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10 worst trucks ever made

  • 28 April 2011
  • By Will Shiers

Commercial Motor's panel of 'experts' have teamed up to bring you the top 10 worst trucks in history - although you might not agree...



Shaking, rattling and rolling down the road, our list of the worst 10 trucks ranges from the noisy to the positively dangerous.

Disagree with our choices? Use the comment form at the bottom of the story to have your say.


1957 Fordson Thames 4D - nominated by Lucy Radley (truck driver and freelance journalist)

1957 FordsonMy old 1957 Fordson Thames 4D certainly turned heads. Corners, however, it wasn't so good at.

Aside from all the usual signs of 'vintageness' - crash gearbox (take whichever gear you can find and be grateful); unpowered steering; vacuum brakes (give me a shout on Tuesday so I can stop on Thursday) - gutless doesn't even begin to describe it. A four-speed vehicle, but it would only go up hills screaming its head off in 2nd. Tempting though it was to try for third, by the time you got there it had ground to a halt. The dynamo charging system, just, well, didn't! If it rained, the driver's side windscreen opened. Add a fixed driving seat, and a clutch so heavy it needed both feet (not ideal when changing down and a rev was needed), and I can honestly say that a thing of beauty is a joy forever - just so long as someone else is driving it.


Foden S21 -  nominated by Colin Barnett (Truck & Driver editor)

Foden S21My original choice was the Reynolds Boughton RB44, a military conversion of the Dodge 50 van, and the Army's most lethal weapon, if only to the driver! But I suppose that's a bit of an oddity. So instead I've chosen the Foden S21, following a particularly unfortunate experience on a CM test.

The truck had a bizarre throttle linkage based on a master/slave cylinder arrangement. On the cold day of the drive, the plastic push-on pipe at the pedal end hardened and fell off. As a result, driving involved opening the engine cover so the co-driver could operate the throttle directly with his belt, while I juggled the two gear levers, at the same time as communicating by hand signals while being deafened by the screaming two-stroke!

Yes, we do appreciate the irony that the S21 also appeared on our '10 Trucks to Drive Before You Die' list.


Guy Big J4T - nominated by Dave Young (former Truck & Driver editor and freelance journalist)

Guy Big J4TSaid to be the biggest selling UK top-weight tractor unit of the 1970s, the Big J4T (J for Jaguar, which owned Guy; and T for trunker) epitomised the worst of bloated, benighted British Leyland.

Wolverhampton's revenge on the world usually had a Fuller, Rockwell driveline, but the engine might be from Perkins, Gardner, Leyland, Rolls Royce or Cummins, the latter's V6 raising the dog kennel even higher.

A deeply horrible Motor Panels cab, shared with Seddon and Foden, offered the Guy's unfortunate driver nowhere to store stuff, nowhere to sleep and was no comparison to his mate's Volvo F6. Once sales to nationalised fleets (BRS, the Post Office etc), declined, Big Js - designed to be endured not enjoyed, purchased only by people who didn't drive them - mercifully ceased production in 1979.


Leyland Buffalo - nominated by Ian Norwell (former driver and freelance journalist)

Leyland BuffaloAmong the torture trucks from the 70s, and surely built for Desperate Dan - the Leyland Buffalo. A utilitarian steel box with the aerodynamics of a tower block and tinnitus-inducing noise levels. Mechanics despised the disastrous fixed-head 500 engine, routinely failing. The colossal clutch pedal pressure required aerobic effort and the beast wanted notice in writing to engage a starting gear. Progress through the spiteful gearbox was a black art, discouraging 'unnecessary' shifts. Under way, the rudimentary driver's seat was of no matter as your buttocks spent little time on it. The weighty steering, a constant battle of wills, conspired to form an unpleasant cocktail with the spine-jarring ride and vicious brakes.

This punishment wagon was still on sale in 1978 when Volvo pensioned off their F86. One of the coach bolts in Leyland's coffin surely has a Buffalo embossed on it. A sought-after 'Classic'.


Ebro 7.5-tonner - nominated by Brian Weatherley (former editor of Commercial Motor)

Ebro 7.5-tonnerIn 1984 there were no less than nine British and European manufacturers competing in the UK 7.5-tonne market, including Ebro. During the mid-80s the Spanish truck-maker sold its L75 range of day and crew-cab rigids, plus an enormous integral van, in Britain through Nissan Motors (which had previously taken a stake in Ebro's parent company Motor Ibérica). The slab-fronted, Perkins-powered (72hp naturally aspirated or 90hp turbocharged) L75's solid multi-leaf suspension and basic three-man cab was doubtless ideal for the rough-and-tumble of the Iberian peninsula.

But what it gained in simplicity it rather lacked in 'presentation'. When CM tested a new Ebro L752F integral van its over-fuelled engine smoked heavily, while underneath the chassis was already showing signs of rust. We also said the power steering feed pipes "...look susceptible to damage by careless feet". Cheap yes, cheerful, perhaps, but by the 90s Ebro's L75 had departed the UK never to return.


