Never losing sight

In April 2023, Tests39 MinutesBy Dave McCoidMay 20, 2023

We bided our time looking for an example of Scania’s new S770 monster, and when one popped up in the green of Martinborough Transport, we knew our stars were aligning. Here was a truck we were itching to investigate in a place we’d always wanted to visit. Asking if the wait was worth it is like asking if Lotto is worth winning.

It’s early on a Sunday evening, and we swing into Martinborough Transport’s yard on Lake Ferry Road, just to the south of the picture-postcard Wairarapa town. Usually, it’s hard to know where along the line-up to look first when you’re sitting at their front gate, but not on this occasion.

‘Captain K’ – Carl Kirkbeck – sitting next to me was impressed when I mustered every ounce of descriptive prose I possibly could, issuing forth with something Shakespeare and Dickens would have been proud of: “Holy shit! Look at it!”

There, on the left-hand end was the company’s latest stock unit, a Scania S770 Highline and Jackson Enterprises five-axle trailer, both sporting a brand-new set of four-deck Total stock crates. Regardless of what you’re in to or what your trucking preference is, you couldn’t not be impressed.

“On ya go girls.”

Martinborough Transport is owned by the Hawkins family, and we rang Daniel Hawkins to make sure it was all right to go for a wander around the big Griffin. The clearance given, we soon met a bloke preparing his mountain bike prior to heading off on a ride.

He appeared with his trusty mechanical steed from a row of smart-looking accommodation dongas. We didn’t know it at the time, but when we left two days later, we would have the utmost respect for this fine fellow. He was Chris Berghan, driver of the green giant parked in front of us.

In classic Chris style, he didn’t give any indication whatsoever he was the driver until we got to post chit-chat introductions. “Oh, you’re the Trucking guys? I’m Chris. I drive it. I’ve been giving it a clean-up getting ready for you.”

The whole approach and introduction spoke volumes, as to why this incredible truck is in the safest hands you’ll find.

Chris changing before he begins loading. Overalls and boots live outside the cab…

What Monday blues?

There’s certainly nothing typical about this Monday morning. Reacquainted with both man and machine at the leisurely hour of 7.30am, we were off to the nearby rural surrounds of Galdstone and the first of two pick-ups from the Patrick family’s Te Whanake farms.

If you were to sum up in one word how Martinborough Transport like to present a truck and trailer, ‘spectacular’ would work just fine. There was no question, this time the Hawkins family had gone above and beyond. Evidently, there were two weekends and 45 hours spent fitting the additional lighting. There’s additional stainless and light panels in all the right places, and the special nature of the truck doesn’t end there. The artwork on the cab, the rego − they all have meaning, knitting the whole truck and business story together. (See sidebars.)

Oh, and by the way, it tows the JE1000, the 1000th trailer built by Jackson Enterprises, believe it or not.

As Chris left the yard in a light Wairarapa mist, running lights on, it looked stunning. We were glad we were there; our patience had paid off.

And leave the yard, it certainly did. Off to earn its keep, it motored off like an enormous car. Chris took the heavy traffic bypass around town, and we cut straight through to get ahead of him. As you can probably imagine, he was almost upon us when we pulled out of the Give Way onto Ponatahi Road. Getting pictures of this combination would require co-operation from the driver, it’s 26.5- tonne tare weight imposing no burden on the truck whatsoever. Luckly, the class of the truck was matched by its helmsman.

We followed Chris out through the lovely green surrounds and commented immediately on how things were tracking. It was a feature of the next couple of days. Yes, all truck drivers should know where their truck is – but there’s knowing…and knowing. On backcountry roads with no fog line, the outside tyre walls on the left side of the combination ran the edge of the seal faultlessly – never leaving the bitumen, never straying an inch to the centre. It was a joy to watch a master of the craft this connected to a 60,000km old truck. It was Dave Scobie at TSL all over again (New Zealand Trucking magazine, June 2022).

