THE STRATO cLIES HIGHER
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it so we can fix it.
The Seddon Atkinson Strato is well established at 17 tonnes, but if you need more payload the factory will be happy to fit an extra axle. is it a change for the better? We've driven a 21 tonner to find out...
News that Iveco Ford will produce the lightweight Trakker 8x4 tipper chassis at Seddon Atkinson's factory (CM 13-19 January) must have produced a few sighs of relief in Oldham The prophets of doom saw no future for the Pegaso subsidiary when Iveco took a controlling interest in the Spanish truck manufacturer in 1992. In fact the Trakker has a lot in common with Seddon Atkinson products. The chassis is pure Oldham while the Eaton/Rockwell drivdine does not fit Iveco's usual integrated driveline policy.
The Italians obviously realise the benefits of giving the market what it wants, even if it's at odds with the accountants' view of largescale production economics. If the Brits want Cummins or Perkins engines with Eaton gearboxes and Rockwell axles, they shall have 'em. However, the package is wrapped in Iveco's latest cab range, so there's no doubt who's holding the purse stings.
Keeping Seddon Atkinson as its specialist UK arm gives Iveco access to niche markets like the municipal sector without frightening off traditional customers.
Seddon's ability to adapt to niche market needs was shown last year with the production of a crew-cabbed Strato; that same adaptability spawned this week's test vehicle. The Strato T5 17-tonner was launched at the Scottish 1RTE show in October 1992, a few months ahead of Iveco Ford's Super Cargo.
We're still waiting for the chance to whisk both round CM'S Welsh Route. In the meantime, soft-drinks manufacturer Barr—famed for its Irn-Bru—had persuaded Seddon Atkinson to come up with a low-height T5based 6x2 for its delivery rounds. Apart from the extra axle and higher GVW, the driveline is identical to that of the 17-tonners, so we jumped at the chance of a test drive.
• PRODUCT PROFILE Seddon devised the Strata 6x2 chassis in collaboration with the now defunct Southworth Chassis Engineering, but the conversion is carried out solely by Seddon Atkinson at its Special Vehicles Centre. The chassis is lowered at the front by removing the packing between spring and axle: front 315/70 tyres trims a little more off the chassis height; rear 245/70 tyres on 19.5in wheels reduce the frame height to 915mm.
44 Rockwell provides the P140 drive axle while the tag axle and rear air suspension is Hendrickson Norde. The tag has an air dump to improve traction when needed.
Barr has bought 24 vehicles all told; 19 with day cabs based in Scotland and five, fitted with sleeper cabs, operating in England. Our test vehicle runs out of Wednesbury in the West Midlands.
All of Barr's 6x2 Stratos are fitted with the 155kW (208hp) Perkins Phaser 210Ti engine, offered in the 17-tonne Strato. Our test vehicle went into service before the introduction of the Euro-1 limits last year so the engine does not meet Euro-1 requirements. Drive is transmitted to the Rockwell axle through an Eaton 6109 eight-speed synchromesh range-change box—if you want six speeds Seddon will fit the Eaton 5206.
The 7.32m Don-Bur curtainsider body is mounted directly on the chassis with outriggers to keep the loading deck height to a minimum. We measured the deck height at 0.87m, complete with a full load of Tizer.
• PRODUCTIVITY Fitted with a sleeper cab and geared for trunking work, we expected that the Seddon might be at its most economical over the motorway section of our test route. In the event it was at its best on A-roads, returning 29.8114/100km (9.49mpg) and 30.21it/1001un (9.36mpg) on the motorway. In practice the difference is negligible. The "solid green" sector of the rev counter spans 1,600-2,200rpm and the engine was turning over at 2,400rpm at 96km/h (60mph) on the motorway, so you might expect the difference to be greater. It does show that Seddon has got the gearing just about right for Barr's mix of A-road and motorway work. For motorway use Eaton offers an overdrive top version of the 6109.
Predictably, given the higher weight and extra drag of the third axle, the truck used a little more fuel than a 17-tonner around our route. It was also a little slower, both on the road and at MIR A. The whole point of the conversion was to boost payload, and with a day cab the Strato offers a body/payload allowance of 15.33 tonnes—up to four tonnes more than a "normal" 17-tonner.
The Seddon's annual service downtime of 30.5 hours seems quite high compared with a 17-tonner and this is reflected in the comparatively high contrail maintenance price, which is around £2,000 a year more than that quoted by many rivals.