Volvo FLC - nominated by Andy Salter (MD of Road Transport Media)

Volvo FLCBefore Volvo threw its lot in with Renault and used the highly effective Midlum platform for its lightweight range, the Swedes had many attempts to gain traction in the 7.5-tonne sector all to no avail. The worst I came across was the FLC, which used a decent enough Perkins Phaser four-pot engine, but was matched to a heavy, cumbersome and ageing chassis and cab that combined to give some of the worst fuel economy figures for a 7.5-tonner on test that I can remember.

Indeed, on the Truck magazine roadtest (I was tester there at the time) the truck ran out of diesel and the subsequent write-up ensured that I fell off the Volvo Christmas card list for a good many years! Thankfully, the company now sticks to what it does best - heavy trucks - and buys in the lightweight motor.


Kew Dodge 500/K1100 - nominated by Ian Salter (former driver, owner-driver, operator and the boss's dad)

Dodge 500 SeriesMy nomination is the Cummins V8 diesel-powered, 16-tonne Dodge 500 Series (vintage 1963-68). The 500 Series hadn't been a bad truck in its original variant, but when Chrysler (Dodge's owners) dumped the Commer TS3 two-stroke motor for their joint-venture product with Cummins, all hell broke loose!

The V8 was a high-revving engine, reaching top power at 3500rpm, in a time when most drivers were used to low-revving engines, mastering gearchanges with a six-speed crash box was an artform well beyond the skils of most of us. As a result the transmission got well and truly hammered. Other faults included flywheel bolts breaking; the fan coming off the crankshaft pulley; pulley breaking in half and hitting the radiator and the hole in the oil pressure relief valve was not big enough so when the oil was cold it blew the end off the sender unit.

Ron Cater, CM's road test supremo of the time, forecast it would be a troublesome beast when writing about the Kew-built product at the time of the launch. In 1968, Chrysler finally saw the light, switching to a Perkins V8 and its own five-speed gearbox, reinvigoratng the fortunes of a range - which for a while was definitely the worst truck ever built.


Old generation Mitsubishi Canter - nominated by  Bob Tuck (freelance journalist)

Old generation Mitsubishi CanterThe year was 2000 and the event was the annual gathering of tippers for Truck magazine's Tip In road test. First vehicle for yours truly was the Mitsubishi Canter and I still have tremors in recalling that drive. In fairness, it was offered at two weights - 6.3 and 7.5 tonnes - and at the lighter weight it did very well. However, once loaded to 7.5 tonnes, it then became - I reckoned - the most dangerous vehicle I'd ever driven.

In trying to save weight (which is a huge problem for manufacturers building 7.5-tonners) strength had been taken out of the Canter's chassis. Consequently, along both quarry and surfaced roads, the vehicle's entire chassis flexed - and in an alarming and very noticeable fashion. Never have I been so pleased to step down from a vehicle. And never have I written such a scathing report.


Ford Cargo 1715 - nominated by Kevin Swallow (deputy technical editor)

Ford Cargo 1715The first proper truck I drove as a qualified Class 1 employee was the Ford Cargo 1715. I used the 17-tonner, first built in 1981, for multi-drop across the south-west.

Despite competition from the noisy cab, a woefully poor engine, the 'try a gear, any gear' gearbox, and freely rotating wing mirrors, it was the steering that remains long in the memory.

Half-a-turn play on the steering wheel, combined with the turning-circle of a ferry, made it a genuine challenge. Keeping it on the A37 Yeovil-Bristol road was my first battle, followed by trying to park in the city centre, negotiating roundabouts and careering down the M5 like a bull in a china shop.

The worst was left to last, and I still get nightmares from the series of 'close shaves' on the A39 Bridgwater-Street road and the harrowing faces of oncoming drivers as the truck pitched violently from left to right and back again.

I take credit for getting it back in one piece, and subsequently drove it for six months before leaving. It's surprising what you get used to.


1995 Freightliner - nominated by Will Shiers (managing editor of Commercial Motor)

1995 FreightlinerI was 11-years-old when I first watched Convoy, and I decided there and then that I wanted to drive an American truck for a living. A decade later I'd passed my HGV test and even bought myself a pair of cowboy boots, but I never managed to realise my dream and get behind the wheel of an American truck until 2003 - and what a letdown it was!

The truck that burst the bubble was a 1995 Freightliner. I admit it looked fantastic and the Cummins engine sounded great, but that's all the positive stuff out of the way! The cab was cramped and noisy, visibility was diabolical and the gear change was a joke. As for the spine-jarring ride, I'm sure Boudica's chariot would have been considerably more comfortable. The whole experience was like stepping back in time by at least 50 years. All of a sudden I realised how lucky I was to be driving European trucks. I've still got the boots though.

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