Chris’ personality is perfect for handling aniumals. They sense tension every time, so being naturally calm helps immeasurably.

We missed a golden photo opportunity at the first pick-up. It was all over in a blur. A tractor left in the turnaround area tightened things up considerably, but the Scania went around in one go. “Look at that!” We weren’t expecting it to be that nimble.

As we said last month, there are no excuses anymore for a rigid 8×4 having a bad lock. It also makes dragging and placing 11.1m trailers a whole lot easier!

Butted up, Chris alights from the cab and dons the boots and overalls. Riding in cattle trucks as a young fella on the Hauraki Plains, they always had a fragrance in-cab that left no guesses as to what was on the back. It was a product of trucks back then being built with no storage whatsoever. The dash in front of the windscreen was storage. What more did you want?

Not so nowadays. Chris lives in this truck, and the cab is his world. It’s a bootless, overalls-less, immaculate place to be, and unless you glance in the mirrors, you won’t know what’s on the back. Drop some food on the floor and bugger the 10-second rule – you’d still be safe to consume it in an hour. Probably a day!

The trailer left at the first pick-up, it was around to the second and critters on, before hooking back up to the trolly. Out carefully through the trees, you realise just how much truck there is here. It stands roughly 4.085m to the top of the air deflector, and being an S-cab, mirror aerials and things end up higher than most. But there are low bits, too – light panels on the bottom of the diesel tank and trailer toolbox. It’s a truck that has to be thought about constantly, and Chris’ ‘eyecrometer’ is on point.

For king and country… or is that King Country?

Around to the Masterton saleyards we go. Standing start to 80km/h half-loaded, compared with unloaded? Undetectable.

Chris loaded cattle already in the pens while waiting for another Martinborough truck due in with the balance. That turned out to be Lucy McLennan in an R520, her first truck-and-trailer combination. She was closely followed by Jo Stanners who was on a mission in her 6×4 P400 Scania single-decker. “She’s waiting for a single- deck trailer to go with that,” says Chris. “The girls are great. They’re good to work with and do a great job. Piper McGregor is the third. She washes crates and trucks and isn’t far from going out on the road either. She’s nearly got her Class 2. She moves the units around the yard and that now.”

The modern crate is a lightweight affair, with ramps and step plates far easier to handle than once upon a time. So much time could be lost prepping and breaking down the various incarnations of decks, doors and ramps. Chris floats around the unit, making the difficult look effortless after more than two decades in the cattle-moving game. His fitness comes into its own also, looking half gymnast as he flicks himself over the pens, gates, and saleyard rails.

The superbly built Jackson Enterprises five-axle Mono trailer runs on SAF-slung IMT axles. “We prefer SAF,” says Daniel Hawkins later. “But we just need to claw every inch of crate room we can. It’s interesting when you think that even with HPMV at 54 tonne, modern animal genetics means we’re not carting any more stock than we used to.”

All aboard, it’s Te Kuiti or bust. That’s a good lead of about 405km from Masterton, nothing out of the ordinary for the Martinborough crew who regularly cart out of Canterbury back to the Wairarapa, Manawatu and beyond.

Standing start to 80km/h at 50 tonne compared with half loaded? Detectable, but unbelievable.

The wheel kicked back and cruiosing with a cinema screen-like outlook – cool.

The rig rolled up through the Wairarapa as few other trucks can do. Ben Reed and Dave Scobie in the Volvo FH16s (750 and 700, respectively) we’ve sampled, and Owen Thornley in Talley’s Scania S730 all know what Chris’ day feels like.

One thing these men have in common is experience, and that’s a critical component in the success or failure of these trucks. We’re right on board with the adage of there being no replacement for displacement, but this machine and those in its company are trucks beyond what were once considered big bangers. Look at it this way, a 380hp Cat 3406 was a Hefty-Jeff back in the day. Chris has that on each bank of the V8. Give these machines to anyone a bit fizzy or erratic, and you’ll may well have a big demoralising mess on your hands… quickly.

