trucks that would set the trend of truck design for years to come: the Volvo F10/F12 (and the Globetrotter version). Now hold your breath and dig deeper into the different Volvo trucks of the '70s.
Volvo has been a major producer of cross-country vehicles since 1939/40 (more than 10 years earlier, in 1928, Volvo delivered the first standard vehicle for military use: trucks of the very first type that Volvo produced from 1928 onwards).
A purpose-built special vehicle
Normally, cross-country vehicles have been civilian truck types which have been converted to all-wheel-drive. On several occasions, however, purpose-built special vehicles in the light class have been developed. The ultimate example of this was the C3 generation of vehicles, perhaps the most efficient light-duty cross-country vehicle ever developed and series-produced.
The C3 was both a civilian and military vehicle, which was (apart from military use) used in areas like power production, fire fighting and road construction.
Great fame was won by the C3 vehicle when it participated in the Paris-Dakar rally, the toughest and most severe vehicle rally in the world. In January 1983, two 3.5-tonne C303 vehicles participated in the Paris-Dakar. One of them, driven by Hasse Henriksson, Ingemar Östeberg and John Granäng, won the light truck category after about 10,000 kilometres of cross-country and desert driving under severe conditions, for the most part in terrain without regular roads.
This event, which took place near the very end of the production period of the C3 vehicle generation, demonstrated the qualities of this latest generation of Volvo light-duty cross country mobility vehicles. The C3 generation of vehicles included a large number of versions for various purposes. With a GVW of between 3.5 and 5.5 tonnes, with two or three axles (all driven), versions were available for every military and civilian use.
Simple and advanced at the same time
The total number of C3 vehicles produced was limited, due particularly to the comparatively high price for this sophisticated vehicle. The technical specification was both simple and advanced, with a powerful straight-in-line six cylinder engine and special front- and rear axles where the wheels were situated lower than the centre of the axles, something which contributed to a very high-placed bottom floor of the vehicle, a major explanation behind the good off-road driving capability.
In duty with the Swedish defence force
Normally, the C3 light-duty truck was used for conveyance of personnel or goods, but the military applications also included other tasks like ambulance service, mobile base for intelligence staff and even as a base for anti-tank guns and robots. This was to some extent the same service as had been performed by the predecessor P2304/L3304/L3314/L3315, but new tasks were made possible by the capacity of this vehicle, which by far exceeded the figures of the predecessor a little more than a decade earlier.
The major customer for the C3 was the Swedish defence forces, which had originally requested the design of it. It was also, however, sold to military forces in other countries, often in versions adapted to the special needs of the terrain in their respective countries.
Despite the fact that Volvo was in the early 1960s a very successful international truck manufacturer, the number of medium-duty trucks produced annually by Volvo was far to small to enable the development of a first-class medium-duty truck alone. Since Volvo had the ambition to grow in this segment as well, the solution was to seek development partners among other relatively small European manufacturers in this segment.
The Club of Four
The result was the 'Club of Four' which was formed in the early 1970s and which had a design office in Paris, France. This 'club' was formed by Volvo, DAF, Klöckner-Humboldt-Deutz ('Magirus') and Saviem (a French make which later merged with Berliet to form 'Renault Vehicules Industriels'). All these four manufacturers shared the ambition to develop a modern ergonomic high-quality medium-duty distribution truck.
The 'Club of Four' was a fairly successful joint project. Despite the fact that the trucks resulting from these various manufacturers looked very similar there were distinct differences between the Volvo trucks and the other trucks.
Unique, in terms of safety and engine
The 'Light-duty F' trucks (the most common nickname for the Volvo trucks of this family) was presented by Volvo in 1975, in a number of models for various transport tasks. It was clear that the Volvo 'Light-duty F' trucks were unique in some areas, particularly in terms of safety and the engine.
In the mid 70s, not all truck manufacturers were concerned with safety. For that reason, three out of the four manufacturers were not interested in strengthening the cabs for their trucks in order to withstand the severe Swedish cab crash-safety tests. For Volvo, of course, it was necessary to reinforce all 'Light-duty F' trucks (not only those intended for the Swedish market, but for all markets).
The different philosophy of Volvo
The result was, of course, that the 'Light-duty F' trucks from Volvo were markedly more safe than the other three manufacturers´ trucks, even in markets where there was direct competition between all four makes and where the Swedish safety regulations were not mandatory.
