Peterbilt Trucks – From Chain Drive to the Peterbilt 379

Peterbilt trucks are made by the Peterbilt Motors Company, which has its headquarters in Denton, Texas. The American truck manufacture was started in 1939 by then lumber entrepreneur and plywood maker, T.A. Peterman.

Peterbilt Trucks – The Early Years

Peterman was a man with a dream to get the truck business going stronger so he could get his logs to market easier and faster. At the time, Peterman was actually working towards that dream by rebuilding army trucks he bought at surplus, thus learning how to improve them. In 1938 he bought Fageol Motors in Oakland, California in order to use it to start making his custom made chain-driven trucks. The following year he started selling them to the public, which was the real beginning of Peterbilt Trucks.

During the 30s long haul trucking was becoming very popular. It was the Depression and many companies that built commercial trucks were losing ground and going out of business. That is how Peterman was able to get the Fageol Motors Company. Prior to his purchase of them, the company had been making heavy weight trucks and buses for 17 years.

Peterman built 14 trucks in 1939, but that number leapt to 82 the following year, demonstrating to Peterman that the trucking industry was definitely interested in the quality made trucks of Peterbilt. Peterman was famous for knowing exactly what the trucker wanted and needed because he sent his own engineers out to talk to truckers. They were required to know what the men in the field liked and disliked before designing a single new truck. Peterman also got the military contract during World War II to make heavy duty trucks. This helped him to get ready to re-enter the civilian market as well after the war.

After World War II, Peterbilt Trucks Marches Forward

Even death didn’t stop Peterbilt trucks. Peterman died in 1945. After his death, the company was inherited by Peterman’s widow, Ida. His wife promptly sold the company’s assets, but didn’t sell the property, to seven of the company’s managers with the thought of maintaining and building up the company. However, since she didn’t sell them the property, the new owners had to scramble for a new location several years later in 1958 when Ida said she was going to sell the land to build a shopping mall.

Due to this, the company changed hands and Peterbilt was bought by Paul Pigott, owner of the Pacific Car and Foundry. He built a brand new facility for the company in Newark, California, and in 1960 Peterbilt trucks were again being manufactured. Pigott kept the name even though he also owned Kenworth trucks and ran both companies. The ironic thing is that Peterbilt was his stiffest competitor, even though he actually owned both companies.

Peterbilt continues to grow strong

In 1960 Peterbilt put out 800 trucks and sales kept on increasing as more and more people began to trust and love the quality made trucks. The company was soon unable to make as many as the customers desired, so Peterbilt expanded to two manufacturing plants and built one in Madison, Tenn in 1969.

By 1973 Peterbilt was delivering more than 8,000 of its trucks and by 1975, it had opened up a version of Peterbilt in Canada. By 1980 it had another plant in Denton, Texas and by 1993 their headquarters was in California where it still is to this day. Denton become the sole manufacturing plant to build Peterbilt’s 362 COE model truck.

Peterbilt’s Truck Lines

Peterbilt lines originally had model numbers that started with a number 2, which stood for single axle models and a number 3 for those with a dual drive. However, by the late 1970s, they stopped doing this sort of distinction. Some of the more distinctive or well known models were:

– 200/265: This was a smaller truck that had a cab based on a Volkswagen MAN G90 and it is still being made in Brazil.

– 260/360: This is the actual first model of Peterbilt trucks.

– 280/350: This model was built between 1949 and 1957 and was known for its unique cycle style fenders in the front and having a long style grill that had vertical shutters on it.

-281/351: This version of the Peterbilt model of truck was made from 1954 to 1976. One of its main claims to fame is that a model 281 appeared in the Steven Spielberg 1971 movie, Duel, where an evil truck was trying to kill people. It was a 1950 year version of that model of the 281 Peterbilt truck.

– 282/352: This version of the Peterbilt trucks had a tilt-cab cab-over-engine and was the model that came out after the 351, which was a non-tilting cab-over style. It was called the Pacemaker after someone won a contest to name it and got a color television as a prize. The Pacemaker also was developed as a 352 model and won fame when it appeared on the Knight Rider TV show as the evil super truck named Goliath, as well as being the model that was being sung about in the truck song, Convoy.

– 358: This model was the company’s very first tilt hood style truck. It was sold until 1976.

– 359: This model of Petebilt truck was sold from 1967 to 1987. The 1100 series of these had a bulkhead style of door that is still in used today.

– 346: This is a very rare version of the Peterbilt brand and a mere 10 of these trucks were built from 1972 to 1975. It was meant to be used to mix concrete, or as a dump truck or snow plow type truck.

– 348: The model 348 was sold between 1970 and 1986 and had a sloped fiberglass hood for better visibility. It was the first fiberglass hood Peterbilt made.

– 353: The 353 replaced flat fender models and instead had pit style fenders. It was used in construction.

– 387: The 387 Peterbilt trucks were also made in 1976 to 1987. It had a heavy weight frame, flat fenders, undercab steps, big bumper and was used to carry coal.

– 362: The 362 became the Peterbilt flagship truck in 1981. It had two kinds of windshield wipers, one was a one-piece center style and the other had either three or two wipers. It also introduced a front axle that was set back and had longer springs in the front. The last one was made in 2005.

– 372: This Peterbilt model is considered the one that is the most aerodynamic, the cab nose piece can be flipped forward so that it is easy to do maintenance on it. It was made from 1988 to 1993. It’s said that it has a sort of Darth Vader like look because it looks somewhat like a helmet shape.

– 377: This model incorporated some headlights into the fenders and was also considered aerodynamic. It was made with a front axle that was set forward, as well as one that was set back. It was made from 1987 to 2000.

– 378: This Peterbilt truck had a steep fiberglass design on its hood and came as a front axle that was set back in its design. It was popular for over the road, as well as local trucking.

– 357: The 357 was similar in style to the 378, but was more of a heavy weight than it was. This is because it was designed for construction. It also came with flat fenders, a new style of hood and grill that it had put on in 2004.This vocational style hood was created for clients who wanted front engine power. It was very popular in the heavy haul trucking industry.

– 385: The 385 model was made between 1996 and 2007. It was meant to be a competitor to a truck put out by the Freightliner brand, the FLD.

– 379: Between 1987 and 2007 this was Peterbilt’s main flagship truck. A claim to fame is that Autobot leader Optimus Prime was shown as a 1997 Peterbilt Model-379 Extended Hood truck in the Transformer’s movie.

– 389: this model ushered in some of the changes in Peterbilt models to make them compliant to 2007 EPA standards.

Many more styles and models of Peterbilt trucks have come out since this time and the company is still going strong with many truckers desiring to drive and or own a model of the legendary Peterbilt Trucks.