Few retail outlets and pubs offer the luxury of a fork-lift truck for unloading, so the Seddon's low deck height is important for the driver. The Don-Bur curta insider can easily be mistaken for a box body when closed up as the curtains do not have the usual buckles for vertical tensioning but this saves the driver time as the side can be opened at the twist of a handle. • ON THE ROAD The Strato isn't the fastest thing on six wheels, but it's an easy and satisfying vehicle to drive. This is partly due to the strong torque delivery from the Phaser engine: 682Nm (5031bft) is on tap at 1,400rpm and it pulls cleanly from around 1,000rpm, giving the feel of a larger engine.
Many 17-tonners we test are fitted with sixspeed gearboxes to keep weight to a minimum. That might improve the payload potential but it does compromise driveability. The Barr Strato is fitted with Eaton's synchromesh 6109 eight-speed range-change-pluscrawler box, no doubt to improve flexibility at 21 tonnes GVW. The extra ratios were certainly welcome over the hilly sections of the route, where we generally found the right gear for every occasion.
Starting in first or second and skipping a gear before progressing up the box appeared to suit the Strata The change is crisp and positive with a comparatively short throw. Changing across the range is relatively trouble-free with a strong detent to discourage accidental trips across the double-H pattern. The clutch felt a bit heavy initially but has a progressive action which makes light of stop/start urban driving.
Air suspension and three axles give a comfortable though firm ride with little float from the air suspension. The low-profile tyres may be partly responsible for the firmness; the ride
41 certainly suffers on poor road surfaces. The high centre of gravity and liquid load adds some body roll to the handling, but not to an alarming degree.
The bottled load prevented us from carrying out our usual brake testing but the brakes performed quite satisfactorily out on the road and the parking brake held on the 25% (1-in4) MIRA test hill. Barr's vehicle is not fitted with the optional exhaust brake; coupled with the eight-speed gearbox an exhaust brake would have been welcome on some of the long downhill runs.
• CAB COMFORT We wouldn't rate the Strato cab as one the quietest on a distribution vehicle.
It's the usual problem of a low cab which inevitably allows more engine noise to reach the driver. However, it does make access easy, which is good news for multi-drop distribution drivers.
Once in place the driver sits on a multiadjustable air-suspended seat behind a steering column that is adjustable for rake. On its rearmost setting the wheel is uncomfortably close to the gear lever when in top gear. As we found out this makes it easy to knock the truck out of gear by accident The fascia will be familiar to New Cargo and EuroTech drivers and this is no bad thing as it's one of the best. A large, clear tacho and rev counter are immediately in front of the driver with four smaller instruments off to the right. None are obscured by the steering wheel and effective lighting makes them easy to read in the dark.
There's a battery of warning lights above the instruments; an electrical check system alerts the driver to low fluid levels before firing up. Column stalks take care of the usual functions but the minor controls operated by dash-mounted rocker switches look too similar and should be illuminated.
The single-bunk sleeper offers reasonable accommodation for the odd night out. Its dimensions are restricted by the width of the cab and the bunk foam is a bit thin but at least you get a night heater. The sleeper also increases the amount of stowage space, which is fairly good even in the day cab. There's space under the bunk with an outside locker for gloves, tools and equipment. Back in the cab there are lockers in the header rail and door pockets each side.
The gear lever makes cross-cab movement awkward, however, which is a drawback for a vehicle delivering to high-street shops.
• SUMMARY This Strato ought to be attracting the attention of the breweries. The 6x2 offers a respectable payload, low loading height and the added attraction of a factory conversion.
Drivers will find little to complain about either. The modern cab provides a pleasant environment with good control layout.
There's a choice of Perkins Phaser or Cummins B-Series power and six or ninespeed gearboxes; the conversion adds £10,579 to the basic 17-tonne chassis, listed at £41,550 (ex-VAT) with either Cummins or Perkins engine. That compares favourably with most
17-tonne rivals. At £43,684 (ex-VAT), ERF offers the ES6.18 with a dropframe at 17tonnes for brewery work.
There are other factory 6x2s to consider too, although they are mostly designed for drawbar work. The good news is that going to six wheels will reduce your VED bill by £290 a year; whether this outweighs the extra running costs will depend on your operation. Scania offers the P93 plated at 25 tonnes GVW from £53,244 (ex-VAT). Air suspension or the mid-lift/steer axle will add a bit more.
The Leyland Daf 75 6x2 is plated at 26 tonnes with prices from £54,930 (ex-VAT). MAN offers the F90 6x2 plated at 23 tonnes from £53,240 (ex-VAT); Volvo's FL618 6x2 costs £46,000.
Iveco seems willing to use Seddon Atkinson to satisfy niche market demands in the UK. If the 6x2 Strato is anything logo by, it looks like they have the right product to carry out that strategy.
TA by John Kendall