Many people don’t know that the first semi-truck predates the production automobile. The year was 1898, and the issue was automobile transport. The Winton Motor Carriage Company was producing automobiles in a very small-scale operation. To deliver his cars, Mr. Winton needed a transport vehicle.
It was a rudimentary design, and the car had to be loaded onto the trailer before the truck could be hooked up, but this principle lives on today in the form of an RGN-type trailer (removable gooseneck) used for heavy equipment hauling.
Flash forward to 2018 and trucking has changed dramatically. The tried and true trailer still faithfully follows the power unit, but modern provisions have come a long way in making trucks a practical application in a modern transportation industry. So modern, in fact, that in order to keep trucks competitive; they have to be really bad looking!
That’s not a rule, per se – but it might as well be. Trucking saw its heyday a few decades ago when trucks were powerful, loud, noisy, and gross-polluting. Not to say we condone the premature destruction of the planet; but the fact is, half of a truck’s appeal is the visual aspect, and the other half is the way they rumble the earth beneath them as six massive cylinders pound ignition into an oil charge.
Today, we’re lucky enough to watch technology transition into the next gateway; a new era of transportation is upon us – but it’s bad enough to make you cringe. Here we celebrate the best looking rigs we’ve ever seen and contrast them with some of the dumbest looking class 8 trucks on the planet. Prepare to be saddened by what you’re about to witness…you can’t un-see some of this stuff!
20 Sickest - Iggy’s Special
Trucking is a career path, unlike many others. It’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. You’re bound by the code of the road. It’s almost a forgotten code nowadays, but the code used to mean something back when being a driver was something of a respectable trade. Trucks used to look classy; they used to look proud.
The age of fender-flapping aero cabs, lathered with more plastic than a Mattel factory, wasn’t prolific yet. The constricting stranglehold of the EPA had not yet wrapped its hooks around the powerful Detroit diesels; they were free to blow their fury straight into the atmosphere – loud and proud.
19 Unsee - Thor’s Eyesore
This is what happens when two millennials watch Transformers too many times and want to engineer a truck – without engineering a truck. The California startup is called Thor, and the ET-One is a mishmash of off-the-shelf parts from all over the place. Thor basically tossed together using other people’s engineering to scale up their business on the cheap, but without the resources to engineer their own designs, how can one expect them to adequately address any technical issues down the road?
Their business model relies on the engineering of parts not designed to work together. When things break, will they even know how to fix it? Or will they throw another Dana axle at it and call it a day?
18 Sickest - Show And Shine
There are countless truck exhibitions, large and small, for which owner/operators can show their hardware off, but the show never ends. Whether it’s a best-in-class winner or just a runner-up when the sun rises the next day, the engine growls to life, the air brakes release, and it’s off to another day of hard work.
Trucks work hard, ugly or otherwise. Having a nice truck makes drivers feel better about looking out over those long hoods, but it isn’t mandatory. In fact, it’s quite a luxury. There is only a small percentage of high-quality show trucks in existence, comparatively speaking.
17 Unsee - Rotella Rig
Rotella is Shell’s line of heavy truck lubricants. Unless you drive a diesel, you haven’t heard of the Rotella line, but everybody knows Shell. What you may not know is that they spent 18,000 build-hours putting together the aero truck of the future, according to them. Like it or not, our landscape is streamlining, and the classic tractors of today are phasing out quicker than the cab-overs of our yesteryears.
It’s only the natural progression of things, and we need to embrace it as the new “standard,” but it doesn’t mean we have to like it. The Rotella, dubbed StarShip, makes Thor look good! But adequate funding (and a solvent developer) make it much more likely to be the rig of the future.
16 Sickest - Double Up
This classic 379 starts off the entourage of custom hardware right from the very start – the first thing you see are the stainless, dual headlight housings on their sturdy machined mounts. Chicken lights line the bottom of the custom bumper. The custom grille mesh is encased by even more chrome (truckers love chrome).
Chrome window trim, chrome visor, chrome stacks, and dual air cleaners that are shiny enough to shave in. There are thousands of dollars worth of hardware just on the front half of the tractor alone! Is this excessive? This guy doesn’t think so! He’s spent more than a down payment for a large home on paint alone!
15 Unsee - Optimus Aero
There’s nothing wrong with Western Stars; they are great trucks. As a matter of fact. Even Optimus Prime thinks so, and he’s gone aero! No longer sporting the hard lines of the 379, he now favors tacky stacks chrome from front to back. Needing to give viewers something new to digest, the tried and true Pete has been tossed aside, as if Optimus himself is now concerned with his bottom line at the fuel pumps!
It wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t look like a Hot Wheels that piled on a mountain of plastic-chrome. Even if you think it looks cool, the cheap fiberglass and plastic will be withering before you know it.
14 Sickest - Mac Daddy Belly Dump
Owner/operators enjoy a level of freedom that few other drivers enjoy. You may still have dispatchers if you’re leased out to a company, but the truck is yours. In this case, his trailer is his as well, as you can probably tell. This truck is so custom, you can’t readily appreciate all the fine touches that have gone into making it so visually stunning.
The windows have custom visors all the way around. Mirror mounts, tanks, exhaust, headlights, grill…literally, everything you lay your eyes on has been modified. Even the air cleaner has detail work done to it. It’s also one of the lowest Peterbilts that could get away with belly dump service.
13 Unsee - Stocktimus Prime
It’s not the new Optimus, but you’d almost confuse the new Freightliner Cascadia for a Western Star if you weren’t up-to-date on your trucks. That’s because there’s next to no difference on the outside anymore. Aero designs are built for one thing, to slice through the air. They aren’t built for style; they aren’t built for longevity; they aren’t built for quality. The builders would absolutely assert all of these things, but there’s a reason they call these trucks “fender flappers.”
One tiny bump anywhere on the body invariably causes catastrophic failure of the mounting assemblies that hold them together. Once this happens, these puppies shake and shimmy going down the road like a flag in a hurricane.
12 Sickest - Flat, Matte, And Low
The catalog of upgrades to splash a Peterbilt with could stretch on into the next decade. There are several variations of the round, dual headlight assembly to choose from; several blade bumper styles to pick, hundreds of stacks to show Mother Nature how you feel about the ozone layer…no two trucks are ever alike.
This Pete uses chrome in sparing degrees, preferring the effect of a matte finish on a hard slam. Super small tanks and a short sleeper are indicative of local work. The extended frame is likely a factory frame for a longer sleeper configuration, where the big Unibilt was traded for a smaller version, feigning the impression of a longer chassis.
11 Unsee - Reverse Engineering
The verdict is out – the International LoneStar nearly takes the cake for ugly trucks from the factory – no modifications necessary. Some people love the new design, pointing out the “retro” styling of the front end. It may improve the drag coefficient a bit with such a narrow nose, but the design looks as bad as the Plymouth Prowler was when it came out, and that’s not even the worst part of this truck.
Somebody is a NASCAR fan here and thought an adjustable front splitter was a good idea. Custom rims, custom visor – custom stacks, tanks, fenders and paint…all to look worse than it started out in the first place.
10 Sickest - No Wrong Way
Some trucks like expensive paint jobs and tons of chrome. Some avoid it like the plague. Both can be had with stunning visual effect. But there is a middle ground too, and some guys run a wild line of upgrades that mix different themes together. It’s likely this truck is in the intermediary stages of an extensive upgrade, but he just as well might leave it the flat gray and keep it rough.
The unpainted fenders over the drive tires give the smooth frame a balancing look, but these are gambles on any road tractor. Any rig that sees enough miles will suffer a blowout eventually. 100psi tire blowouts and thin-gauge stainless don’t mix with encouraging results.
9 Unsee - B-Train To The Membrane
What do B-Trains and lowrider have in common? Nothing, until now (that we know of). The B-Train is a type of combination that hooks a second trailer directly to the chassis of the first trailer via a fifth wheel, rather than having the fifth wheel for the second trailer ride on a dolly being towed by the first trailer.
Its design allows for unparalleled stability versus the dolly tow setup. All is well and good until the homeboy treatment was applied to it. It’s stellar work, to say the least; but we don’t know if the truck is ready to work, or start chassis slamming
8 Sickest - Rhyme And Reason
It’s hard to tell what’s going through an owner’s mind as he chooses his upgrades. This truck would be stellar with ZERO chrome, but it also could benefit from a ton more of it. The mirror brackets were painted, but the mirrors themselves remained clean. The front windows are encased in the shiny metal, which is a rare upgrade.
Down below, you’ll immediately notice the painted tank has big, chrome bands that pop like the Fourth of July against the big orange tanks; what you don’t notice right away are the holes in rims on the steer tires – the rims are polished aluminum, but each hole has been accented with the brilliant orange paint. This truck is about small details.
