Four into one

Thursday, November 3, 2016

 
Two magnificent machines.
An awe-inspiring Volvo and the Superliner able to delvier 'today' in an 'old rocker' package.


After an email offering a drive of six Volvo Group trucks in one day, the acrid smell of burning shoe rubber left everyone wondering if a top fuel dragster had left the vicinity of the editor’s desk.

The familiar tone of your email alert signals the arrival of the next thing that needs your undivided attention. But every now and then a gift from above drops into the inbox. 


“Hi Dave... would you be interested in helping relocate the Volvo Group Roadshow Trucks from Melbourne to Adelaide?” read the message from Tom Chapman, Volvo Group Australia (VGA). 

‘Now that ’s a calendar clearing email if I ever read one!’ I thought. Calmly I replied “Yes Tom...I think I’d like that very much.” 

Jump forward a week or two and it ’s a chilly morning on the cusp of winter at the CMV Melbourne dealership. There, in the pre-dawn glow was a line up of wonderful things all needing to get to Adelaide. It included a Volvo FH16 700 tractor and B-train, a Mack Superliner 685 tractor and B-train, a Mack Granite tractor and semi, a Volvo FM 540 tractor and semi, a UD Quon GW 26 420 rigid and dog, and PD 24 280 rigid curtainsider. 

I was introduced to the VGA Driver Trainer who would accompany me for the day, Jeff Smith. Having had the odd moment over the years with journos not from a driving background, it’s company policy that there’s always a trainer in the trucks; aside from which Jeff would help me get the most out of the trucks I drove, and I was after all in a foreign country. It’s fair to say we hit it off right from the start and I felt a great day lay ahead. 

Jeff gestured toward the FH16 700; how could I refuse? After last month’s test of the Graeme Wright 750 there’s not a lot left to say really. It is an outstanding machine. We rolled out of Melbourne grossing 51 tonne and it was an effortless act. 

Tim Giles from Diesel Magazine in Australia is an ex-truckie too, and like me he was champing at the bit to tap out a kilometre or two. He grabbed the black Superliner and took to his scrapers. The big black dog had a couple of tonne more in tow, but I was amazed at how quickly the FH reeled it in. Coming from an era where the 350hp two-valve Mack MH I once drove was considered a proper line-haul truck, commenting on the performance of two modern behemoths like the FH16 and Superliner is only relevant comparatively. In this application, their ability to make any payload on their backs largely irrelevant goes without saying. Nevertheless, the complete effortlessness of the big Volvo is beyond belief, especially when you start gauging what it’s doing against other vehicles around it. 

The I-Roll (coasting function – Ref New Zealand Trucking main test April 15) comes into its own on a run like this. You don’t realise how kiwi you are until you start driving in other countries. In New Zealand it doesn’t matter where you are, there’s inevitably a mountain between points A and B. Imagine 790km of South Waikato rolling country (drier obviously) on an expressway broken every so often by small towns (think Tokoroa/Gore, down to a Tirau sort of Hinds arrangement), and you’ve got Melbourne to Adelaide. With the right training and really milking the I-Roll, the fuel saving potential in this type of county is colossal (I-Shift plus I-Roll can save up to 7% say VGA). And there’s lots to be saved in the big west island, believe me! I stuck every truck right on the ‘dollar’ all day, and I may as well have been parked! 

Two and a half hours down the road at the Caltex Ararat and it was ‘swapsies’. I jumped into the Superliner, gave the bulldog on the hood a poke in the arse with the throttle and we were out of there! After about an hour Jeff said, “ You’re more comfortable in this aren’t you?” 

“Probably,” I said. “My driving roots are in this genre of truck.” 

“I wouldn’t have picked it up,” he said “But this truck feels like a old pair of gloves to you doesn’t it?” 

He was dead right. You can’t help who you are. The FH is an amazing ride, It’s like the penthouse suite at the Langham with a steering wheel, and the Mack is very much an old school seat of the pants, ‘you know how it’s getting on by feel’ sort of gig. Don’t be fooled, the big dog is most definitely state of the art with its MP 10 heart essentially the heart of a big Volvo, and the M-Drive, like the ESCOT in the UD I drove next, emerged from the same test tube as the I-Shift; but how all three are connected to the driver’s behind, and the ambiance provided by mother Volvo are a world apart. And this in turn made me wonder about real life safety. I felt incredibly safe in the Mack... not because it ’s a safer truck, but because its movements and corner roll told me how fast it was going without looking at anything else. It might be my age, it might be what I’m used to or a combination of both, but I felt connected to the beast. I didn’t feel I was going to see a corner looming up, look down and think ‘Shit it ’s doing 105km/h!’

I loved the Mack – I could have stayed there for the remainder of my working life. The only problem was Adelaide was the destination, not Perth. In this machine I was most definitely ‘Truckin’. 

Lunch at Nhill (pronounced Nile) and it was into the UD rigid and dog set up as a tip combination. I enjoy the current UD range immensely. I thought they were really neat at the Mt Cotton day last year and was chuffed to get a decent lash in this combo. If the Volvo was an Afghan hound and the Mack a Bulldog then the UD was certainly a Chihuahua. It just felt like it couldn’t wait to hare off up the road and chase the big boys! I said to Jeff, “Man, with the 420hp motor and the ESCOT AMT you’d make a fortune on subdivision development work or cockies’ races, something like that.”

“Do you reckon?” he laughed. 

“ Yeah. It feels like it just wants to do the next load, and the next, and the next. It feels eager!” 

 

Although the ride was somewhat ‘lively’ running interstate in this mode, there’s no doubt that the refinement of the UD product has been hastened by a touch from the Volvo wand (Fuso has likewise benefitted from their relationship with MercedesBenz). Today, the UD is a well-constructed, well-appointed, and beautifully finished product (Ref New Zealand Trucking July, Sept and Oct 2015), all the time retaining its ‘Asian’ truck flavour – just like the Mack retains its ‘Americanness’. 

The day ended with a run into Adelaide behind the wheel of the Granite. I’d hoped to grab the FM 540 with the digger on the back, but that can wait for another day. The Granite had a load of concrete blocks behind the curtains that put her in the mid-40s GCM. With the MP8 engine at 500hp and the M-Drive the load posed no real problem, although it felt more loaded than anything else I’d driven. As you get closer to Adelaide the rolling country gets a little more pronounced, and unlike the 685hp MP10 I felt the M-Drive let the engine die a little too far before down shifting; momentum was lost and it became a grind before it needed to be. A little early intervention from me and the pup put up more of a scrap. 

Driving down the infamous hill into Adelaide, looking at the truck traps, made me thankful for the great men who taught me to drive a loaded truck downhill properly. On through the city and before I knew it we were at the fantastic new dealership of South Central Trucks on Wingfield Road, the six consignments delivered safe and sound. Everyone involved had enjoyed great day and the stories and merriment lasted well into the night. 

Many thanks to Tom Chapman and the team from VGA, and special thanks to Jeff Smith for his great company on the journey.

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