In the 1980s, the Trucking industry saw a huge growth in the number of Trucking companies and the number of miles being driven. The result was a need for faster, more powerful, and more reliable trucks. A truck that could haul heavier loads at higher speeds while still being able to accelerate quickly when necessary. In order to meet these demands, a number of truck manufacturers designed new trucks for the market. Some of these trucks were based on existing truck designs, while others were designed from the ground up.
The Big Three
In the 1980s, the Big Three American Truck manufacturers were General Motors (GM), Ford, and Chrysler. They produced a wide variety of trucks including standard cab, extended cab, and crew cab trucks. They also produced many different types of configurations such as conventional and turbo-diesel engines as well as gas and diesel powered engines. These companies also made many different types of vehicles including straight-trucks, step vans, dump trucks, tankers, flatbeds, reefers (refrigerated units), stakebeds (stake bodies), cargo vans (box vans), box trailers (dry van trailers), etc. This article will focus on the history of Big Three in regards to the heavy duty straight-trucks and step vans built for hauling large loads at high speeds.
General Motors entered into a partnership with Mack Trucks in 1980 when they bought out Mack’s parent company Allied Corporation. This partnership allowed GM to produce both GM and Mack trucks under the same plant.
The first Big Three heavy duty truck to be introduced was the General Motors Cabover (COE) truck. The COE was a semi-tractor designed with a very low profile that featured a cab located directly over the engine and the drive train. The COE design was intended to reduce wind resistance and improve aerodynamics, which would increase fuel efficiency and improve overall performance. These trucks were produced in a number of different configurations including Step Vans, Dump Trucks, Tankers, Flatbeds, Reefers (refrigerated units), etc. These trucks were produced in both Detroit Diesel (DD) and Gasoline powered engines from 1979 through 1992.
Ford also entered into a partnership with another Truck manufacturer during this time period. In 1981 Ford purchased Sterling Trucks Corporation out of bankruptcy for $36 million dollars. Sterling Trucks was a small, independent truck manufacturer that was based in Cleveland, Ohio. Ford renamed the company Ford Truck Company (FTC) and it became a subsidiary of Ford Motor Company. The Sterling was a semi-tractor built with a conventional design featuring a hood located over the engine and the drive train. The Sterling line of trucks were produced in both Detroit Diesel (DD) and Gasoline powered engines from 1981 through 1988.
The next Big Three heavy duty truck to be introduced was the Ford Aeromax, which was based on the popular Sterling model. The Aeromax was designed with a very low profile like the GM COE, but it featured an aerodynamic design that made it more streamlined than the GM COE. This design also reduced wind resistance and improved aerodynamics which would increase fuel efficiency and improve overall performance. These trucks were produced in both Detroit Diesel (DD) and Gasoline powered engines from 1985 through 1993.
Chrysler entered into their own partnership with another Truck manufacturer during this time period as well. In 1983 Chrysler purchased White Motor Corporation out of bankruptcy for $225 million dollars. White Motor Corporation was based in Cleveland, Ohio just like Sterling Trucks had been before they were purchased by Ford. White Motor Corporation was a small, independent truck manufacturer that was based in Cleveland, Ohio. Chrysler renamed the company Mack Trucks, Inc. and it became a subsidiary of Chrysler Corporation. The White/Mack line of trucks were produced in both Detroit Diesel (DD) and Gasoline powered engines from 1983 through 1992.
Freightliner Trucks started to develop a new line of trucks to address these needs. The new line was released in 1986 as the Cascadia. The Cascadia was based on the existing Dash Series cab-over-engine design with an all-new aerodynamic hood and nose, as well as a new front grille.
The Cascadia had many innovations that were unheard of at the time such as having 2 different cab configurations (High Nose and Low Nose), independent rear suspension, standard automatic transmission, air disc brakes on all wheels, dual alternators with battery disconnect switch, standard A/C system with climate control option available for sleeper cabs, electronic gauge cluster with LED readouts (Frey Bendix version), full EGR emissions equipment (Diesel Particulate Filter & Diesel Oxidation Catalyst), Allison Automatic transmission with power take off, industry first self-leveling sleeper mounts, and the first ever 5th wheel tailgate.
The Cascadia was available in two different cab configurations: High Nose and Low Nose. The High Nose cab was essentially the same as the Dash Series cab, but with a higher roofline and larger windshield. The Low Nose cab had a longer hood to cover the engine, a taller windshield, and an extra set of large side windows. The High Nose cab was designed to handle colder climates and snow, while the Low Nose cab was designed for warmer climates.
The Cascadia also had an aerodynamic hood that allowed for higher speeds and a smoother ride. The new hood was not only aerodynamic, but it also contained a high mounted stop light and headlights on both sides of the front bumper.
In 1989, Freightliner started to release another new line of trucks known as the FL series. The FL series had many improvements over the Cascadia such as a completely redesigned cab with no sleeper, a more powerful engine, and improved suspension components. However, Freightliner decided to keep producing the Cascadia until they ran out of Dash Series cabs in 1993. There were approximately 4500 Cascadia trucks produced in total.
Ford also had a line of trucks known as the Ford LTL. The LTL was produced from 1988 to 1991 and was based on the long-running Econoline van. The LTL was available in 2 different cab configurations: High Nose and Low Nose. The High Nose had a taller windshield, while the Low Nose had a longer hood to cover the engine.
The LTL was available with an optional sleeper cab that had a full flat bed (similar to that of a dry van). The rear window in the sleeper cab could be folded down so that it would act as a loading ramp for small loads (great for landscaping or construction). The driver’s seat could also be swiveled around 180 degrees so that it faced backwards.
The LTL was powered by either a 7.3L IDI diesel engine or an optional 5.8L V8 gasoline engine with turbo-intercooler. Both engines were mated to an Allison automatic transmission with PTO capability, as well as dual alternators with battery disconnect switch, air disc brakes on all wheels, electronic gauge cluster with LED readouts (Frey Bendix version), and industry first self-leveling sleeper mounts. The interior of the LTL was very simple with a minimal amount of gauges and switches.