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Bob Russett's trunking tale of two cities

25th December 1982
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Page 27, 25th December 1982 — Bob Russett's trunking tale of two cities
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When Premier Transport decided to set up a drawbar operation between its Bristol and Exeter depots, it spent a lot of time deciding what vehicles to employ. Bill Brock reports

WHILE DAD is away looking after the Road Haulage Associat on, Bob Russett continues to rin the family transport business from Bristol.

Premier Transport, the largest private warehousing and distribution company in the South West, operates a fleet of 65 vehicles collecting and distributing to 18 major towns in the area from its three depots at Bristol, Exeter and Cardiff.

Its modern warehouse facilit es, which cater for storage of general goods, chemicals and foodstuffs, provide storage for the wide range of goods carried by the firm.

From the time the company was set up 42 years ago it has been almost a tradition to buy and operate Leyland vehicles, with only one or two rare exceptions.

Each year, Bob replaces about 12 vehicles and expects to keep them for between five and seven years. Increasing competition in a recession-depleted market means that buying policies must be closely examined if carriage rates and profits are to be maintained.

Bob recently decided to set up a drawbar trunking operation between Premier Transport's Bristol and Exeter depots. He wanted to hang on to his 16-tonners for local delivery work, and the Crane Fruehauf Pengco demount system that he was already using allowed the maximum use of the vehicles. By adding a drawbar outfit with its own demount system, the amount of trunking between the two cities would be reduced.

Using two tug vehicles returning to Bristol on alternative days, the operation could be arranged with a single trailer. The idea was for Vehicle A to take a trailer and two demount boxes as far as Exeter where it would drop the trailer before continuing to deliver in and around the city.

Meanwhile, the second box could be removed from the trailer in readiness for collection by the tug vehicle which would return later to make further deliveries in the area.

Vehicle B would then collect the trailer, which would be loaded with a box body by depot yard staff ready for the return to Bristol.

Next day the cycle could be repeated. In this way, maximum use of the equipment is made with the minimum outlay. Overall trunking costs can be reduced considerably. In deciding on the type of vehicle to use for this operation, the load was critical. Allowing for chassis and trailer weights with a 24ft box body demount system, Bob estimated the average weight of an average fully laden combination to be only about 21 tons. A vehicle plated for operation at 24 tons fitted into the operation nicely with weight capacity to spare and the cubic area needed.

Bob wanted one of the two new vehicles to be a Leyland, for he would then be able to compare it directly with the performance of the other new vehicle. In this way he could discover whether his present reliance on Leylands was well justified, or whether he should change his buying strategy.

Staying with the Leyland range, the new Blueline Freighter 1615 was almost an automatic choice. Bob told me its 5.8m (19ft) wheel base chassis was long enough to accept the box body and demount systems already in use at Premier Transport.

A heavier and stretched Cruiser chassis was briefly considered, but being plated for 32 tons its specification provided much more power than was needed for delivery work, as for about 50 per cent of the time it would be expected to operate on its own.

The Freighter engine, a Leyland 411 type, rated at 115kW (154bhp) at 2,600rpm with a torque output of 488Nm (360Ibft) at 1,600rpm, although primarily intended for operation at a gross weight of 16 tons, still gives an overall power to weight ratio of 4.7kW/tonne (6.4bhp/ton) for 24 ton gross.

The Freighter has an all-steel cab in the T45 model and includes bolt-on panels in vulnerable areas, which can be easily repaired or replaced. The steering has integral-power-assistance and the full-air-service brakes are operated via dual piped circuits. The park brake is spring-actuated on the drive axle and the constant mesh gearbox has six gears giving a ratio spread from 7.01 to 1 in first gear to 0.76 to 1 in overdrive top. A rear axle ratio of 6.93 to 1 gives the Freighter, operated as a solo machine, a geared top speed of 59mph.

The two seats in the cab are cloth-upholstered and the driving seat has adjustment for height, reach and rake.

Bob had to decide what vehicle he should choose to compare it with. Drawing up a short list he included the Mercedes 1617, Fiat 159, Magirus 168, DAF 2100, and Volvo F6 and a stretched 36 G2 ERF.

The ERF, he told me, was really a non-starter because it was again more powerful than required though it was briefly considered because it is manufactured by a British-owned company.

Looking at the specification of aoth lveco models, the surface area of the brakes was smaller than for the other vehicles and in his judgment they would need constant adjustment to maintain the required level of performance.

Premier Transport already operates one Fiat-badged vehicle, a non-hgv 75-F-10 which has completed about 200,000km vvith no real trouble other than the brakes "which need adjustment every two weeks." The engine has only needed attention Di one occasion and still gives about 21mpg.

Bob was less pleased with the local main dealer. As a largefleet operator he can expect to obtain preferential trading terms For spare and replacement parts but the Fiat dealer was not forthcoming, only offering discount facilities to Iveco fleets of ten vahicles or more.

He had never operated a Volvo before, but just recently had cons'dered the F-7 for 32-ton operation before buying T45 Roadtrains.

The F6's brake area is almost twice that of the Fiat or Magirus and the power to weight ratio of the 128kW (172bhp) TO 60B turbocharged engine was greater than most of the vehicles under consideration. However, it does have a very steep torque curve, and with the extra weight of the trailer he considered that this would make the vehicle difficult to drive. Also, friends operating the F6 had experienced problems with weak steering king pins.

Both the Mercedes 1617 and the DAF 2100, he thought, were compatible and met most of his requirements, but Mercedes was unable to match the terms offered by DAF.

