Peterbilt trucks are the go-to industry standard when it comes to heavy-duty commercial trucking vehicles. The vehicle has made some pop culture appearances. The Optimus Prime from the Transformers series is a perfect example.
So, if you are looking for the history of one of the greatest shape-shifting heroes of the 90s, you have come to the right place.
Origins of Peterbilt – the 1930s
Peterbilt is easily one of the biggest trucking companies in the United States, but it didn’t start out that way.
In the 1930s timber was a precious resource, as it was used in everything from building houses to even using as firewood. But while lumber itself was essential to people, transporting it was a nightmare for companies. Taking the timber from the forests to the mills was labor-intensive as well as time and money consuming. So, one particular Lumber tycoon by the name of T.A. Peterman sought out a vehicle that can do all of the heavy liftings for them.
With that idea in mind, Peterman began using military vehicles to build and craft heavy-duty vehicles for commercial use. In 1938, Peterman bought a failed motor manufacturer, by the name of Fageol Motors based in Oakland. Once he bought Fageol Motors, he used its equipment to build a chassis capable of holding onto massive weights. And with that Peterbilt came into being.
The Paccar Ownership and Buying Spree over the Decades
Peterman passed away in 1945, leaving his company and fortune to his wife. His wife sold the company to the original seven managers of the firm, who in turn sold it to the Pacific Car and Foundry Company or PACCAR.
Now Paccar was a very different company. It was originally a railway freight car builder that was making its way into the trucking industry. And what better way to do that than to buy one of the biggest growing trucking companies of that time.
However, Peterbilt wasn’t the only company that PACCAR bought to make its transition to the trucking industry. Before buying the Peterbilt, they bought Kenworth, another firm based in Oakland. After Peterbilt they went on a buying spree, taking control of manufacturers like Foden Trucks, Dart Truck Company, Dutch DAF Trucks, and Leyland trucks.
With two of their biggest producers, Peterbilt and DAF, PACCAR was all set to be one of the biggest – if not the biggest –manufacturer in the industry. But before PACCAR bought Peterbilt, they specifically worked on the 260/360 series of trucks. Then the war came around in 1942, and they stopped production of trucks from working on military vehicles. This was all of course during the time the original owner was alive.
After Peterman’s death, and in the hands of the original managers, Peterbilt was able to create its most durable line up of trucks yet. The 281/351 series was incredibly durable and was so succe3ssful in fact that even after the acquisition in 1958, they continued to produce this specific series trucks. The series went from 1954-1976 and went through a few makeovers through the years.
In 1959, the trucks came in a tilted cab-over-engine model that was very popular among truckers thanks to its easy access to the engine. But later the COE models fell out of production as the trucks size rules were relaxed and the industry was deregulated.
The 379 model is one of the best sealing models to date, as well as their longest selling model. This model sold from 1987-2007, with the iconic long square noose and aluminum hood staying intact throughout. Fun fact: this is the model that was the inspiration for the Optimus Prime truck in the transformers. Many truckers considered it to be the perfect truck, in terms of both its design and its performance.
Peterbilt also went on to make a few improvements to this model in terms of drier visibility and redesigned windows. These were a welcome change to the overall aesthetic of the truck, and the enlarged windows and side mirrors made for great improvements to the driver's vision.
Of course, the truck isn’t the only thing that they have to manufacture; they also have to make the sleeper cabins fir their truckers. And Peterbilt spent a considerable amount of time going over the design of the sleepers as well as considerable resources during the development process.
Initially, they thought that the sleeper cabin should be the same color as the rest of the truck. The paint scheme matching the rest of the outside of the truck was a good choice. Peterbilt also went the extra mile and made the interior of the sleeper to match that of the cab. But this had one great flaw - these cabins had to be accessed from the outside.
Later in the 70s, Peterbilt designed a cabin through which the trucker could travel straight into the sleeper without having to step out. This was great for the truckers, as they wouldn’t have to stop the truck from accessing the sleeper behind them. This was the start of the 63-inch-long sleepers, as opposed to the 40 and 60-inch sleepers previous models.
Then in 1994, Peterbilt came up with the Unibilt sleeper that was equipped with air suspension and finally came the 70-inch model by 2005.
Peterbilt started from the ground up as primarily a lumbar transporter, and slowly made its way to become one of the most famous truck manufacturers of the current decade. Although they are still under the wing of PACCAR, they are still making strides in the trucking industry. From its frame to the suspension and sleeper, Peterbilt has been innovating its trucks since day one. In conclusion, this was the history of one of the biggest and popular trucking companies in the industry, the Peterbilt.