Enough of the sobering stuff. Back to the fun. Our first vision of what 566kW (770hp) could do as Chris launched at the Saddle Road was thwarted by a DAF that had a momentary pause on the way up. “Yeah, I could see him having trouble up ahead,” says Chris. “Poor bugger. I slowed right down, so I didn’t have to stop and I just managed to keep it rolling.” Again, that typified the man. No cheap shots at someone else’s bad day.

In terms of post event, the Scania was able to recover to climbing speed from near stop at 50 tonne. Crikey!

Chris glides through Ohakune.

This Griffin has claws… real claws

Out on the Manawatu side, and we head for SH1, just north of Hunterville via Colyton, Cheltenham and Vinegar Hill. With the Napier- Taupo Road currently defunct, this route appeared to be the chosen replacement. The truck traffic was nerve- racking, particularly the Ashurst to Colyton section, a narrow, ‘shoulderless’ rural passage with no fog line.

A shoutout must go to the Sharp As Linehaul driver in the K104 who knew exactly what was coming toward him – meaning two decks of cattle on a narrow rural road. He allowed Chris to pass and keep all 32 wheels on the blacktop – an absolute imperative. The whole manoeuvre undertaken without inducing grey hairs. Well done, that fellow.

What we noticed through the climbing and winding Vinegar Hill section from Cheltenham was a distinct lack of attempted passing hysteria from the cars following the combination. His ground speed induced a level of satisfaction in those following, happy to pass when he pulled over. It was quite apparent.

The south side of the Mangaweka Deviation clearly demonstrated the horses and torques lurking under the floorboards. Yes, you’re all saying, ‘that’s not a test’, but at 50 tonne, Chris rolled up at the legal speed with… room to spare, if you know what I mean.

What is lurking below his feet then? The latest incarnation of Scania’s 16.4-litre V8 legend is what. In Euro-6 trim, it’s a clean beast, producing 566kW (770hp) at 1800rpm, with a steel and mind-bending 3700Nm (2729lb/ft) of torque from 1000rpm to 1450rpm.

Now for the real headspin. At 1400rpm it is already producing 560kW (750hp) and at peak power, the torque is still 3000Nm (2212lb/ ft). Again, the sweet spot is 1450rpm, and let it pull.

The bulk of the increased output came from bigger injectors and a fixed geometry turbocharger. It’s also 75kg lighter than its predecessor.

The JE1000 trailer. The 1000th trailer produced at Jackson Enterprises. It has all the bells and whistles, including a full light bar on the back of the dolly – practical safety.

Behind the big bent motor is Scania’s 14-speed Opticruise AMT stirrer, and out back, RPB735 hub reduction axles have the massive job of transmitting all that output onto terra firma. It’s full air suspension from front to back, giving Chris accurate load information across all axles, and flexibility in cab ride height for those extra tricky locations. It also means a full air ride, from tyres to seat.

The Taihape Deviation was dispatched at 46km/h, at 1400rpm, in ninth; Meads Hill later in the day on the way into Te Kuiti from the south on SH3 drew the same numbers.

“How do you reckon it rides and rolls through corners?” he says later. Again, considering the size of the gargantuan cab, it’s as solid as a rock. Yes, there’s a little movement, but that’s called comfort. The chassis is rock-solid, as sure-footed as is physically possible. In fact, with two decks on, it sat dead even through the National Park and the King Country’s finest, side to side and ups and downs.

“The R620 I came off was a real cracker of a truck – went like a rocket,” says Chris. “This is up two gears and about 10km/h on that.”

A standing start at Tohunga Junction, where SH49 meets SH4 at Raetahi, and we’re accelerating through 60km/h by the top of the cutting. Down the spiral, the RD4100 retarder imparts it 4100Nm (3024lb/ft) of hold-back with only two feathers of the brake. It’s almost surreal.

