Le Grande Mack
Truck & Driver|December 2020
If ever there was a truck that defined the 1990s, it has to be the towering Renault Magnum. There had never been anything like it before and to be honest, there’s never been anything quite like it since
Bob Beech

The Magnum broke new ground and started trends that continue with modern truck design today.

The original concept of a very high-mounted cab with a flat floor, that was completely separated from the chassis and driveline, was first introduced in the Renault Virages advanced concept truck back in the ‘80s. It is quite incredible that the designers initiating the project in 1979, were visualising something so advanced just five years after the Atkinson Borderer, with its fibreglass and timber framed cab went out of production.

This French concept vehicle was shown to the world in a couple of different forms and working prototypes were built and tested out on the road; it was Renault’s answer to the future challenges faced by long distance European hauliers.

There was a lot of hope and optimism at the time, the removal of borders between EU member states was just a few years away, Communism was collapsing in Eastern Europe, international trade was expanding dramatically and hauliers were sending their vehicles further from base. Journey times were coming down dramatically as the international road network was expanding.

Drivers, quite rightly, demanded better, more powerful and comfortable trucks if they were expected to be away from home for longer. Operators wanted reliable fuel-efficient drivelines and expected this new breed of truck to require less maintenance and give greater productivity.

It seems a little strange to talk of a mood of optimism and new opportunities nearly 30 years later, with Britain about to cut its close ties with the EU, a process that is bound to make it more difficult for UK operators internationally.

But this is now in the face of a European international transport market that has seen a huge influx of new operators from Eastern Europe, often working for haulage rates that are well below cost for British operators. This ultra-tough competition has seen a serious reduction in driver’s wages, a serious decline in roadside facilities, safe parking and general operating standards, as operators seek to find ways to save money.

Still, back to 1990/91 and the launch of the Magnum! While we in the UK might not truly understand our close neighbours on the other side of the English Channel, few can deny that if the French make up their minds to do something, they just get on with it. Renaults Trucks didn’t just take the later versions of the Virages project to a couple of truck shows and let a few journalists drive it around. They listened to operators, modified the design, then went ahead and built it, giving the new range the name AE and calling the top power V8 version, the Magnum.

Revolutionary

It’s doubtful if any other manufacturer would have been brave or headstrong enough to have built this radical new truck. It was so unlike any of the rest of the Renault truck range, it shared some of the power units and driveline from the existing R-series heavy range, but otherwise it was a bespoke product.

At the time, many manufacturers were looking to harmonise their truck ranges wherever possible, trying to develop modular designs where as many common parts were shared across the various models in the range. Renault did the opposite with the AE/ Magnum range, the cab design was unique and pretty much every part was exclusive to this model, the outgoing R series used the long serving cab developed by Berliet in the ‘70s, also used in modified form by Ford on the Transcontinental.

The G series used the Club of Four “group” cab developed with three other manufacturers in the ‘70s and was replaced in time by the Premium range, which was a completely different design to the Magnum. Renault had been government controlled for many years and was a combination of a number of other French manufacturers, including Saviem and Berliet, the latter company had a long tradition of producing advanced and at times, slightly outlandish designs. The new AE followed this lead and had more than a bit of Berliet DNA in its development.

The long-established American manufacturer Mack had come under Renault control a few years earlier. Mack were builders of rugged designs that had won the approval of operators in some of the toughest markets and conditions. Unlike many of their American competitors, Mack had continued to design and build their own drivelines. They also offered Cummins, Detroit Diesel and other manufacturer’s engines if required, but the lion’s share of the output used Mack engines and transmissions.

In the ‘70s, the company produced some very advanced designs and were one of the pioneers of the high torque/low revs philosophy that is at the heart of modern diesel engines. Interestingly, Berliet had done a lot of similar development work with their own engines, as had Scania in Sweden, who worked with Mack since the 1950s and supplied them with smaller capacity engines for use mainly in buses and coaches.

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