125 years of trucks.
Transport Magazine

125 years of trucks.

The dawn of the modern era: from the LP 1620 of the 60s to the Actros.

Since the 1950s, there has been huge growth both in industrial production and road transport. Daimler‑Benz expanded to become Europe’s biggest manufacturer of commercial vehicles: between 1960 and 1970 annual production figures grew by around 300 per cent. Success came through the systematic development of the model range and ever more innovative features.

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With hindsight, the IAA show in 1963 was clearly a milestone in truck history: Daimler‑Benz unveiled the LP 1620 with its completely new cab design. The quaint old bonnet and high engine tunnel were gone and a modern design with front‑wheel steering took the stage. The engine tunnel was reduced to 170 millimetres, the windows were considerably bigger and a distinctive front overhang created space at last for a more comfortable access to the cab while offering crews more room inside than they had ever dreamt of. Smart thinking from the word go: this cab could easily be adapted for use in all model series, whether heavy‑duty or lightweight.

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From the sales brochure: The 1620 boasts countless new features, outside and in.

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The 1620’s new cube‑shaped cab laid the foundation for modern truck design.

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The 1620’s new cube‑shaped cab laid the foundation for modern truck design.

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The 1620’s new cube‑shaped cab laid the foundation for modern truck design.

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The 1620’s new cube‑shaped cab laid the foundation for modern truck design.

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The 1620’s new cube‑shaped cab laid the foundation for modern truck design.

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In the year following the launch of the “New Generation” from Daimler‑Benz, Lastauto Omnibus magazine wrote: “In times of increasing specialisation […] sophisticated manufacturing techniques […] are required to satisfy a wide range of vehicle buyers with all their different wishes.” And this new generation did indeed cut a completely new path. The vehicle was given a full makeover which covered everything including axles, engine and cab. But the revolutionary part was actually this: the modular principle was now here to stay. Just one year after launch, all 76 base configurations were ready for the range of models: the minimum number of assemblies and parts for the maximum number of model types to cover every transport need. One technical feature still has a place in today’s Actros: the planetary hub reduction axle.

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One base, hundreds of variants. The New Generation revolutionised production.

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One base, hundreds of variants. The New Generation revolutionised production.

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One base, hundreds of variants. The New Generation revolutionised production.

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One base, hundreds of variants. The New Generation revolutionised production.

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Electronics control the braking power – ABS reduces braking distance and the risk of jack‑knifing and trailer disconnection.

From initial launch to becoming a statutory requirement for all new vehicles – the Antilock Braking System (ABS) developed by Daimler‑Benz was a huge step in the advancement of safety for heavy‑duty trucks. The system adopted state‑of‑the‑art technology: switching from analog technology to microcomputers gave it the sensitivity and reaction speed needed for mass market acceptance.

The foundations were laid, and new developments followed step by step, from Anti‑Skid Control and Lane‑Keeping Assist through to Active Sideguard Assist in the current Actros.

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“Class not mass”, ran the headline in “Lastauto Omnibus” in 1996.

Seventeen per cent. Not an exceptional number on the surface, maybe. However, the engineers developing the new Actros brought in aerodynamics experts for the first time and achieved this dramatic reduction in the drag coefficient. This saw a significant fall in fuel consumption, especially at higher speeds.

The developers excelled in other areas too. The Megaspace cab was introduced, with 40 per cent more room inside, and the powerful and economical OM 500 engine series made its first appearance. “If these engines deliver what the data promises, we’ll have seen a new star rise in the engine heavens,” declared truck tester Frank Zeitzen.

The engine used an automated gearbox to transfer its power to the road – a first in the heavy‑duty truck segment. The dread of pulling away uphill was no more. The new truck was also a pioneer in aspects of safety: the driver’s airbag and seat‑belt tensioners were just the starting point. Before long, drivers were also enjoying support from the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) and adaptive cruise control.

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A completely new design concept deserves a proper description: the Actros was the first truck to be given a name instead of an initial.

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Over 300,000 LK (Light Class) trucks rolled off the production lines at Wörth. There was never room for complacency, however, and in 1998 the Atego took the stage – initially in the 6.5‑ to 15‑tonne weight class, and even up to 26 tonnes during a later transitional phase. The Atego assumed diverse roles ranging from platform truck and tipper to semitrailer tractor and box‑body vehicle. Fittingly, the cab was available in four different versions from the outset.

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Bridging the initial gap to the Actros: the heavy‑duty Atego rated at up to 26 tonnes.

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Analog is out – digital aids and assistance systems support the driver better than ever.

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Analog is out – digital aids and assistance systems support the driver better than ever.

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Analog is out – digital aids and assistance systems support the driver better than ever.

Is something missing here? Not at all: from 2018 the Actros has done away with its mirrors, proving that technology can move forward in leaps and bounds. MirrorCam with display screens, the Multimedia Cockpit operated like a smartphone, apps to support logistics, Predictive Powertrain Control for automated gear selection and speed control on the open road, continuous connectivity with the haulier and the workshop, Active Sideguard Assist – it’s hard to find an area where the Actros is not at the cutting edge. And the development continues: the fully electric eActros has been in series production since 2021.

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From 2013, the Arocs has been available alongside the Actros as a heavy‑duty construction vehicle. The distinctive front with “digger teeth” leaves no doubt as to the vehicle’s purpose.

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Photos: Daimler