We rounded one of kiwi trucking’s most famous corners – the right-hander at the northern end of Taumarunui – and rolled on up SH4. Once it was an achievement getting this far, now you wonder if you should have stopped for an ice cream.

Loping through the King Country, the Scania is happy as, dropping back to 1100rpm and rolling away again. It’s around 67dB in the cab, lifted occasionally by the faint sound of a big ole V8 somewhere in the bowels. Fuel consumption is sitting at 1.91kpl for the 60,000km covered to date. That’s 5.39mpg. There’s an awful lot of truck here, physically and output-wise, and it weighs 26.5 tonne empty. The nature of work undertaken means Martinborough runs a solid load factor, so all things considered, it’s a bloody good number.

The comfort level is absurd, considering we’re a commercial vehicle carrying stock. To think what the old crew in Leyland Hippos and the like used to carry on their backs and the average speed they kept through places such as the National Park and King Country. They measured travel times with a calendar, we were motoring through here a rate acceptable in a motorcar. In fact, we’re probably doing better than a car from a time gone by. The S770 at 50 tonne or a Hillman Hunter? I’ll take the Griffin every day.

Including a stop up a side road in Waiouru to pick up a straggler, and a half-hour break, we arrived at Universal Beef Packers (UBP) in Te Kuiti just over five hours after leaving Masterton.

The Martinborough Scania is one of those trucks that attracts an audience, and we reckon one of the crew at UBP was up for the Guinness Book of Records for the number of times you can say “too much” in a minute. Chris, the perfect gentleman, goes about his work and allows people to enjoy it. It’s never about him.

Unloaded, it was a shower and tidy-up then he headed to the Bay of Plenty for a kip.


Let’s be clear on two things. First, Scania’s Highline S cab is designed for those whose abode is often ‘non-fixed’. Mind you, that’s not always the reason people buy them. It might be visibility, that bit of extra space, the amenities, even balancing the overall look of a truck to its task, a flavour we saw last month with Bruce’s FM Volvo at Road Metals. Chris Berghan, however, is the poster child for the core reason you buy the S-cab Highline.

Second, we’re not getting into the crazy ‘which is best?’ between Chris’ S-cab Highline or Dave Scobie’s FH16 Globey at TSL (New Zealand Trucking magazine, June 2022), or any other big Euro for that matter. Like the US-versus-Europe thing, when choosing your base truck, it’s preference. And that’s valid because they’re so different in how they come at it.

While everything about the fundamentals of an S-cab Highline and FH Globetrotter is the same – the steering wheel is on the right, the engine is underneath, there is storage overhead and all around, there’s a bunk behind you, a fridge etc – it is simply remarkable how different each marque’s design team can make them feel. Especially when you factor in both machines originate from the same country! The austerity and library-like calm imbued by the Viking versus the slightly more maverick feel of the Griffin. I don’t care if you like one more than me, and you don’t care if I like the other more than you. It’s how ‘you’ feel when you have to live in one, and that’s pretty much what Chris Berghan does.

“Yeah, it’s pretty good, all right.” Chris gives a grin, which is significant – he’s one of those people who smiles readily but not needlessly.

Space, the final frontier, and there’s plenty of frontier in here! In the S-cab Highline, you can stand up, stretch and walk around – there’s 2070mm of headroom. The Martinborough truck has the 2m-deep cab, so it doesn’t have the extra 300mm that Trevor Harcourt’s machine at Alexander Group has, or the company’s own Kenworth Aerodyne cabs, for that matter. But, as one old Aussie cattle haulier said to me once in regard to the ever-increasing cab sizes, “What do ya ‘reckin’ they do in them? Dance or something?”

Storage, above all else, is key when you live in your wagon, and the Highline has it everywhere. Admittedly, the front, overhead left and centre cupboards house the coffee maker and microwave (we’ll come back to them in a minute), but you’re still left with oodles of stowage, including trays and the pull-out drawer under the lower bunk, pelmets, centre dash console drawers, door pockets and, of course, the externals that can be accessed from within.

