In the 1980s, trucks became even more sophisticated. Most cabs were modelled on the Volvo F10/F12/Globetrotter. Engines became better, stronger and, above all, more environmentally-friendly. And with increased use of air suspension systems, roads, goods and drivers enjoyed a much more comfortable life.
Furthermore, with the introduction of new legislation and the continuing process of international harmonisation, not only were trucks able to provide optimal transport efficiency as a sole means of transport, but also in combination with other forms of transportation such as railways, shipping and air transport.
Now check out the Volvo trucks of the '80s in more sophisticated detail.
Most trucks built by Volvo have been designed for a wide variety of different transport tasks and for global use. Sometimes national legislation has forced the introduction of very special trucks designed for one single country and built in fairly limited numbers. Swiss legislations
Perhaps the most unique special legislation has traditionally been enforced by Switzerland, for a number of reasons. Switzerland's special landscape and road conditions (including severe winters) have necessitated restricting the width of the vehicles to 230 cm, while most European countries have always permitted a maximum width of 250 cm (today 260 cm for refrigerated transport).
The hilly landscape and other factors (including the need to restrict the efficiency of trucks in favour of the railway) have also contributed to the fact that Switzerland has restricted the GVW and train weights to levels below those normally valid for other countries.
The special "CH230"
Volvo faced larger problems in this area than most other manufacturers in the late 1970s, since the designers in Gothenburg decided to make the F10/F12 truck with 'full width' (250 cm) for maximum space in the cab for the driver and his passenger, and also offer the longest possible bunk in the sleeper cab (which is of course dependent upon the width of the cab).
For this reason, Volvo decided to make a special version 'CH230' for the Swiss market, combining the F89 truck (which was made two years longer than the F89 truck in itself) with the narrow F86 front axle and a narrow N10 rear axle, thus offering a very powerful truck for an intermediate period, until a new specially adapted truck was available.
A compact powerful truck
The second (and final) version of the CH230 truck was presented early in 1980 at the Geneva truck show. This was in fact a chassis derived from the F10/F12, but with narrower axles and an F7 cab. Thanks to its optimal adaptation to Switzerland (sometimes with a cab painted in the Swiss colours of red and white) the CH230 soon gained a fair market share of the fairly small but respected Swiss truck market.
Due to the limited permitted total length and GTW figures, Swiss trucks often have had more than two, often three or even four, axles. For this reason the CH230 was most often delivered as a four-axle 8x4 chassis for construction work, something which contributed to the elegant shape of these powerful narrow compact trucks
The CH230 was a success. In 1986 it was superseded by the 'FS10' truck.
The F10 and F12 trucks introduced in 1977 soon became the biggest success that Volvo had ever experienced (up to the mid 1990s, more than 200,000 trucks of this range had been produced in total) so it was obvious that the lead which had been obtained with the F10/F12 had to be defended with continuous improvements and modernisation.
An ultra-modern chassis concept
When the F10/F12 had been introduced, a large part of the truck components including the chassis had been carried over from the N trucks of 1973. Now it was decided to complement the unique cab and novel philosophy of the F10/F12 with an ultra-modern chassis concept, which was to be introduced in 1983.
It is seldom mentioned how great the differences were between the three generations (introduced 1977, 1983 and 1987, respectively) which formed three distinct models of the F10/F12 (including the F16 of 1987). The improvements and product features of 1983 were nearly as important in scope as the creation of the concept of the truck family as a whole in 1977.
Better transport economy
The exterior of the new trucks was distinctively different due to the larger windscreen and the heightened roof which was present on both the day cab and the sleeper cab (the Globetrotter cab was of course offered also from 1983 on, with a bigger windscreen). With the new cab shape the truck got a more modern appearance compared with the first, slightly 'boxy', cab model with its flat roof.
But the cab was, despite it being the most obvious change, not the major innovation in the F10/F12 of 1983. This lay instead in the decreased weight of the chassis components, which combined with new, more efficient fuel tanks contributed to better transport economy.
