Clear-Cut Design: I Love Antique Heavy Trucks

By Mike Mello

11.17.2007

Longnose heavy trucks from the middle of the twentieth century hold a certain amount of mystique for me. As a kid, toy trucks were a favorite. They could haul anything, they ruled the playroom and had cool accessories like ladders, extra wheels and dump bodies. As an adult, antique trucks from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, seem to be a pure example of form following function. Whether perfectly restored or wearing a well-worn coat of paint, antique trucks possess a balanced personality that is proud, commanding and stable. Although, when Hollywood features a certain vintage semi, it can end up being delightfully overbearing.

The end of summer brought a small showing of antique trucks to the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, MA, where I was able to grab a few shots of some former heavy haulers. (More photos can be seen at my Flickr page.) Not one child who might have been out just enjoying the park around the museum could ignore these rigs. Perhaps it’s just the shiny red paint, or the handsome non-integrated headlights that stand proud like wide eyes eager for the next job on the above ’52 Mack LJ.

Overall, the most visually compelling point of design of these vehicle is something that should never be forgotten. When a hood is built to simply house the engine, or a fender is engineered to withstand more than a few bumps and a grille guard is installed to actually protect a radiator, it’s a lesson in functionality. To me, what follows is a pure product that simply shows how clean design can be. Above and below is a ’59 Mack B 83.


These trucks aren’t without their details. I admire the wrap-around louvers that follow the curve of the cab wall and this isn’t to say that scoops, complex body lines or fancy paint don’t have their place in design – of course they do. It’s just that trucks like these occupy one end of the design spectrum that I can go to when fiberglass fairing and useless spoilers all get to be a bit much.

Now, the following Peterbilt was not at the above show, but, as many “Duel” fans know, the 1960 Peterbilt seen here runs, drives, and exists in a private collection. See the Surviving Duel Truck site for full details and more photos. The personality that this particular vintage rig holds is only magnified by the grimy patina, and the particulary aggressive role it takes in “Duel.” However, make no mistake, it wouldn’t be anywhere near as formidable if it didn’t have those wide fenders, tall nose and stand-alone headlights. Of course, a little customization is ok, because that heavy iron bumper just completes the look.

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Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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5 Comments

  1. The trucks I like from this era are the COE models, the cab-over-engine models. Incredibly cool-looking designs. I would love to take a cab from one of these old COE trucks and put it on top of a modern truck chassis.

  2. Speaking of old trucks, I spotted a site about old heavy-duty Dodge trucks like the Big Horn and all, it’s at http://www.olddodges.com

  3. seanjohn, I’ll look at those cab overs for sure.
    steaphane, Thanks for that link! That’s totally new to me and it looks amazing.

  4. How about the sreamlined tanker trucks of the 40s and 50s? Those were gerat looking trucks from a design perspective.

  5. The truck from Duel is one bad machine.

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