Chris’ cab also has double bunks, which do eliminate back-wall lockers, but they are something he wanted and were willingly included by the Hawkins brothers. “I’ve had my nephew with me a lot over the years, and when the truck was coming, I asked about the double bunks. The Hawkins family are right into and encourage anyone showing an interest in trucking. It was a ‘yes’ immediately. It’s just who they are. The young fella’s growing up a bit now so doesn’t come as much. That’s life, though, isn’t it?”

Back to that coffee machine and microwave. As you can see, Chris keeps himself in pretty good nick and is careful about what he puts down the hatch. He doesn’t frequent the tucker shops, and in-cab supplies don’t usually run thin until he’s been gone about a week. “The microwave has been a revolution in terms of what I can cook and prepare when I’m away. I’m not a coffee person as a rule – two a week is about my lot – but the ability to boil water has been fantastic. Together, they’ve given me so many more options.”

Dinner cooked, he can sit in the passenger seat, deploy the pull-out table from the passenger-side dash and have tea with a view of some amazing backcountry station or the like, before retiring to watch tele. And you want a mortgage in the ‘burbs’? The fit and finish are as you’d expect from a premium Euro. There’s so much competition in that Euro big-seven scene that no one dares build a shoddy house. Tones and colours? Well, readers know me by now and amid a sea of black, grey and fawn, minor points to Scania for including red highlights in the seat stitching and binnacle surround. It’s all easily cleanable compounds, with harder surfaces and rubber in darker shades that hide the marks where the heavy workload occurs. Lighter tones feature higher up where grubbiness would require effort. As you can imagine, Fleet No.Z54 at Martinborough is a no-boot zone of immaculateness. Having the lighter shades up high in concert with the skylight/escape hatch makes the Scania a light and open environment.

Chris’s machine has the V8 leatherette trim and seat upholstery.

The Scania cockpit is well known to us all, and with the fully adjustable steering column, Chris can do the full kickback on the wheel and relax into the task. I remember seeing the stance for the first time in the Scania 142m V8 days of 1980s linehaul and thinking how different it looked. Now, it’s how we roll.

Visibility, rear vision, and left-right clearance are on point for a mirrored machine, and a heap of work went into that stuff when the NTG was in the incubator. Chris’ truck has the drop-visor and opaque ‘stoney’ so the view is a more ZZ Top… like being at the cinema. Loved it!

Backed in and unloading at Universal Beef Packers in Te Kuiti. “Too much!”

It’s much more of a traditional-looking dash than its Swedish counterpart, although that gap has certainly closed, as we’ve said. Tech masked by tradition is how you’d put it. A proper binnacle that’s home to two gauges split by the vehicle, trip and driver data screen. Fuel and temp appear as ribbon gauges under the two biggies, with DEF a ribbon inside the tachograph. (We can do ribbon or bar gauges for that sort of thing, happy as. It’s when it’s the tach that our tummy knots up). The big Scania wrap swings out to the left with Infotainment, climate, traction, park and trailer brake controls. Switchgear runs all the way along the lower edge, from the far left of the wrap, along and under the binnacle.

It’s a big, chunky and busy-looking interface, but maybe that’s because of things like the park brake looking like a park brake. Yes, it takes up room, but confusing it most certainly is not.

There’s lots there, and seemingly lots to do, although as in most cutting-edge machines, there’s not much to do, just lots of little helpers available when you need them – such as manoeuvre assist that pulls weight off the rear drive onto the front, allowing Chris to do magic-like one- swing U-turns in the Awatere. “I only do it empty, mind you,” he says.

The Scania smart wheel also has plenty going on, with volume and phone on the left arm, vehicle data on the right, and cruise/descending on the central tumblers. The left wand on the steering column houses wipers, indicators and dip and the right blending controls, transmission and retarder. To the right of all that is the busiest windowsill in the business. One thing the NTG cockpit will never be is boring.

