Drivers of the past century: on the road in a Mercedes-Benz LP 333 and an L 5000

6 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineOctober 9, 2020

The only thing that classic trucks from the 1950s and 1960s have in common with the current Mercedes-Benz Actros is a steering wheel and wheels. No trace of driving comfort, automatic transmissions or intelligent driver assistance systems. Nevertheless, Joachim Schlereth, head of sales and services at Mercedes-Benz Trucks Germany, is still a fan of the early post-war trucks.

“We mustn‘t forget our roots and what we‘ve achieved and improved over the course of time. For me, who was able to launch the new Mercedes-Benz Actros last year, driving a classic truck is therefore a sort of fascinating balancing act between yesterday, today and tomorrow.”

Schlereth had the opportunity for one such journey back in time at the 17th Tour of German for classic trucks which took place in September in three stages from Visselhövede via Einbeck and Spelle to Ladbergen. The event was dedicated to thanking the transport heroes of today. Daimler Truck AG took part with two vehicles from the Wörth plant‘s classic vehicle collection: a Mercedes-Benz LP 333 (year of manufacture 1960) and a Mercedes-Benz L 5000 (year of manufacture 1952).

Economical comfort in a classic truck

Already after the first few kilometres of the approximately 500km-long tour, the progress in development between LP 333 and its older brother becomes clear. In contrast with the L 5000, it is quite comfortable to drive thanks to steering assistance. The single-disc dry clutch also requires relatively low pedal force. But that‘s about it for the comfort features in the millipede – as the LP 333 is also known as a result of its two steered front axles. And you can see that when getting into the 16-tonne truck. A narrow step in front of the front axles is the only entry aid. Once the driver has made their way into the seat of the cabover truck, an impressively dimensioned engine tunnel separates driver and co-driver. Underneath it lies the 200 hp OM 326 engine with its six cylinders and a displacement of 10,735cc. The close proximity to the pre-chamber diesel unit means the engine generates an enormous amount of noise even before reaching its top speed of 75kph. Conversations with the co-driver therefore also have to be appropriately loud.

The Mercedes-Benz L 5000 is in no way inferior to its classic truck buddy in terms of noise either. Conversations at normal volume are out of the question, although the straight-six OM 67/8 with 120hp sits in front of the cab in the long nose. Anyone looking to drive this 10.7-tonne truck needs to still be a real trucker. Schlereth can already feel it when he steps on the heavy clutch for the first time. And steering also requires the same, if not more, muscle power from the arms. There’s no hydraulic assistance in here, just a huge steering wheel.

17th Tour of Germany: a 500-kilometre-long rolling museum

More than half of the 64 participants in this year‘s Tour of Germany didn‘t fare any differently, with their vehicles also coming from the 1950s and 1960s. Alongside the 13 Mercedes-Benz trucks, almost all brands of the time were represented – from Büssing to Henschel and Magirus to Krupp. It’s somewhat of a rolling museum, as chief organiser Joachim Fehrenkötter emphasises. His father Robert had the idea in 1987, because he believed that trucks should be on the road and not behind museum walls.

Since then, between 60 and 80 classic trucks have been rolling through Germany and neighbouring countries every two years, depending on the route planned.

“This year we originally planned a 10-day tour of France,” says Joachim Fehrenkötter, “but the Covid-19 pandemic put a big damper on our plans. We had to completely reschedule at short notice and shorten the tour to four days.”

But even though the invitations for it were only sent out very late, the response was overwhelming and an extremely attractive vintage truck parade was put together for the 17th tour.

Schlereth‘s conclusion after three days of double de-clutching during the Tour of Germany: “Although I got my driving licence on a truck with an unsynchronised gearbox, my respect for it remains to this day. Because if you get it wrong, everyone can hear it immediately.”