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.
Manufacturers go to great lengths to reduce tractor weight in order to cut fuel costs and to maximize cargo capacity, but the second factor is a minor issue in many applications. Owners such as Norton often know what their payloads will be because they have a dedicated haul with a known payload or are paid a percentage on their loads and do not load heavy to make more money.
Take Mike Hopper, who has five Peterbilt 379s running for Kingdom Transport out of Sonora, Texas. Because he pulls flats and loads many types of freight, “fuel efficiency is a minor factor” since his loads tend to minimize the possible fuel savings of an aerodynamic tractor. Hopper, a one-time driver who built a fleet of his own, says one reason he chooses 379s is “to attract good drivers who will stick around.” That helps fuel economy because, Hopper says, “Good drivers get good mileage.”
The same philosophy drives Marvin Van Kampen, owner of Van Kampen Trucking in Grand Rapids, Mich., who has 86 W900Ls in his fleet. In addition to resale value, he says, “Low maintenance, image and happy drivers also influence my decision to populate my fleet with W9s. At any rate, I want real trucks in my fleet. Real trucks have chrome air cleaners and big hoods.”
Buyers of classic trucks often sacrifice a certain amount of handling and visibility to get the look they want. Maneuverability and sight lines can be restricted by lack of wheel cut, long wheel bases and stacks that appear in the mirrors at crucial times. David Speck chose a Classic XL in part because he says the seat’s position gives better visibility than some other classic models. “I can see more around stacks trying to get into a hole,” he says. “But the first thing I did when I bought my truck was to turn out the stops on the steering axle to give it more wheel cut.”
On the other side of the fence, aerodynamic trucks are not without stylistic attributes. Volvo designer Ruben Perfetti says harmony in aero styling comes through proportion, application of accents, flowing lines and the way a truck’s design is broken by elements such as mirrors to make the eye take notice. Volvo designers are working to enhance the emotional appeal of the VN770 without detracting from the truck’s known assets – ride, quietness and visibility through the windshield and in the mirrors.
Owning a classic is like owning the biggest house on the block. The appeal is as much in the power to attract attention as in utility. The dream for many owner-operators is to make enough money to drive the truck they most desire and make good money doing it. Given the right mix of business and equipment savvy, many owner-operators are owning and living the dream and losing no sleep over fuel economy.
IS IT A CLASSIC?