Also when it came to the engines, Volvo had a slightly different philosophy from the other truck manufacturers. Volvo, being a pioneer in the area of turbocharging, chose to offer turbocharged engines in all of the heavier 'Light-duty F' trucks (from 13 tonnes GVW), and in the early 1980s even the lightest types of this range received turbocharged engines, making Volvo the first truck manufacturer in the world to exclusively produce ONLY turbocharged trucks.
Introducing the new F range
When Volvo introduced this range in 1975, the heavier 'F6' model featured a direct-injection 6-litre Volvo engine, while the lightest version 'F4' featured a Perkins engine, which was replaced by the in-line-six TD40 engine (produced in Volvo's engine plant in Vara, Sweden) which thanks to its pre-combustion-chamber design and turbocharging featured clean emissions. The new 'F4' version of 1978 with the Volvo TD40 engine was easily identified by a diagonal bar in the grille, a design feature which has since become an integrated feature of all Volvo trucks.
The F4 and F6 trucks became very popular and greatly expanded the Volvo market-share in the medium-duty segment. The F6 played a major role in establishing Volvo trucks in the USA (the USA soon became the major market for the F6 trucks).
Working in an international environment
The F4/F6 trucks were important in establishing Volvo as an international producer of trucks, since the design process took place in an international environment. As previously mentioned, the design of the basic cab took place in Paris. The design of the Volvo F4/F6 trucks themselves took place in the Volvo Oostakker facility near Ghent, Belgium.
In Oostakker a completely new modern truck factory was erected for the production of the F4/F6 truck, a factory which later also started producing heavy-duty Volvo trucks. This factory is today the main European Volvo truck factory, and the second largest Volvo truck assembly plant in the world.
In 'the old days' there were distinct differences between different sizes of trucks: light trucks had a small engine and were intended for light loads on good roads. Medium duty trucks were the link between light and heavy-duty trucks, and primarily intended for distribution transport only, while heavy-duty trucks were intended for a wide variety of purposes, from construction-site tasks to long-distance transport.
Mixing a number of great features
Today, the improved efficiency of engines even of smaller size together with computer-aided-design mean that it is possible to design 'smaller' trucks which can perform heavy-duty tasks, at least as long as no trailer is attached to the truck.
At the time the F6S was introduced it was mostly the heavier family member 'F7' which was the focus of the attention. But the F6S was in fact a very interesting truck, where Volvo had created a mix of a medium-duty chassis, rugged design and a very efficient turbocharged engine with a performance well in excess of its formal engine capacity.
A "small" heavy-duty truck
The F6S was a close relative of the F6 truck presented in 1975. The chassis was fairly similar to the design of the heaviest F6 version (F613/F614) but strengthened even more. Even though the F6S was considered as a powerful medium-duty truck, its formal GVW of 16,000 kg (earlier 15,500 kg) meant that it was strictly speaking a heavy-duty truck, but intended for a smaller range of transport applications than the more powerful Volvo trucks with larger engines.
Normally, the F6S was only marketed as a two-axle truck for distribution operations, but its very low kerb weight was utilized in places like the UK, where the F6S was used also for construction site transport, and was even tried in three-axle model with successful results.
Developed in cooperation
The cab was identical with the day cab of the F7 truck, and closely related to the F4/F6 cab, but wider. It had also, in fact, been developed in cooperation within the 'Club of Four', but it was only Volvo and Renault that used this particular wide, cab version. The Volvo cab was of course stronger than the Renault version, and was designed to withstand the severe Swedish cab safety test regulations. The engine was identical to the engine in the most powerful F6 truck. It was, of course, direct-injected and turbocharged.
The F6S was only produced in the ultra-modern assembly facility in Oostakker, Belgium, in parallel with the F4/F6 trucks. It was superseded by the strongest version of the FL6 in 1985.
Perhaps despite the fact that the Volvo truck has for a long time been considered 'The Drivers´ Truck', the main feature of Volvo trucks has always been that of efficiency. This feature has not been more evident in any segment than in heavy-duty trucks with 'medium-size' engine capacity of between 6 and 7.5 litres.
A proud heritage to defend
The 'Viking' and the 'F86' are two of the most famous trucks ever, regardless of make. For this reason, the F7 had a proud heritage to defend and improve when it was introduced late in 1978. Many people certainly had doubts, since there were numerous truck owners and drivers who considered the F86 to be unbeatable. But the F7 succeeded in defending the Volvo leadership in the 'light heavy-duty' class.
