Looking Back in Time at the Volvo F86

looking back in time at the Volvo F86

To get some perspective on just how far the modern trucks have come from the ‘good old’ days, and looking back in time at the Volvo F86, PowerTorque decided to drive one of the you beaut 2021 Volvo FM prime movers over the same route, up against a 1968 F 86.

Th F86’s ‘bubble’ cabin is pretty well designed and this may well have been one of the reasons for its success against its competitors.

All round visibility was not much of a priority for truck designers at that time. At the heavier end of the market the F 88 also had small windows and limited all round visibility for the driver. The large windows, front and back, on the F86 were a revelation at the time.

looking back in time at the Volvo F86

In terms of driver comfort, the FM86 does have a suspended driver seat, but it is ineffective and compares very poorly with the driver’s seat in the new FM, with limitless adjustment available. There is also plenty of adjustment available in the FM on the steering wheel both in the normal manner, and in extra neck adjustment, to get that steering wheel in exactly the right position for the long haul.

Back in the 1970s the driver would have to adjust their body to suit seat and steering wheel design, rather than vice versa. Hence the dodgy back, shoulder issues and occasional neck pain suffered today by driver’s of that generation.

One of the major features that Volvo talked about at the launch of new FM model is the vast array of safety features available on the truck. The specification for this FM 460 includes a long list of abbreviations, many of which we are becoming more and more familiar with.

There is forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping, adaptive cruise control, an engine brake which can control truck speed on long descents, the list goes on and the safety standard continues to rise. 

Experience suggests all of these systems will find their place in the lives of most people driving trucks, as they make life easier and safer. There is always resistance each time a new system gets introduced, probably because they appear to be taking an element of control from the driver. looking back in time at the Volvo F86

First it was cruise control, then ABS, more recently stability control, and now these braking systems which activate if the computer sees a dangerous situation developing, and they activate right over the top of the driver’s control. All of these safety elements have been added in small steps and over time, we stop noticing that yet another truck system is able to work independently from the driver’s control. 

If you took a driver from the F86 back in the seventies and put them into the latest FM, they would freak out completely. However, gradually adding each new system in a drip-drip fashion over the course of a life’s career and it appears a bit more natural. This comparison exercise was a wake up call and a reminder of just how much has changed and what a fantastic achievement it has been for the truck makers to get us from A to B.

In terms of safety, there were issues back at that time for trucks like the F86. At the time, the talk was about the fact that the F86 had been fitted with smaller brake shoes than its competitors. Gossip on the road talked about shoes wearing out too quickly and presenting a danger to the driver. 

At the same time there was also doubt about fitting a turbo on a truck engine. Turbos mean there is higher pressure in the combustion chamber, which gives the driveline that extra boost of power. Some, at the time, were saying that extra pressure also led to problems with blown head gaskets.

looking back in time at the Volvo F86

Every time you introduce some new technology, there will always be someone who will find a problem with it. Eventually, the problem gets forgotten and the new technology gains acceptance. Meanwhile, back at places like Volvo HQ, the boffins are coming up with some other dastardly new device or system for the sceptical to criticise. It is just a never ending process of renewal.

That is probably the main takeaway from this comparison test drive. It is not just how much things have changed in the intervening 50 years, but how many times they have changed, how often some new idea or technique pops up and changes the life of the truckie, in terms of safety, comfort or productivity, or all three.

looking back in time at the Volvo F86

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