It’s a long way up into that S-cab, so don’t fall. Five good steps with plenty of grab rails. (Yes, yes, four steps and the floor – but it takes five steps to get in! I’ll argue this until the end of the Earth.) Martinborough drivers have some long leads, so a few ins and outs when loading are soon forgotten. As with all modern Euros, the design around the steps is superb, and you can carry a camera (read coffee) up, no problems.

But can you live in it? Hell, yes. R.D. 1

No, it’s not magic… there is a ramp between the units that allows the sheep to walk through.

Oh, this is nice, the JE1000 with Total Stock Crates. They do build lovely gear! Luxury!”

A truck indeed

We rendezvoused with Chris back in Martinborough a couple of days later and spent another half-day in his company. He’s an incredibly easy bloke to hang around with. It’s never rushed, there’s no shouting, and the conversation is always considered. He spoke of taking his nephew in the truck, and you’d have to say that young fella has a pretty sharp mentor all around.

This time, we were loading sheep. Two pick-ups: one from Raho Ruru Farms, about half an hour south of Martinborough, and the other Ongaha Farms, just in behind Featherston.

Chris prefers carting sheep over cattle. He says they’re easier to handle. “A 600kg steer that’s not interested isn’t much fun, and can wreck a hell of a lot.”

The first loadout was in a Y-shaped yard, with the truck facing the yoke. Thank goodness for the Scania’s lock, yet again. Two stabs and a jack-knife, and he was gone. While we were loading, Ben Boyle arrived in Chris’ previous ride. “Ben’s a great young bloke. I’m glad he’s on it. It’s a cool truck, and he’ll look after it.” As an aside, and again it speaks volumes, Ben is one of 11 drivers currently who have gained, or progressing through, their licence classes with either Martinborough Transport or WLT.

If you were looking for a model farm from which to load an HPMV unit, you wouldn’t do much better than Ongaha Farms. Its immaculate yards and pristine drive made for great photos as Chris loaded the unit’s third and fourth deck, topping him off at 53-odd tonne. It was job done, and a run-up to Takapau. We would follow up to Jacksonville – sorry, Pahiatua, then bid farewell.

Ongaha Farms has to be one of the greatest cattle-truck photography spots in the world.

Back at the yard, I looked at the Hawkins brothers in mild bewilderment. “I’m not sure what it is you’ve bought. Is it a big truck or a small locomotive?”

We all had a chuckle. “It’s pretty good isn’t it,” says Jared Hawkins, who we finally nabbed in the office on our last morning.

Chris had recently come back from a fortnight’s leave and while he was away, Hawkins brothers Daniel, Josh and Jared all had a wheel. The truck had left them in a similar state to what it leaves everyone.

This is a machine designed to pull north of 70 tonne in its home of Scandinavia, so nothing we poke at it is going to cause it anxiety – it’ll just poke back via blistering performance in stellar comfort. As a pinnacle truck, it has few peers. Once again, the performance curve has been rewritten; the trouble is there’s only a certain number of Chris Berghans, Ben Reeds, Owen Thornleys and Dave Scobies to entrust these machines to. Neither are the young spending the time they should with blokes like them, beginning their education in the shadow of true craftsmen. Huge props to the Hawkins family for their attitude toward this issue.

The good news is it’s not over yet. Scania and Volvo have owned the power race for well over a decade now – the other big Euros bowing out about 100hp ago. Power has been the playground of the big Scandinavians. It’s their turf! Well, at least it was.

We’re picking both Södertälje and Gothenburg will be less than impressed at news coming down the wires recently about a 597kW (800hp), 3750Nm (2766lb/ft) Shacman, with that company now claiming the title of the world’s most powerful highway truck.

Make yourselves comfortable, folks. Shit could be about to get real.

Leaving the tight Raho Ruru farms.

Quick reads from Test

Pictures tell it all

When tomorrow comes

From the get-go!