Deciding on a larger cab
The F7 had in fact been developed in parallel with the F10/F12, and there had been thoughts of using a slightly narrower F10/F12 cab for the new truck. In the end, however, it was found that the larger cab frame was a bit too sophisticated and slightly too heavy for the new F7 truck, and it was instead decided to develop a wider version of the smaller F6 cab (partly within the framework of the 'Club of Four').
As a result, the F7 cab became fairly simple (with rubber mountings to the chassis instead of spiral suspension) and slightly wider than the F4/F6 cab (but still within the maximum width limit of 230 cm, which applied at this time in countries like Switzerland and Holland). The F7 shared the day cab with the slightly lighter F6S, but featured also a light sleeper cab, and crew cabs with seating for four to six persons were even offered.
A bestseller in Europe
The F7 was a Global truck in the true meaning of the word. It soon became a bestseller in nearly every part of Europe, and was also a bestseller in distant markets like Australia and the United States, even if the preference for bonneted N trucks prevented excessive sales of the F7 in developing countries.
The main feature of the F7 was its total adaptability to nearly every possible transport task. The basic use of the F7 in many countries was as a strong distribution truck. Thanks to the turbocharged engine with Intercooler (which was a novelty on the F7 truck, but which would soon be offered on several more trucks within the Volvo product programme) and the efficient 8 or 16-speed gearboxes long-distance transport was also a popular area of use, where the F7 with its low chassis weight had an extremely high payload capacity.
The Truck of the year
The F7 was awarded the 'Truck of the Year' trophy from a distinguished jury of European truck journalist in 1979 (Volvo would get four more 'Truck of the Year' trophies in 1984, 1986, 1994 and 2000).
Within their limitations (for instance, the fact that the cab was rigidly mounted, not tilting) the F82 and F83, the successors to the L42 and L43 from 1956/57, were successful trucks. They served distribution transport customers well in Scandinavia and some other countries like the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland.
Reinforcing the cab structure
But the fact was, that the L42/L43 and F82/F83 were aging in the late 1960s. In contrast to most of the other trucks included in the radical new 'System 8' generation, they had not been modernized since the 1950s (apart from the introduction of diesel engines with modest output in place of the fuel-thirsty V8 petrol engine).
In contrast to all other (heavier) trucks in the Volvo truck programme, these models had not been tested according to the tough Swedish safety cab test. In order to make sure that the safety level of these light to medium-duty trucks was increased, the cab structure (which had always been made out of steel) was reinforced.
Further extensive updating
At the same time the exterior was redesigned slightly to make the overall appearance more modern, such as by adding a black grille instead of the previous traditional front with horizontal bars which did not go well with the rest of the modern range of Volvo trucks of the era.
Moving the engine forwards was, however, the most important change; it improved the weight distribution and, together with the forward move of the gearbox, improved driver ergonomics in respect of gear changes (previously the driver had to lean backwards to the right when changing gears).
The new F82 and F83 with the "S"
With the updating of these light to medium-class vehicles, they became more acceptable for the customers of the 1970s, even if it was obvious that there was a quite urgent need for a modern medium-duty Volvo truck with better ergonomic and safety properties, as well as a tilt cab. It was for this reason that the cooperation within the 'Club of Four' was begun almost exactly at the same time as the introduction of the F82S/F83S. This cooperation would result in a completely new range of medium-duty trucks about three years later.
The F82S/F83S were the last light to medium-duty trucks built in Sweden. The next generation of medium-duty trucks would be built in a completely new facility in Oostakker, Belgium.
Truck drivers have always appreciated having a great amount of horsepower under the bonnet (or under the cab). It is always good to be able to boast about it to fellow truck drivers, but in fact ample power is a safety feature which facilitates the truck driver's ability to hold the same average speed as car drivers, an important part of overall road safety.
A minimum number of horsepower
While the overall Gross Train Weights of truck combinations had grown after WW II, some trucks still had relatively small and weak engines (it was primarily the Swedish truck manufacturers, and in particular Volvo, that played a major role in the introduction of powerful turbocharged engines).
For this reason, the imposition of a minimum number of horsepower per tonne GTW was discussed in legal circles in a number of European countries.
