Automotive History Capsule: The Reason Why European Long Distance Trucks Are So Tall

Volvo F12 Globetrotter

By the late seventies, European long distance trucks had reached a very acceptable level of driver comfort and ergonomics. They all had cab and seat suspension, good ventilation and heating; and engine noise and heat were sufficiently banished to the background. In real life, it meant that if you were a professional truck driver you were no longer physically worn out by the time you turned 55, give or take a few years. And you actually had not lost most of your hearing by that age.

Berliet TR 1978

So, the basic needs were fulfilled. Now the time was right for the secondary needs, more living room (literally), a bit more joie de vivre; extra comfort items. In other words, it was time for a real “house on wheels.”  There was one major and crucial problem though: the overall length restrictions in Europe. A cab can of course easily be lengthened to make it bigger, but in the context of overall length restrictions that immediately means less cargo.  If the cab is not allowed to grow longer (or wider, for that matter), then it can only grow taller. And that’s exactly what happened.

Berliet Le CentaureBerliet Le Centaure with a 356 hp (obviously) 15 liter V8 turbodiesel

Of course, there already were trucks with higher roofs at that point (I clearly remember the German Büssing cabovers from the late sixties and early seventies) and there may have been conversions done on a small scale, but the first European factory trucks with substantially raised roofs combined with extra facilities and comfort for the driver were the 1978 Berliet Le Centaure from France (speaking of joie de vivre) and the 1979 Volvo F12 Globetrotter from Sweden.

1978 Berliet Le CentaureInterior of the Berliet Le Centaure

The Berliet Le Centaure was based on the truckmaker’s TR350 long distance tractor. Berliet was taken over by Renault in 1974 and later on, Renault used Berliet’s cab on its R-series of heavy trucks until 1996.

Volvo F10 1977Volvo F10/F12 series, as introduced in 1977 (Courtesy Volvo Trucks)

The Volvo F12 Globetrotter was based on Volvo’s F10/F12-series, introduced in 1977. The letter F stands for Forward control and the number reflected the engine displacement in liters. The F10/F12-series was the successor of the F88/F89 cabovers; the latter suddenly looking like collectable vintage trucks upon the  introduction of the former.

F12 Globetrotter (folder)First-gen Volvo Globetrotter (Courtesy Volvo Trucks) 

Both the Frenchman and the Swede offered extra interior room, extra storage facilities and optional extra equipment (like a refrigerator, a water tank, a sink and a kitchen) that no other truckmaker could offer in the late seventies and early eighties.

Volvo binnen (1)


Volvo binnen (2)


Volvo binnen (3)Interior pictures of the Globetrotter, as shown in a Dutch brochure (Courtesy Volvo Trucks)

The big Volvo became an instant commercial success, that’s why many people think that the Globetrotter was the very first Euro-Motorhome-truck. Initially, the Globetrotter was intended as a “mobile hotel” for drivers from countries behind the former Iron Curtain.

DAF 3300 OudeDafDAF 3300 tractor with the regular sleeper cab 

But after its introduction, it immediately caught on in Northwestern Europe. All long distance drivers wanted a mobile hotel, regardless their homeland.

DAF Space Cab met opleggerSame DAF model, now with the big Space Cab (Courtesy DAF Trucks)

DAF Space Cab interieurGhost view illustration of the Space Cab (Courtesy DAF Trucks)

After some hesitation, DAF followed with the 1985 Space Cab version of the 2800/3300/3600 series. The 2800 series was introduced in 1973 and the later 3300 and 3600 models were basically the same truck.

DAF-XF-Super-Space-CabDAF’s current top model, the XF-series with a Super Space Cab 

And then, in the years to follow, all other mainstream truck makers started to build their own long distance models with raised roofs and a cabs as long, wide and tall as (legally) possible. Huge cube-shaped cabs, about 12.5 feet tall these days, are not uncommon. Another advantage of such height is that you can actually stand up straight and walk through the cab, since most top models also have a (nearly) flat floor.

Magnum CCRenault AE Magnum, introduced in 1990

Also absolutely worth mentioning is the 1990 Renault AE Magnum. Not so much for its raised roof, but for its revolutionary new design and setup. The cab was completely separated from the chassis and its floor was perfectly flat; it “floated” on top of the chassis. It had a set forward front axle, just like big American cabovers, therefore climbing in and out rapidly was a bit of a trick you had to learn.

Magnum interieurThe interior of a Renault AE Magnum. Or as we say “Living as God in France”

At one point the top model AE Magnum was available with a Mack V8 engine. And why not, since Renault owned Mack back then. In 2013 the last Renault Magnum left the factory. Meanwhile, Volvo took over Renault Trucks and is therefore also the current owner of Mack.  With the driver sitting high above the ground, as a King on his air suspension throne, the cabover sleeper cab with a raised roof and as much Home-Sweet-Home equipment in it as possible is the norm for today’s European long distance trucker.

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