7 Unsee - Testruck
Everybody wants to build a semi, and why wouldn’t they? It’s a $700 billion industry! It doesn’t take a Tesla scientist to figure out the cost-benefit analysis could possibly be the biggest cash cow of cash cows. Retail consumers are finicky, gimmicky purchasers that are heavily swayed by emotion. Commercial operators want one thing – bottom line reduction. It almost sounds too easy, especially since EVs are proliferating at an exponentially increasing rate.
But commercial consumers can’t be swayed lame gimmicks like “camping” mode, or “ludicrous” mode. Trucks need to perform, and they need to perform constantly. Downtime for charging isn’t acceptable for team operations – drivers or not, trucks need to be able to continuously move.
6 Sickest - Bach Off
This East Longmeadow, Massachusetts recovery company fights more than just traffic collisions and break downs; the weather can pile over a foot of snow on top of the trucks when a storm blows through. Bach combats the cold with a blazing-hot paint job – on all of their trucks!
Well, not all of their trucks, but they have at least 10 of them that have been expertly painted with photo-real flames! Four wreckers, four medium-duty rollbacks, and at least two pickup trucks – all with the killer design work. This is no cheap operation, but you’ve probably never seen your truck look as good while being towed!
5 Unsee - Tractor Pod
They say there is never any such thing as a “new” idea, just old ideas recycled into new designs. While you may easily be able to find contradictions to this sentiment, the “new” Volvo autonomous semi-tractor is a seemingly revolutionary design that actually has roots in the ‘80s.
It’s a fully-autonomous tractor, without provisions for an operator of any sort. That’s not new, but neither is the low-profile design. It’s a rip-off of something called the Super Cargo 2040, which never took off, but was intended to tuck the driver underneath the trailer’s chassis to save space. Will it be the one?
4 Sickest - Reefer Madness
Truck culture is a hardcore level of enthusiasm that few people ever get to experience. The trucking industry is massive, but the custom truck segment makes up a very small percentage of the whole. This six-figure build is no doubt the envy of many operators, but the money tied up in this truck is hard to justify for many owner/ops.
This is a retirement, a trust fund, a nest egg – it’s a fleet of low-level Petes that could be put to work. It’s not only expensive to build; it’s an expensive proposition to maintain. This is the truck that’ll bring truck stop scavengers from across the lot to solicit their wheel-shining skills to the driver, every time he pulls into the fuel island.
3 Unsee - MAN, Oh Man!
We figure we’ve bashed on the bad looking EVs and aero trucks that are ruining our beautiful rigs long enough. While they may very well be the way of the future, they’re missing a vital component of the equation that makes trucks so alluring, the noise! Diesels are supposed to be mean, loud, and brash. The electric hum of high-power inverters isn’t going to get anyone excited about anything!
While getting excited about heavy movers isn’t necessarily the point, it’s still nice. The Dakar Rally runs through multiple countries over a 13-stage, 5,500-mile endurance race that’s harsh enough to put any bad looking MAN cabover through the ultimate oil-burning test of survival!
2 Sickest - M1070 HET Tank Hauler
What would a list of dope trucks be without one of the baddest trucks on (or off) the roads? The Oshkosh M1070 was developed in the mid-‘90s as a tank hauler. With a 500hp Detroit diesel, an extreme-duty Allison five-speed, eight-wheel drive (with rear axle steering), and a 140,000-lb payload, the truck is a monster.
Gross weight is north of 230,000bls, meaning you can slap an M1A1 MBT on the trailer no-problemo! It only has a top speed of 53mph, making it unusable for commercial trucking applications, but when the load is big, heavy, and not in a hurry – your M1070 will get it there, one way or another!
1 Unsee - Kamaz Crusher
The 12-speed synchromesh transmissions push the 1,000hp, 23,000-lb trucks from zero to 60mph in just over 11 seconds. Heavy duty drivelines and long travel suspension systems are put to the ultimate test as up to 12g of force ricochet up through the chassis and pound the occupants from every which angle!
It’s trucking at its most impractical, and possibly at its best! From the hottest deserts to the coldest arctic wastelands, there’s no place they won’t take the Kamaz; which means there’s no place that’s safe from the ugly! The homely looking trail kings are proof that minimum looks and maximum performance are sometimes one and the same!
Sources: TT News, The Verge, Trucks, Overdrive, Wolf Pak, Red Bull, Freightliner.