Particular development efforts had been directed towards the suspension, where the new 'parabolic' springs added to driver comfort and goods protection while decreasing the chassis weight.
Other improvements were a new generation of both 10 and 12-litre engines, where improved design added to the expected service life and reliability of the engines. The performance of the engines, however, was more or less unchanged, like the gearbox options, while the hub-reduction axles (which had already been introduced the year before) were more efficient than the previous generation of hub-reduction rear axles.
Electric temperature control
When it came to the safety and the comfort of the driver, these features were more or less unchanged with one exception: the integrated air conditioning was now supplemented by automatic electronic temperature control, which meant that a driver in long-distance transport could drive from northern Sweden to southern Europe without ever changing his heater controls, he just adjusted the heater/air conditioning control knob to a certain number of degrees in the cab, and then he could drive in perfect climate, relaxed and happy.
As added comfort while resting he had also, of course, the option of a fuel-driven heater which could be used while standing still so that he could sleep in a perfect climate, and be completely relaxed after a good nights sleep when another day was dawning, an important aspect of traffic safety!
When the F10 and F12 trucks celebrated their 10-year-anniversary they were still among the most modern available, despite the fact that they had also become the most copied trucks on the market. There were, however, reasons to improve some aspects of this truck family.
A completely new model
The most dramatic of the new features/models of 1987 was the F16, a completely new truck model with the most powerful engine of any truck on the market intended for long-distance goods transport. The F16 was based on the chassis configuration of the F10/F12. In the plans for the '7000'-generation of trucks (this had been the original project designation for the F7/F10/F12/F16 truck models), the F16 had played an important part.
For various reasons, the most obvious being the good performance of the F12 Intercooler model introduced in 1979, the F16 had not been judged necessary for transport tasks until the late 1980s, when Gross Combination Weights and average speeds increased.
Creating extreme power
The F16 truck had an advanced six-cylinder, straight-in-line engine with four valves per cylinder and a high-placed camshaft. This engine featured brand-new-design, but was slightly traditional when it came to basic principles (it would last until 1993 when Volvo took the lead as 'high-tech engine champion', with the 'D12' engine for the FH12). To transfer the extreme power of the F16 to the drive wheels an improved version of the 12-speed all-synchronized range-change gearbox with integrated splitter section was utilized.
The appearance of the F16 (and of the improved version of the F10 and the F12, which were introduced at the same time as the F16) was changed slightly, mainly in order to offer reduced air resistance in favour of better fuel efficiency of the trucks as a whole.
For demanding long-distance transports
The Volvo F16 was well received and was soon accepted as a standard truck both for extreme train weights and demanding special operations such as timber hauling in Scandinavia (with train weights of up to 60 tonnes), as a Roadtrain in Australia (with train weights of up to 115 tonnes), for extremely fast European long-distance transport in hilly conditions or for prestige customers wanting to offer extra-strong trucks to drivers in order to reduce to the minimum the need to use the gearbox.
The F10/F12/F16 family of trucks (third generation, introduced in 1987) was used to introduce a number of very advanced high-tech features. The most important of these was perhaps the use of electronically-controlled fuel-injection for the engines, giving major benefits such as cleaner emissions and optimum-efficiency cruise-speed control.
In order to make life easier for the driver automatic transmissions were introduced in the early 1990s, of two very different configurations. For extreme transport tasks the ´Powertronic' transmission (also used for heavy-duty off-road-vehicles produced by Volvo Construction Equipment) made manual gear changing unnecessary in demanding off-road operations and for special tasks such as fire fighting, where speed and safe driving is of utmost importance.
The Powertronic was (and is) designed by Volvo and produced in the Volvo Köping transmission plant and, thanks to its torque-converter design, offers traction during automatic gear-change operations, no matter how short they may be, creating maximum off-road-traction even under extremely muddy conditions.
The electronic 'Geartronic' transmission, on the other hand, was not a completely new generation of gearboxes but an electronic version of proven range-change gearboxes with integrated computer-assisted gear-change. This trend setting transmission option soon became a popular choice in operations such as long-distance transport or heavy regional distribution transport.
