Cabover Cool Part 2
Road King’s resident cabover fanatic jumps at the chance to check out Volvo’s European models
By David A. Kolman
As you regular readers of my Road King columns and blogs know, I love cabover-over-engine (COE) tractors. I’ve been a cabover devotee ever since I spied my first one as a young child. Hence my nickname: Cabover.
The first cabover I got to drive was an old Emeryville. A veteran trucker with Chesapeake Motor Lines of Maryland used that tractor to prepare me to successfully get my chauffer’s license, which I did on my first attempt.
The next cabover, which I spent a great deal of time in, was a Kenworth K100. I trucked in that all over the U.S. for the old Watkins Motor Lines, which was purchased by Fedex Corp. in September 2006.
From there, I got into an International 4070 that I used to haul paint and painting products throughout the Northeast.
I am proud to say that since that time I’ve had the chance to drive just about every make and model of cabover — in the U.S., that is.
Volvo extends an invitation
Late last year, I had an opportunity to be immersed in modern-day cabovers. I was part of a select group of veteran truck journalists who got to travel to Sweden for a business event, courtesy of Volvo Trucks. When I received the invitation for the trip, my first thought was: “Oh boy, there’s nothing but cabover rigs in Europe.”
For you youngins, cabovers were at one time the truck of choice in the U.S. That’s because federal and state governments imposed severe restrictions on the length of tractor-trailer rigs. It wasn’t until 1976 that tractor-trailer length laws became less restrictive. With this move, conventional truck configurations grew in popularity because they provided more comfort, a better ride with less engine noise, heat and vibration, and easier access to the engine for servicing.
However, in Europe, there remains restrictive tractor-trailer rig dimension laws — some allowing lengths of only 54 feet. Moreover, plenty of narrow roads, tight corners, densely populated areas and difficult access to urban areas from the highway have kept the cabover as the truck of choice.
So my second thought after being invited on the Volvo Trucks trip was: “I sure hope there are opportunities to drive some rigs.”
Kid in a candy store
Along with touring a number of Volvo facilities, there were, happily, several occasions to drive a number of different Volvo COEs around a test track and — for those of us with a valid CDL — on the scenic roads around Gothenburg, Sweden. As Sweden’s second largest city, Gothenburg is a gateway to the Western Archipelago.
I took advantage of each and every driving opportunity, and was always the last one to return. All I keep hearing was: “Cabover, we really do need to get back — right now!”
The cabovers manufactured for Europe are a far cry from those models that were produced for North America. Naturally they would be, as the roads and applications are different and truck technology continually evolves.
One of the things you notice immediately about European cabovers is that they have distinct and dynamic styling. I found many of the newer models to be designed with strong articulated lines that made for a head-turning appearance.
Like here in the USA, fuel efficiency is also a big concern in Europe. European COEs are being shaped to improve the airflow around them to reduce fuel consumption. Air management options — side skirts, roof spoilers, side collars, etc. — are offered for many models.
Also with trucks here, there are various optional safety devices — both active (accident avoidance), such as front collision warning systems, and passive (injury reduction) — for European cabovers. For Volvo Trucks models, active safety options include rain-sensing wipers, cornering lights and adaptive cruise control, lane changing support, lane keeping support and driver alert support systems.
Prior to the trip, I had been trucking “pigs” (containers) in and out of rail yards using a 1986 Peterbilt 362 single bunk cabover. Typical of the cabovers of that period, the 362’s interior had the true feel of a cramped aircraft cockpit — tight quarters wedged between each door and a large doghouse. The driver’s area was surrounded by instruments, controls and displays.
Here again, for you youngins, a doghouse was the nickname for the console that covered the engine, which protruded into the truck cab between the driver and passenger seats. The doghouse made for difficulty when getting in and out of the sleeper.
The cab interiors of the European cabovers are considerably more roomy and comfortable. Interiors are well planned and fashioned to provide an excellent working environment, with an eye toward both comfort and productivity. I was struck by how spacious the cabs felt, how easy it was to get in and out of the bunk and how quiet they were.
Unlike our cabovers of yesterday that had hardly any space for storage — two side compartments, a little space above the windshield and a few pockets in the sleeper. European cabovers have plenty of smart storage solutions and space. There are areas above the windshield, in the dashboard and under the bunk, as well as provisions for a microwave oven, refrigerator or other creature comforts to help make life on the road easier. All controls and the dashboard are neatly arranged and within easy reach of the driver.
Another characteristic of the old U.S. cabovers was the awkwardness of getting in and out of these behemoths. Although, this workout did help keep a driver fit and agile, especially if peddling freight — which I used to do.
That situation has been done away with on the European COEs. They have improved driver entry and egress. I found that their wide-opening doors and ergonomically arranged door handles and step configurations work in combination to encourage a safer in and out of the cab.
Another big difference between U.S. and European cabovers is their excellent outside visibility, which completes the environment for safe and relaxed driving. Complimenting the large windshield and side windows is the mirror arrangement dictated by a European Union (EU) directive.
The regulation stipulates that all new vehicles over 3.5 tons need to be fitted with a suite of mirrors to improve the driver’s visibility of pedestrians or cyclists when the vehicle is making turns. The mirror arrangement achieves this by increasing the obligatory field of vision and by reducing the blind angle.
It is a most impressive setup. Having such an unobstructed view all around instilled in me greater confidence in my ability drive safely.
The suite of mirrors includes a front blind spot mirror, known as Cyclops, and additional wide-angle and close-proximity (Kerb) rearview mirrors. Fitted to the top front of a cabover above the windshield, the Cyclops is a very effective safety feature. When correctly adjusted, it will provide the driver with a view of the area directly in front of the vehicle and the area extending beyond the passenger side.
All too quickly the trip to Sweden was over and we returned home. However, the occasion provided me with a cabover “re-energizeation.”
I have now stepped up my efforts to locate an affordable used cabover. From what I saw and learned about Euorpean COEs on my trip, I now have some great new ideas on how to trick my cabover — when I finally get one.