By a process of elimination, Bob decided to purchase a DAF — the FA 2100 DH — powered by a naturally aspirated OH 8.25litre engine which gave power and torque performance of 113kW (151bhp) at 2,400rpm and 502Nm (370Ibft) at 1,600rpm, which was just slightly more powerful than the turbocharged Leyland machines.

DAF offers a more powerful turbocharged engine and but for the need to make a comparison with the Freighter Bob would have specified it.

The DAF 2100's wheelbase of 5.5m (18ft 3in) is slightly the shorter of the two vehicles but has a chassis length able to receive a body length of up to 7.6m (24ft 11in). Its standard specification includes ZF hydraulic power-assisted steering, 12-speed ZF splitter gearbox, an air-operated exhaust brake and a suspension seat for the driver.

Modifications were needed to the standard vehicles, so both were delivered to V.B.G. of Kettering, which was contracted to convert the park brake to give a secondary control for the trailer brakes, change the pipe runs to include a feed for the trailer, add an extra air tank and install a towing hitch.

Before delivery, both vehicles were plated for operation at the higher combination weight and were put into service at the beginning of October.

After seven days on the road the Freighter 1615 blew a direction indicator fuse but the electrical fault was quickly dealt with and the vehicle was back in service within the hour.

On November 17, while the vehicle was in for service, a brake light switch needed re placement. One was not immediately available but the main dealer supplied one by the next morning.

On November 24 a more serious fault occurred — the steering pump failed to apply as sistance continuously. Without this, the driver was still able to steer but with power cutting in and out he was never sure how much effort was needed.

The pump was replaced by Commercial Motors of Exeter and the vehicle is in its third month of operation without any further problems.

Bob Russett gets a good parts replacement service from Ley land dealers, and with the Freighter all parts have been supplied under warranty. But "improved quality control could avoid the need for them at all," he says.

With the DAF 2100, Bob told me, any small faults overlooked by the pre-delivery check are dealt with on the first service, which is free.

Before this, however, on October 6, when the vehicle was in Cornwall, the clutch began to slip. Bob's contacts with the Heavy Haulage part of the Eng lish China Clay Group cured a sticking slave cylinder, and this permitted the vehicle to continue its deliveries.

On October 18 the slave cylinder was replaced during the free service. A month later, the OAF dealer carried out a winter and safety check free of charge but found no more defects.

Over two months' operation, the Leyland Freighter is return ing 30.41it/100km (9.29mpg) and has incurred slightly more down-time than the DAF 2100, which is returning a fuel consumption of 2 8.81it/1 00km 19.8mpg).

For 16-ton solo operation Bob expects to achieve about 10.5 to 11mpg and plans to re-establish this performance for the drawbar with the addition of roof-mounted air deflectors.

Oil consumption by both vehicles has been negligible.

The DAF 2100 is normally driven by Mike Hill, who has also driven the 1615 Freighter on a few occasions. I joined him on a run to Exeter and while I took a spell at the wheal he told me that he much preferred the DAF.

The near vertical front screen makes the cab seem very roomy. And the suspension seat has put an end to Mike's backache.

The turbocharged Leyland pulls better on the hills but Mike likes the use of the splitter on the 12-speed box of the DAF; its big steering helped to get the lock on quickly and he finds that the vehicle has a better steering lock overall.

He quickly adjusted to the exhaust brake and uses it in preference to the service brake most of the time, finding it particularly useful on down gradients.

I found that the 2100 pulled well on the flat but on the hills worked harder with the extra burden of the trailer than I might have expected. The splitter gearbox helped here, providing just the right gearing to use the engine torque to its best advantage.

The outfit as a whole tended to weave slightly but this could be overcome if the small corrections with the steering wheel that one naturally makes when driving where resisted. Under a steady pull, the trailer imposed a surging movement on the drawing vehicle.

The retardation given by exhaust brake was helpful, and used regularly must save on brake wear.

Visibility was good all round, and I particularly liked the kerb mirror which gave a view of the ground area beside the near side front wheel.

When driving the Freighter came on the return journey I found that I preferred this vehicle's small steering wheel and most positive steering to the DAF's. The longer wheelbase, and consequently slightly shorter overhang, meant there was less reaction between tug and trailer for small movements of the wheel so that the combination as a whole was more easily kept in line.

The engine showed up the advantage of turbocharging during hill climbing and would have been even better if matched to a 12-speed splitter box like the DAF's. Bob could have specified it but was not told of its availability until the vehicle had been delivered. It is quiet inside the Freighter's cab. The instrumentation is bet ter displayed. A suspension seat would be an advantage although the ride was not at all bad.

The chassis height of the Leyland is slightly higher than the DAF, being closer to that of the trailer, which gives a more level pull and more even towing.

Primarily to reduce the load height of the Leyland, which is exaggerated by the demount system, both vehicles were specified on low profile tyres.

Clive Stevens, the Freighter's regular driver, did not find the height of the cab a problem when entering it; and he preferred this cab for driving in as it is at the same level as the faster and heavier 32-tanners, The biggest drawbacks to this type of operation are the speed restrictions of 30mph on a road and 50mph on a motorway.

There seems no justification in differentiating between rigid, articulated or drawbar combinations as it is the drawbar which is best suited to provide bulk haulage over trunking routes and it converts to become the smaller delivery vehicle which is being asked for within towns.

What does Bob Russett think of the performances? Will he make any changes to his buying policy? He replied that it was still too early to tell, but he will keep us informed.

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