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Can he do it again?

30th March 1985, Page 55
30th March 1985
Page 55
Page 56
Page 55, 30th March 1985 — Can he do it again?
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ONE VEHICLE that is certain to be at Truckfest will be Geoff Gilbert's White Road Commander 2. As winner of the Best Kept Truck award at last year's Truckfest it is an automatic entry for the International class where it will be up against some Continental opposition.

Geoff Gilbert's entry into the world of truck shows came about by accident. He runs a fleet of 15 artics on international temperature controlled haulage out of a depot near Boston, Lincolnshire. Regular traffic is flowers, fruit and vegetables out of the surrounding area to Europe (mainly Holland, Italy and Spain) with more fruit and flowers from those countries returned as backloads.

With the exception of the lone White, Geoff Gilbert Transport is an all-Scania fleet (111, 112 and 142 tractive units) and a sister company called GTrucks is a Scania service agency.

Geoff Gilbert looked at the White Road Commander 2 back in 1978 when these American units were first imported into Britain. He recalls test driving it and being fairly impressed although it carried a price penalty -it had a list price of around £26,000 while most UK and Continental tractive units were around £22,000.

Because of his satisfaction with the Scania 111 units, Geoff Gilbert's interest in White went no further until the autumn of 1983 when a friend offered him a White which had been acquired as a hire purchase repossession.

He bought it, hoping to run it the very next day ("it was the bulb season and we were very busy") and then use it for local work and as a yard shunter. On the way back from collecting it in Grimsby it became apparent that the White was in what Geoff described as a "sad state", needing a new crown wheel and pinion just to make it roadworthy.

Having found the price of the White's original Eaton rear axle, he took the advice of another White operator and replaced the whole back axle with that from a Volvo F88. It was a straight swap, just slightly rais Irig the overall gearing.

After the axle transplant the company re-painted the White in the Geoff Gilbert Transport silver and blue livery. "It was about this time that last year's Truckfest came along so I decided to make a better job of it than I had originally planned." He replaced the rather puny White headlights with Scania units and had the aluminium bumper and fuel tanks polished.

"We put it in Truckfest just for the day out really. No one was more surprised than me when we won it," said Geoff. The age of the entries was taken into account by the judges and Geoff reckons that this helped his T-registered U nit, After last Easter's Truckfest the White started earning its keep alongside the Scanias in the fleet. Most of these are plated for 38-tonne operation and so the White was uprated by the addition of a Granning air-suspended intermediate axle. The job was comparatively simple because of the unusually long (by European standards) wheelbase of 3.95m inft), The twin-wheeled Granfling axle could Just be squeezed In front of the drive axle without cutting or extending the chassis and even the fuel tanks were far enough forward so that they did not need cutting.

The extensive use of aluminum in the White Road Commander 2 — the entire cab is aluminium — keeps the weight down and in its standard 4x2 guise the White has an unladen weight of just under six tonnes; a very competitive weight for a late-Seventies full sleeper cab tractive unit. Geoff kept the weight down after the addition of the extra axle by using Alcoa aluminium wheels.

This particular Road Commander 2 has the Caterpillar 3406 engine developing 209kW (280hp) at 2,100rpm; some others in the UK have the same Cat engine rated at 242kW (325hp).

Although 280hp is quite mundane these days, it was very respectable by UK standards when the unit was new in 1979. And the 14.6 litre in-line six-cylinder turbocharged engine is strong on torque, producing 1,3 7 6Nm (1,0 1 6 lbft) at 1,200rpm, which was one of the principle attractions for Geoff Gilbert when he first considered the White. The gearbox is a nine-speed Fuller RTO 9509B.

"You can't fault the engine," said Geoff Gilbert. "It hasn't used a drop of oil since we've had it," But while full of praise for the engine, Geoff described the White's ride as "bone-shakIng", which he attributes to the short front-leaf springs dictated by the very forward location of the steering axle. He said that the addition of the Granning axle has improved matters slightly.

The White's regular driver is Barry Cumberworth. "I won't hear a word said against it", declares Barry, and he means it, He uses the White for twiceweekly trips to Holland (the company runs a daily service to Holland and a weekly service to Italy for both full load and groupage traffic) and this is about the only concession to the unit's status. Its fuel consumption is on the heavy side and so it is generally kept on the Dutch run where the mileage in not so great. Geoff Gilbert said the White is about 1-2mpg worse than the Scania 142 units which are achieving about 35.31/100km (8mpg).

On the credit side, the White actually saves some money on its annual vehicle excise duty. As a three-axle, 38-tonne unit it pays £2,730 (pre Budget) compared with the £3,100 paid by the two-axle, 38-tonne Scania units.

Most of the semi-trailers in the fleet are triaxle reefers, Geoff Gilbert having switched from tilts to specialise in tern perature controlled haulage. He much prefers Continental trailers and most have Lamberet bodywork on Trailor chassis with the fridge plants by Thermoking or Carrier. All are equipped with SAF air suspension to give the fruit and vegetables a gentle ride. To reduce tyre scrub, the triaxle bogies are close coupled and have lifting front axles, Geoff Gilbert was an early convert to thin wall refrigerated trailers, first specifying them in 1980. He said that in those days his customers were not geared up for 70cum, 24 pallet reefers and the main benefit he got was the extra capacity available for palletised dry goods that were carried as backloads. It is different these days: "Now everyone wants thin wall trailers."

The White continues to justify its place alongside the more youthful and more efficient Scanias in the very professional Geoff Gilbert Transport fleet because it still pays its way. It may have a rather high fuel consumption but so far it has proved reliable and it does have a favourable depreciation rate.

Including the £6,000 purchase price, the White has cost Geoff Gilbert £10,000. And it does keep Barry Cumberworth happy, even if the fitters are not so keen and the other drivers give it a wide berth.


Organisations: White Road, Scania, Road
Locations: Boston

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