The Germans pave the way
Germany has always been a leading country when it comes to automobile and truck design, and a major proportion of its transportation is performed by trucks. As a result of this, German legislators decided to introduce a minimum horsepower per tonne train weight in the late 1960s. Since a number of European manufacturers of heavy trucks wanted to sell trucks in Germany, this influenced to a great extent the growth of extra powerful engines, a trend which has been present ever since.
There were two different ways available when designing stronger engines; extremely large (and heavy) naturally aspirated engines with up to ten cylinders and volumes of up to 18 litres, and smaller (12 to 14 litres) efficient and fairly light turbocharged engines. German manufacturers were among those who chose the first alternative, while the second was chosen by the Swedish manufacturers.
Introducing the F89 and G89
Volvo was the only manufacturer to choose an in-line-six engine with turbocharging to comply with the German requirements. The result was the F89 (and G89, with forward-placed front axle) which would achieve a leading position in the exclusive segment of high-output modern trucks of the 1970s. Apart from the new 12-litre engine, the choice of components was made from the 'menu' of proven Volvo components.
Naturally, Volvo wanted to use exclusively Volvo components, so apart from the Volvo TD120A engine (of 330 horsepower, to cope with the 8 horsepower demand for 38 tonnes train weight) the Volvo SR61 all-synchronized 16-speed range-change gearbox and the NR2 rear axle with hub reduction was chosen for the new Volvo 'Supertruck'.
Standard on long-distances
The F89/G89 soon became a standard truck for fast European long-distance transport, as well as for Scandinavian timber transport with (legal) train weights of up to 52 tonnes (but it is rumoured that sometimes even greater loads could be handled) and the G89 was used even for Australian Roadtrains with GTWs of about 100 tonnes.
The Globetrotter (not in fact a special model but a term for top-of-the-range versions of long-distance heavy-duty Volvo trucks) is perhaps the biggest success in the history of Volvo Truck Division/Volvo Truck Corporation. The Globetrotter quickly built up a reputation as the most luxurious truck in the world.'
Intended as a mobile hotel
Initially, the Globetrotter was never intended as a luxury truck for western Europe, but as a mobile hotel for truck drivers in countries behind the former 'Iron curtain'. Before 'The Wall' fell, it was very tough for the drivers from these countries to perform long-distance-transports, since they could bring very little western currency on their missions to 'The West'.
Volvo decided to supply the transport companies in these countries with a truck cab which had huge interior space and features not previously found in truck cabs, like refrigerator, water tank, sink, kitchen, etc (all these features, except the huge interior space, were available at extra cost).
Increasing driver efficiency
Thanks to the introduction of the F10/F12 trucks two years earlier, however, the transport companies and their drivers had realised that the comfort of a high-class truck cab was not only beneficial to driver comfort, health and safety, but also to the efficiency of the driver.
As a result of this, the popularity of the new Volvo Globetrotter exceeded all expectations. Suddenly 'everyone' wanted the Globetrotter cab/truck. Actually, there were two different reasons for choosing the Globetrotter cab: to provide ultra-high comfort for a single driver, or to make room for two drivers on missions where this was necessary (the vertical space between the bunks in a 'normal' cab is limited).
Still a luxury symbol
For 20 years, the Globetrotter cab has been the ultimate symbol of a luxury cab, where the luxury contributes not only to driver satisfaction, but to increased driver efficiency and thereby to more economical transport.
In the 1960s, the F truck (without a bonnet, with the engine under the cab) became more and more dominant in European and global heavy-duty transport. This was a trend particularly set by a leading German manufacturer that wanted to rationalise the manufacture of its trucks due to the dominance of F trucks in Germany.
For the two Swedish manufacturers, each with a major part of the sales in every area of the world outside their home market, it was natural to continue to offer 'conventional' trucks (as they are called in North America and elsewhere) of modern design.
The future of the N truck
In the late 1960s, Volvo faced large investments. The N trucks (N86 and N88) were in design terms almost unchanged since 1951 (when the L39 Titan was introduced) and the number of N trucks were decreasing, since F trucks were constantly increasing their share of the total truck population.
But Volvo was convinced that the N truck had a future for distinct transport operations and for several markets. The management of the new 'Volvo Truck Division' decided to go ahead with a completely new truck project, which would also use the as yet secret 12-litre engine of the F89/G89.
Combining great strength with light weight
The N truck was designed with rugged strength and transport economy in mind. Low weight in combination with the ability to cope with even the toughest transport tasks were priority targets in the development process. One typical example of this was the completely new frame rail design, which was developed together with Swedish steel producers.