In contrast to the Powertronic, the Geartronic was not of the torque-converter type, so power from the engine to the wheels was interrupted during automatic gear-changing operations, making the Powertronic unsuitable for some transport tasks such as construction site transport and timber trucks.
Automatic - but with manual control
Both the Powertronic and the Geartronic had two important novelties compared with 'old-fashioned' traditional automatic gearboxes: they preserved modest fuel consumption and also allowed the driver to manually override the system, because an automatic gearbox can never compare with the skill of an experienced truck driver.
Volvo started its truck operations in 1928 with the production of medium-duty trucks. After that, Volvo successively introduced heavier and heavier trucks until the product programme included all types of trucks, from light-duty to heavy-duty.
Strangely enough, Volvo's success in the area of medium-duty trucks diminished to a great extent during the 1950s and 1960s, mainly due to the fact that medium-duty trucks were made in most of the export countries where Volvo sold its trucks and these were normally less expensive and perhaps not as rugged as Volvo's vehicles.
High ambitions for the medium-duty truck
In the 1980s, after the L42/L43/F82/F83/F82S/F83S and the F4/F6, Volvo had high ambitions for the medium-duty trucks and vast resources were available. The decision was taken to go ahead and develop a new family of medium-duty trucks from scratch (but utilizing of course the well-proven basic driveline components already developed for the new generation of medium-duty trucks).
In the late 1970s, a study was carried out on possible successors to the F4/F6 trucks. It was decided to introduce the new trucks in the mid 1980s, and that they should be designed and built in the modern Volvo facility in Oostakker, Belgium.
The new FL family
From the very beginning it was decided that the new medium-duty trucks should meet the same safety standards as heavy-duty Volvo trucks, while at the same time offering superior ergonomic properties compared with both previous Volvo distribution trucks and trucks from Volvo's competitors.
Soon, the shape of the new FL family (F=Forward cab, L=Low level cab) was decided. The basic design incorporated a low cab floor level for easy entry and exit, large windows for good vision and massive interior space, all within the limits of 2.3 m width to facilitate driving in confined areas.
Weight, power and strength
Naturally, there was a need for several weight classes, including a light class at around 7-11 tonnes (FL6L), a medium class of 14 tonnes (FL6M) and a vehicle, which was a very light heavy-duty vehicle (FL6H). Some years later the FL6H was succeeded by an even more powerful vehicle in the 18-tonne class, which was also available as a three-axle vehicle with GVW of 26 tonnes (FL6E).
The FL6 had power and strength enough to be used for lightweight long-distance transport as well so a long cab model was introduced as an alternative to the day cab (for community services such as for fire brigades etc. a crew cab was also introduced, initially manufactured by an independent supplier in Floby but now built by Volvo in Umeå).
To combine safety with easy manoeuvring, Volvo chose to equip the lightest trucks in this family of light-duty trucks with disc brakes on all wheels, since these are genuine stop-and-go vehicles for fast city conditions.
The FL6 was introduced in 1985, and in 1986 the even lighter FL4 was introduced. This was basically the same as the FL6L, but now with a light, fuel-efficient direct-injected Volvo TD41 engine, derived from the engine previously used in the F4 truck, and similar to the highly efficient marine engines utilized by Volvo Penta.
The US versions
Later in 1986 the FE6 and FE7 trucks were introduced in the USA, being versions adapted for North America. While the FE6 was very similar to the FL6, the FE7 was basically the same truck as the FL6, but with the more powerful 7-litre engine and the driveline components of the FL7 truck.
A very interesting addition to the FL6 range was the D6-250 engine with both a turbocharger and a mechanical supercharger, the first of its kind for truck use in the world. With this addition, the FL6 suddenly became powerful enough to perform transport tasks normally handled by trucks with much larger (and heavier) engines.
When the F7 was superseded by the FL7/FL10, it meant that the new truck series could not be used everywhere on the Swiss road network. The truck cab of the new FL7/FL10 had a width of nearly 250 cm, while some Swiss roads, in those days, often only permitted trucks with a maximum width of 230 cm.
