In International Truck Stop16 MinutesBy NZ Trucking magazineJuly 6, 2020

Will Shiers takes a close look at a haulage family‘s first, and most recent trucks. Can he possibly find any similarities?

Photo: The original Ford Model TT and the latest Mercedes- Benz Actros Edition 1 link almost 100 years in transport for the Wring family.

Did trucking Top
Trumps ever make it down to New Zealand? I hope so, as in my opinion it‘s the best card game ever invented. I spent my childhood playing it, and even today I reckon I‘d choose Top Trumps over a game of Texas hold ‘em! To give you a brief overview, every card had a photo of a truck, and a list of technical specifications. You chose a category your truck was strong in, read out your score, and hoped to win. To give you an example, if you had a Leyland Terrier in your hand and your opponent had a Scania 141, you were pretty much snookered. I was instantly reminded of Top Trumps when I turned up at Wrings Transport‘s yard, just a stone‘s throw from the Severn estuary in Avonmouth, in the west of England. Of the two trucks I‘d come to see, I‘d only ever want to be dealt one as a Top Trump card!

Photo: Load-carrying capacity has improved somewhat.

In 1931, Bristol-based haulier Sidney Joseph Wring encountered unexpected transport issues when his sole prime mover gave up the ghost. This was his second horse to end up in the glue factory since setting up the company four years earlier, leaving the 29-year-old entrepreneur with a dilemma. Should he persevere with another single horsepower vehicle, or invest in a combustion-engined truck instead? He did the right thing! Like so many haulage contractors of the time, his first motorised vehicle was a Ford Model TT – the commercial version of the popular Model T passenger car. He opted for a used British-built example, of 1927 vintage, the model‘s final year of production. Sidney never looked back. Although the Ford was replaced after a few years, that wasn‘t the end of the story. After Sidney‘s death in 1966,his children tracked down a near identical vehicle still working for a living in Scotland. They purchased it as a tribute to their late father and painted it in his original livery.

As you can see, 50-plus years later, it‘s still going strong. Fast-forward 88 years and Sidney‘s grandson, Stuart Wring, was also faced with a truck-buying decision – what flagship tractor to purchase to commemorate the company‘s silver anniversary. And no, we haven‘t got the maths wrong. The original Wrings Transport was sold in the late 1960s, and the current incarnation was formed in 1995, which means this year it is 25 years old. “The original plan was to buy a V8 Scania or a Mercedes- Benz Actros GigaSpace with alloy wheels and a leather interior,” explains Stuart. “Something like this would have tied in beautifully with our anniversary.” But then he found out about the Actros Edition 1, a limited run of just 35 top-spec right-hand drive Actros tractors. “Seeing as the majority of our fleet is now Mercedes, it couldn‘t have been more perfect. It is the ideal trophy truck, and we will keep it forever.” So now for the big question – is it possible to draw any parallels between these two trucks? More to the point, could the Model TT possibly beat the big Merc in a game of Top Trumps?

Photo: Spartan Model TT cab from a different era – literally!

Photo: Wheel about the simplest of the Model TT‘s controls.

The ins and outs
“The Actros isn‘t the easiest truck to get into, especially if you‘ve got dodgy knees like me,” says Stuart‘s father, Roy, who at the age of 76 has no plans to retire from the family firm. He‘s referring to the GigaSpace cab‘s four steps, which are rather steep, and don‘t appear to be staggered. But, despite only having one step (a wide running board), he finds the Ford equally as challenging to get in and out of, and so do I. The problem is trying to climb over the handbrake, which is inexplicably positioned to the right of the driver‘s seat, and resembles some sort of Victorian weapon. Not being a contortionist, I give up, and enter via the passenger door instead, sliding along the bench seat to the driver‘s side. Once there I‘m greeted by one of the most uncomfortable seating positions I have ever encountered in a vehicle. Despite eventually managing to fold myself into the seat, the steering wheel rubs on my stomach, and I can‘t reach the pedals without catching the outside of my right leg on the dreaded handbrake. For his sake, I only hope Sidney wasn‘t as tall or as fat as me!

Photo: What driver wouldn‘t want to be at this helm?

