Hooked on Classics

| April 02, 2002

Jack Norton, who’s leased to Packerland Transport, loves his Kenworth W900L. Norton says his tricked-out, chromed-up prairie schooner is at least as fuel-efficient as Kenworth’s aerodynamic T2000, though he also believes “fuel efficiency is a state of mind.” Furthermore, he says, “I bought this truck with resale in mind.”

“Sure, a classic owner takes a small hit in the fuel mileage department,” says Alan Wechsler, a longtime W900 owner, “but I make up for this with increased resale value and the sheer pleasure of driving a classically beautiful rig.”

Thousands of owners of classics, such as the Peterbilt 379, Freightliner Classic XL and Kenworth W900L, are so wedded to their machines that they’re willing to rationalize away, if not totally ignore, what many engineers say are considerably higher operating costs because of rough air flow and extra weight. Other traditionalists fully acknowledge the extra costs but make enough money to afford whatever styling, bells and whistles they want.

Intangible benefits – pride, beauty, image – keep many owner-operators loyal to these trucks over aerodynamic models such as Volvo’s VN770, Peterbilt’s 387 or Mack’s Vision, even during tight economic times.

“All things being equal,” says Gary Ziebell, a fuel economy expert at Kenworth’s research and development lab in Renton, Wash., “the T2000 is approximately 15 percent more fuel-efficient than the W9L. And the go-fast guys drive this percentage higher. They are the ones who need the aerodynamics even more.”

Ed Saxmann of Volvo Powertrain expressed this in terms of horsepower. “At 75 miles an hour there is a 56-hp advantage to driving an aerodynamic truck. This is true despite other variables like weather, age of truck, driving style. It adds up to a savings of 5 to 6 cents per mile.”

Adding to fuel cost are the weight of extra chrome and engines spec’ed more for want than need. “A lot of owner-operators are looking for the classic look, buying chrome they don’t need,” says David Farkus, owner of the 75 Chrome Shop in Wildwood, Fla. “They will pay $425 for a chrome bumper, a grand for a polished stainless turbo wing, $100 for stainless battery box covers – and won’t think about weight. If they asked, I wouldn’t know what to tell them about how much chrome and stainless weigh. But the chrome adds considerable value at resale.”

Chrome is also essential for drivers such as Darian Stephens, who enters 10 truck shows a year, or those who simply like the show truck look. Stephens has spent $30,000 to $40,000 in the past seven years on chrome and stainless. His ’95 Freightliner Classic XL has chrome from oil pan to tool box.

The value that chrome, chicken lights and similar options add to resale is difficult to estimate. Norton, who paid $126,000 for his ’99 W900L and has since added between $6,000 and $7,000 in chrome, says that value includes plenty of functional options such as power mirrors on both sides, a full gauge package and all the creature comforts associated with top-of-the-line owner-operator trucks. Those extras account for about 1,500 pounds of Norton’s 20,000-pound behemoth.

Darian Stephens has won dozens of trophies with his 1995 Freightliner XL.

The fuel efficiency vs. resale value debate is “pretty much of a wash,” although length of ownership and actual miles per gallon must also be taken into account, says Dan Sobic, assistant general manager of Peterbilt. He says Peterbilt maintains the classic look while adding cosmetic, ergonomic and technological changes, increasing value even more. More significant, according to Sobic, are the intangible factors Peterbilt is known for, such as its heritage. “Owner-operators know the value factors like image add to their investment,” he says.

“A Pete 379 always demands the highest resale of any truck,” says J.R. Wilcut, fleet sales manager for Doonan Trucks in Wichita, Kan. “Our rule of thumb is that a comparably equipped Volvo will resell for about $10,000 less than a 379.”

The new 379 does cost more than the comparable new Volvo, but not necessarily $10,000 more. A fully loaded Peterbilt 379 costs about $120,000. A new Volvo VN770 fully loaded costs between $110,000 and $115,000 – $5,000 to $10,000 less than the comparable Peterbilt. While the Volvo may afford more living space, more maneuverability and better visibility, as well as lower operational costs because of its aerodynamic design, the classic look and difference in resale are enough to keep many buyers focused on traditional styling.

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