Combining the major components
Volvo is a global company so it was out of the question to leave the Swiss transport companies without the option of an ultra-modern Volvo truck, which was legal throughout the Swiss road network. This was solved in a typically flexible way by combining major components from several different Volvo 'global' truck models. The most obvious choice was the FL6 cab, as this was the only cab, which did fit into the limited-width Swiss regulations. It was modified slightly but in general it fitted even the unique Swiss truck quite well.
Putting it all together as the FS10
The chassis, on the other hand, was based on the FL10 truck, but modified with narrow axles to comply with the special national legislation. The engine was the 10-litre Volvo diesel truck engine so the designation of the new truck became 'FS10' (F truck for Switzerland with 10-litre engine). The choice of the FL10 chassis was of course very opportune, because this truck already offered, in its standard model, the option of two, three and four-axle chassis, alternatives that were necessary for Switzerland where all these axle configurations have natural areas of use.
The specification was rounded off with special features for the very demanding Swiss landscape, e.g. a 'Telma' retarder, a necessary safety precaution for trucks being used in the very hilly conditions in this mountainous country.
Volvo is today one of the leading manufacturers of trucks in North America. To achieve this position has been very tough, and Volvo's present position is the result of numerous measures taken over more than 40 years.
The attempt to conquer the US
The first attempt by Volvo to conquer the North American market was made in 1958 but after two to three years of technical development, limited sales and the creation of a service network, it was obvious that Volvo trucks were not sufficiently adapted to the local American transport requirements of the era.
The second attempt at conquering America was made in the early 1970s. A large number of test trucks were tested in daily transport operations in eastern USA. After having confirmed the superior economy of Volvo trucks over traditional American trucks, marketing of the F86 truck model started in 1974. In 1976, the F6 was added to the range, in 1978, the first N10 trucks were sold in USA, and, in 1979, the F7 was added to the north American Volvo product range.
It proved very difficult to build a first-class service network based solely on Volvo products. For this reason, a deal was made between Volvo and Freightliner (who had incidentally had a marketing and sales agreement with White that had been terminated). The end of this cooperation came in 1981, when Volvo's main competitor Mercedes-Benz took over Freightliner. The whole Volvo truck presence in North America was threatened.
Different ways of continuing the Volvo American activities were evaluated, and in the end it was decided to purchase the truck assets of White Motor Corporation, which had an ultra-modern product range and new, modern production facilities, but had been severely struck by the ongoing recession in America in the late 1970s.
The purchase of White turned out to be a very good step for Volvo. Suddenly the Volvo trucks could be marketed throughout the USA, in parallel with a tailor-made programme of modern American heavy-duty trucks.
When Volvo took over the truck assets of White, the White/Autocar/Western Star product programme consisted of the Road Boss (conventional) truck, the Road Commander 2 (cab-over engine) truck, the low-built Road Xpeditor 2 (cab-over engine) truck, the Autocar DC (heavy duty construction) truck, the Road Constructor 2 (construction) truck and the Western Star (long-distance conventional and cab-over engine) trucks.
The White trucks
During the 1980s, improved versions of these trucks were introduced, like 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.
Thanks to the vast resources and respected trade name of Volvo, the White (from 1981) and the WHITEGMC (from 1988) trucks were sold to an increasing number of American customers. Today, of course, all trucks produced by Volvo are sold under the 'Volvo' name (since 1995).
When Volvo introduced both the FL6 and the FL7/FL10 family of heavy-duty trucks in the summer of 1985 it was a demonstration of strength. Both families of trucks were completely new and had leading characteristics compared with other competitor-made trucks in the same segments.
Light-weight and very powerful
The FL7/FL10 trucks constituted a completely new class of truck, combining the efficiency and light weight of their predecessor, the F7, with the option of a very powerful 10-litre engine with engine output of up to 318 bhp. The driveline components were identical to the driveline components of the F10 truck, which meant that the FL10 trucks (the most powerful of the two new trucks) were very suitable not only for heavy-duty distribution but also for construction-site operation.