Inside story
The new Actros‘s interior is a thing of beauty. By fitting a pair of touch screens, Mercedes- Benz has been able to lose much of the conventional switchgear, resulting in one of the least cluttered dashboards I have ever seen. I say ‘one of‘, because incredibly the Ford‘s is even more minimalist. It doesn‘t have any switches at all, and the only dial is an ammeter! As you can imagine, the Model TT is completely devoid of luxury. In fact, it has more in common with a medieval torture chamber than the Actros. By 1927, when this one rolled off the assembly line, the TT was in its 11th and final year of production, and looking old and basic compared with the competition. In fact, the only creature comforts of note are wind-down side windows, and a single mechanical windscreen wiper, operated by a lever above the windscreen. It‘s all a far cry from the interior of the Actros Edition 1, which has more bells than the Vatican, and more whistles than a referees‘ convention. One of the more notable additions is the eight-colour LED ambience lighting, which can be tailored to suit a driver‘s taste or mood. Just what every driver wants, right?

Safety first
There‘s a huge gulf between the two vehicles in terms of safety too. The Actros is arguably the safest truck on the road, and has an impressive list of three-letter abbreviations on its spec sheet. Its ABA5 (Active Brake Assist 5) will even react to stationary obstacles, which these days increasingly means pedestrians crossing the road while engrossed in their mobile phones, frozen in fear when they finally spot the truck closing in on them. That said, you‘d have to be stone deaf not to notice the Ford approaching. It sounds like a World War II fighter plane that‘s about to crash. And even if the worst was to happen, its top speed is only about 30kph. Obviously, the Model TT hails from a very different era in terms of safety, the only obvious features being lights (including oil-powered tail lamps), brakes and a horn.

Photo: It‘s amazing the difference in 100 years.

I can see clearly
Despite its height, visibility in the Actros is excellent. It‘s a different story in the Model TT, which although it has the benefit of a lower cab, it has a particularly small windscreen. What‘s more, when the driver looks sideways, their gaze is blocked by the B-pillars. The driving position is not too dissimilar to the original Land Rover Defender. Worth a mention is Mercedes‘s much-hyped MirrorCam. Instead of conventional mirrors, it has a pair of cameras located high on the cab sides, and screens mounted in the cab on the A-pillars. Although you could describe MirrorCam as being the solution to a problem that didn‘t exist, I have to confess to quite liking it.

Photo: Stuart Wring had a tough decision to make when choosing a truck to commemorate the company‘s anniversary.

Behind the wheel
In terms of driving, the difference between these two vehicles really is like chalk and cheese. The Actros is the first production truck in the world to have level 2 autonomy – accelerating, braking and steering itself – and making the driver‘s life as easy as possible. The Ford on the other hand is very much a hands-on driving experience, requiring 100% attention at all times. It‘s actually incredibly complicated to drive (see below), which leads me to one of the few things that these vehicles do have in common – both require driver training. While I‘m confident that anyone can get into the Actros and drive it away, to get the best from it a proper handover is vital. With the Model TT however, unless you‘ve driven one before, you stand virtually no chance of even getting it moving.

Photo: Actros‘s cab is bright, airy, and has more than enough space for a comfortable journey.

It was designed before driver controls were standardised, so the accelerator, brake and gear-shifter are not where you would expect them to be. Driving one is comparable to doing acrobatics in a suit of armour while balancing an egg on your head! As I bid my farewells, and head back down the M4 motorway to London, my mind wanders. I‘m thinking about some of the things Sidney saw in his 64 years on this planet. He started with a horse and cart, and lived to see a man on the moon. But I bet he never thought anyone would invent a mirrorless truck that could accelerate, brake and steer itself. That‘s it! I‘ve finally found something the Ford could beat the Mercedes on – the number of rear view mirrors. The Model TT only has one, but that‘s one more than the Actros!


Photo: Will demonstrates that driving in the early days wasn‘t the most comfortable of activities.

Neither Stuart, nor his father, can drive the TT, and the only family member who has mastered the art is Matt Ingram, who is married to Helen, the daughter of Sidney‘s son, the late Joe Wring. And here‘s how it‘s done: “You take your foot off the left pedal and you‘re in high speed, push it down for low speed, and halfway down is neutral. You need to push the middle pedal down for reverse, while the right pedal is the backwheel brake. “The handbrake, halfway up, holds it in neutral for you, while all the way up is the proper stopping brake. The throttle is on the left of the steering wheel. One of the most difficult things to get used to is taking your feet off the pedals to stop. If you stamp on the middle pedal, you go backwards!”