There’s a very, very good reason they don’t sell American trucks here in the UK, they’re gigantic! People once thought the Renault Magnum was a bit portly, but when you’ve seen the likes of the Freightliner Century, it’s practically reduced to a push-wagon!
To understand the Century however, you need to understand Freightliner, and where better to start than at the beginning!
Freightliner can trace its roots back to the 1930’s, where the haulage company Consolidated Freightways decided to create their own line of trucks, with the first units produced way back in 1942 at their factory in Salt Lake City, dubbing their vehicles the ‘Freightliners’. After a few years of building some quite successful goods vehicles, CF sold their truck division in part to the White Motor Company of Cleveland, Ohio, as on their own CF was unable to provide distribution of their vehicles in order to reduce production costs.
The agreement between White Motor and CF endured until the 1970’s, where after much financial trouble, Freightliner was sold to Daimler-Benz in May 1981. Daimler-Benz began to produce a variety of trucks in conjunction with selling versions of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, attempting to make a profit from two sources. However, Mercedes trucks lacked the size and general pull that American haulage companies desired, and thus in 1991 pulled out, leaving Daimler-Benz to sell Freightliner trucks solely. Their success in the 1990’s was complimented by the new FL-Series, which was fitted with many features from Mercedes-Benz products such as cab components.
Success of the FL-Series meant that Freightliner could now buy a selection of other ailing American brands, including American LaFrance, a builder of Emergency and Fire Vehicles. In addition to the purchase of American LaFrance, the company also used its profits to develop what would be their Magnum Opus, the Freightliner Century Class of 1995.
The Freightliner Century is all things to all men and haulage companies, a gigantic leviathan of a truck with a long bonnet under which a 360hp Caterpillar, Detroit Diesel or Mercedes engine purs. Top speed is 114mph, and even though 0-60 could be counted in minutes, the vehicle internally is fitted with all the things needed for a long distance trucker, with a sleeper-cab, refrigerator and many other comforts of home.
The Century Class was indeed a huge success for Freightliner, but their audacious buying spree of the 1990’s was about to bite back. Now burdened with too many companies than they could afford, Freightliner sold off American LaFrance in 2007, before later that year the company was split in two, one remaining Freightliner, the other becoming Daimler Trucks North America. As part of the deal, Freightliner now built more heavy-duty trucks, such as the continuing Century Class range, as well as rebadged versions of Mercedes critically acclaimed Sprinter.