So long, long nose: The first short-nosed trucks were introduced 45 years ago
Feb 05, 2009
  • L 322: the best-seller in its category
  • A comfortable cab with a compact design
  • Short-nosed trucks remained an export hit for decades
The new short-nosed trucks from Daimler-Benz, first presented to the press in March 1959, started out as a compromise on wheels. In order to promote the conveyance of goods by rail, Transport Minister Seebohm made life difficult for the truck: New, very stringent regulations concerning weights and dimensions spelt the end for the traditional conventionals, which had become the object of criticism for taking up too much valuable space on the roads with their long cowls.
Compact design is the order of the day
The task at hand was to make the trucks’ “hooters” somewhat shorter: The tight restrictions on exterior dimensions forced the designers to make as much space available for the load surface while at the same time keeping the trucks as light as possible, in order to maximize payload in view of the weight restrictions, which were also very stringent. On the other hand, a radical change to the cab-over-engine (COE) design, which had already become all the rage abroad, was too daring for the designers: It remained to be foreseen whether this principle would be more than a passing fad and whether the customers would go along with such a revolutionary change.
Furthermore, COE design was still in its infancy at Daimler-Benz. Simultaneously with the L 322 introduced in 1959, however, the company produced the first COE variant of its own; this went by the name of LP 322 and quickly found widespread acceptance. These were the very first COE models to be produced at the plant: Fashioning cab-over-engine trucks out of chassis delivered from the plant had hitherto been the job of external coachmakers.
The first COEs are simultaneously delivered ex-factory
However, both the rounded design of these first factory-produced COEs and their type designation maintained the style of their predecessors assembled by external companies. The abbreviation “LP” had already long stood for “Lastwagen Pullman” (Pullman truck) and was an allusion to the luxurious ambience that the body manufacturers claimed for their various products.
The short-nosed truck: a successful compromise
The short-nosed newcomers had two distinct advantages over the COEs. First, many drivers felt safer in a seat located behind the engine compartment – although this was relatively short by yesteryear’s standards – than in the cab-over-engine models. And second, the short-nosed trucks’ engine projected only slightly into the cab, thus facilitating through-cab access. This design also left sufficient space for a third seat between the driver and co-driver, and the cab was subjected to less heat and noise from the engine than was its COE counterpart, which – as the name indicates – was positioned directly above the power unit. And the engine was more easily accessible in the short-nosed cab anyway. Several years were to pass until the first tilt cabs were produced.
The new short-nosed trucks entered the arena in three weight categories: The L 322 with a permissible gross weight of 10.5 tonnes was a typical medium-heavy truck, designed mainly for short-range transport and relatively light applications in the building industry. Also in early 1959, the heavier L 327 was introduced with a permissible GVW of 12.0 tonnes, the maximum allowed by the Minister Seebohm’s regulations.
Production in Mannheim and Gaggenau
While these two predecessors to the short-nosed generation were produced in Mannheim, the third originated in Gaggenau – the cradle of the heavyweights: The
L 337 was designed for long-range transportation and heavy-duty building work; it too complied with Seebohm’s 12-tonne restriction, at least at the outset.
With its 172-hp six-cylinder OM 326 prechamber engine (displacement 10.8 liters) this truck was also appropriately powered to haul a combination weight of up to 24 tonnes that was permissible at that time. By comparison, the twelve-tonne L 327 and the
10.5-tonne L 322 were powered in 1959 by the 5.1-liter OM 321 unit, which produced no less than 110 horsepower.
Extra-heavy export versions
However, reinforced vehicles with higher gross weights were required for export. Daimler-Benz catered for this demand with trucks such as the L 332, which could haul 19 tonnes, but was only produced in 1962. And the German regulations were modified again before very long. 16 tonnes for the tractor unit and a further 16 tonnes for the trailer were soon to become the norm. Already in 1960, the new L 334 put in a good showing with an OM 326 engine boosted to 200 hp. This vehicle, renamed L 1620 in 1963, eventually became the standard truck combination in German long-distance haulage.
The L 322 works its way to the top
The medium-heavy L 322 became the best-selling vehicle of its category. The development engineers had given it a synchronized five-speed gearbox in place of the traditional constant-mesh transmission, which was difficult to shift, along with a hypoid rear axle that superseded the venerable bevel gear drive and was superior to it in terms of service life, reliability and quiet operation. In terms of payload, the L 322 was regarded as practically unbeatable: Its tare weight of 3,700 kg was complemented by a highly favorable payload of 6,750 kg, which yielded a payload factor of 1:1.8 – a top figure for the German trucks of that era.
The year 1963 saw a revolution in truck model designations: The rather cryptic model series codes (“Baumuster”) gave way to the sequence of figures based on weight and engine power which is still used today for all Mercedes-Benz trucks. An L 322 thus became an L 1113, which the connoisseur could immediately recognize as an eleven-tonner with a 130-horsepower engine.
The short-nosed heavy-duty truck: a classic in the making
The development of COE cabs went forward in leaps and bounds in the sixties, and the old Pullman unit was superseded by the so-called box cab, which in turn finally made way for the New Generation cabs in 1973. The short-nosed cabs, by contrast, underwent no more than modest development: In July 1967 they incorporated enhancements such as a raised and greatly enlarged front windscreen, more headroom in the interior and a roof hatch. Some more improvements followed in 1980, once the New Generation had been superseded by the New Generation 80: The short-nosed truck was simply no match for this newcomer with its spacious cab.
On the other hand, the short-nosed trucks had long since become a veritable export hit, especially the heavy-duty versions. While the various light and medium-heavy short-nosed truck models were gradually phased out between 1976 and 1984, the heavy-duty variants – the two-axle L 1924 and L 1928 and the three-axle L 2624 and L 2628 – held their own in export for some years to come. It was not until 1996 that a short-nosed L 1924 became the last of its type to leave the production line in Wörth.
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