To combine great strength with light weight, the frame rails had different thickness in vertical and horizontal parts. This was one of the reasons behind the light weight of this truck, an optimised cab, fibreglass bonnet and ultra-efficient engines with turbocharger being other weight-saving features.
A truly global truck…
The N truck became a global truck in the true sense of this word. Even if Scandinavia was a typical home market for the N7, N10 and N12, Australian Roadtrains were often hauled by the N12. For the Volvo expansion in North America it was vital to be able to offer a modern conventional truck. For this reason the N10 was introduced in the United States in 1978 as a semi-trailer tractor.
Later also the N12 with its bigger engine and dumper trucks were introduced into North America. In Brazil, the N trucks were introduced in 1980, and have since been (together with its successors NL10/NL12 and the NH) a platform for the Volvo success in South America.
…gaining wide acceptance
One of the reasons behind the wide acceptance of the N10 and N12 trucks were the extremely tough double-drive 6x4 T-ride bogie, with its extremely good adhesion to the ground which meant that a 6x4 Volvo N truck could often compete with all-wheel-drive trucks when it came to cross-country mobility (all-wheel-drive N trucks were also available, for applications where maximum off-road capability was necessary).
The new product designation
With the N trucks, the new system for Volvo truck product designation was introduced; 'N' or 'F' designated whether the truck had a bonnet or not, while a figure designated the approximate size of the engine in litres.
The N truck was available with day cab, sleeper cab or crew cab, which meant that there was always a correct cab variant available for every transport application.
In the first half of Volvo's truck history, Volvo was often a fairly conservative company when it came to products. This was very much due to the lack of resources for design and testing of that era, coupled with ultra-reliability which was often present in existing designs from the old days (provided they were not stressed to the limit, of course).
In the forefront of European design
When Volvo grew and obtained larger resources, Volvo started to be in the forefront of European design. An example was the F86 and F88 trucks, which when introduced were unique in Europe but were influenced by American design trends.
Certainly, the most dramatic products ever introduced by Volvo were the F10 and F12 trucks of 1977. These revolutionary trucks created a completely new standard for ergonomics and safety. All trucks (of all makes) introduced during the last two decades have to a large extent been influenced by these trucks.
A special team for safety and ergonomics
Prompted perhaps by the influence of drivers and their Scandinavian organisations in the 1960 s and 1970s, Volvo created a special group for increased safety and ergonomics, one of the activities of which were to investigate all truck accidents in Sweden in order to find ways of designing safer trucks and more ergonomic trucks in the future. The most dramatic results were the F10/F12 trucks, but the same thinking has of course improved Volvo trucks ever since.
The basic chassis components and also the driveline components of the new trucks were to a large extent based on the ones introduced in 1973 for the new N trucks, which guaranteed that these components were thoroughly tried and tested. This was not the most revolutionary part of the new heavy-duty F trucks from Volvo.
Focus on preventing accidents...
The cab was mounted to the chassis with spiral suspension, creating a much softer environment for the driver, thereby eliminating much of the back pains and other health risks which had up to then been harmful for driver health in the long run. The ergonomics were also improved by the possibility of adjusting the steering wheel according to the driver's personal taste. In contrast to many other previous trucks, the new F trucks had very large windows which meant improved vision, adding to the 'active safety' (i.e. reducing the risks of an accident occurring).
Since these trucks were used to a large extent for long-distance transport a special luggage compartment was included, which was accessible from an exterior door (locked from the inside to reduce the risk of burglary).
...and reducing injuries
Integrated air conditioning was a novelty in Europe (previous air-conditioning was often an accessory blowing cold air only through a single outlet, creating a strong flow of air towards restricted parts of the driver's body, often harmful for the health instead of protecting it). Passive safety was improved through padding in the cab and the lack of sharp parts in the cab, reducing the risk of injury if an accident should occur. The cab was, of course, tested according to the Swedish cab test regulations, the most demanding in the world.
A light safety cab
Despite the sophisticated cab, careful design contributed to a fairly modest cab weight, but it would have been difficult, at a time before computer-aided-design was generally available, to make a safety cab like this as light as a 'normal' (not safety-oriented) cab.
The original version of the F10/F12 featured a flat roof, which is easily identified. A Globetrotter version would not be offered until 1979.