They were also suitable for regional transport or long-distance transport where the low roof of the FL7/FL10 or a low maximum height for the complete truck was of importance.
Steps towards increased driver care
Traditionally, long-distance high-built heavy-duty trucks have been the subject of advanced design while distribution trucks and trucks with lower GVW have not been as good ergonomically when it comes to aspects such as driver comfort, sound insulation, cab suspension etc. In this respect the FL7/FL10 meant a radical step towards driver care for this class of vehicles as well.
Very sophisticated cab suspension, even more efficient than on the F10/F12, was the most important factor behind the exceptional comfort provided for the driver and his passenger. Another factor, which contributed in this respect, was the dashboard, which was designed to have all instruments and handles within sight and easy reach of the driver.
The art of multi-purpose
The most obvious new feature of the new FL7/FL10 trucks was, of course, the completely new cab, which was extremely spacious for a low-built truck of this type, not least due to the fact that the new cab had a full-width of 250 cm (in contrast to the F7, which had a width of 230 cm).
The new family of low-built trucks were true multi-purpose trucks like their predecessor F7 so it was natural for Volvo to offer a full range of cabs, including a short day cab for maximum payload and load area within a given overall length, a spacious sleeper cab with a full length single bunk, and also a crew cab for community service vehicles such as fire trucks.
Advanced chassis specifications Efficiency (together with improved ergonomics) was the key word for the new range of vehicles. That was the reason for the very advanced chassis specification, which could be supplied in a large number of models, including two, three and four-axle vehicles. These could be driven on one, two or three axles, with numerous suspension alternatives including full air suspension on all axles, which contributed not only to extremely good cushioning for the payload and comfort for the driver, but also to very fast exchanges of different load carriers.
The FL7 and the FL10 became very popular in a large number of countries. In some countries, e.g. Great Britain, it became by far the most popular of all Volvo trucks.
Very few European manufacturers included Conventional/N trucks in their product range in the 1970s and the 1980s. Instead they devoted all of their design resources to the F truck type of vehicles. Swedish manufacturers were unique in offering N trucks for a wide variety of tasks.
The N trucks were continuously updated with modern features such as roomier cabs (of all types, including day cabs, sleeper cabs and crew cabs), cleaner and even more economical engines, more efficient, easy-handling gearboxes, both manual and automatic, as well as continuously updated and more versatile chassis components.
The basic characteristics of the N truck type of vehicle have always been extreme toughness. For this reason the chassis models of the N7, N10 and N12 trucks (introduced in 1973) had always been able to stand up to even the toughest of transport tasks. For extreme cross-country mobility, options such as, all-wheel-drive were available, intended for both civilian and military service.
Down in Brazil
The N truck has always been a popular choice in 'overseas' Volvo markets, e.g. in areas such as Africa, South America and Australia. Brazil has become one of the major markets for Volvo trucks, with N trucks playing a major role. For this reason a new Volvo N truck, the 'NL' was introduced in Brazil in 1989. This was in fact an improved version of the N10/N12, incorporating features of major interest in countries with characteristics similar to those in Brazil.
The NL10 and NL12 (only 10- and 12-litre engine options were available, no longer a 7-litre model) were far more aerodynamic than their predecessors. The overall design of the front of the truck had been influenced by the design of the streamlined 'Aero' truck made by Volvo in North America since 1987. The longer bonnet allowed an even larger interior area for the driver together with good access to the other side of the cab without leaving the truck interior. Better insulation of the cab interior from the engine compartment also contributed to the improved driver environment.
A major step forward
The introduction of the NL truck took place in Brazil, where it was immediately recognized as a major step forward compared with the now ageing N trucks (N10 and N12) which were no longer available in Brazil. The N trucks were, however, produced in limited numbers for another year, until the NL truck family took over the role as the sole rugged Conventional truck produced under the 'Volvo' nameplate.
(This was until the WHITEGMC name used for the American truck produced by the Volvo GM Heavy Truck Corporation in the United States was replaced by the 'Volvo' designation, which then covered the North American range of Volvo trucks, featuring mainly Conventional/N trucks, as well).