Back In Time >> 1958: Riding the LP 333 three-axle truck


It was a made-to-measure truck, designed in response to dimensional and weight restrictions which came into force in 1958. The LP 333 16-tonner had two steered axles and the maximum-possible payload capacity. And it helped the cab-over-engine principle on to its breakthrough.

More likely than not, it saw more than enough country roads in its lifetime. Germany had, after all, just 2,260 kilometers of motorway when the truck was introduced in 1958. But the LP 333 proved its mettle particularly on poor roads, its two steered axles taking bumps in their stride and pampering the driver with enormous ride comfort. Even transverse ruts did not throw the three-axle truck at higher speeds. Many a present-day semitrailer tractor driver would be grateful for this heavenly level of ride comfort.
Other features of this unusual three-axle truck take some getting used to, at least from today's perspective. The engine tunnel, for instance, with its noble quilted cover, bulges enormously into the cab, reaching almost up to the upper edge of the instrument panel. And yet the sound of the 200 hp pre-chamber combustion engine is damped only timidly. Even in idle, the eleven-liter six-cylinder inline engine produces an earthy sound which develops into a truly impressive roar and thunder as engine speed rises. This vehicle was designed for a gross combination weight of 32 tons, and it complied with the contemporary legal stipulation of at least six hp per ton with bravado.

In direct contact with the engine

In touch with the engine and its pulse – that was the price to be paid for this compact but otherwise highly modern cab-over-engine design. The driver of the LP 333 was pals with his truck's engine. Since the cab was still rigidly mounted to its frame, the engine tunnel had to be tiltable and demountable to permit engine oil checks and work on the engine.
The cab-over-engine design took its time in gaining a foothold in the 1950s before it experienced a sudden boom in the second half of the decade. The first Mercedes-Benz cab-over-engine trucks with cabs from Wackenhut or Kässbohrer appeared on the roads in the early years of the 1950s. The first post-war production truck with cab-over-engine was the LP 315 in 1955. Its Wackenhut cab was now a standard feature. In 1958, then, this design principle experienced a sudden boom due to the radical limitation of combination lengths. More about that later.
The LP 333 proved to be a highly modern representative of its kind, and not only for dispens-ing with a nose which has disappeared almost completely today. Its single-plate dry clutch, for instance, required astonishingly low pedal pressure. Little strength was equally required for turning the almost horizontal, ivory-colored four-spoke steering wheel. The same color was used for the large number of knobs in the instrument panel which had to be pulled and pushed, just like the stops of an organ.

Warning of insufficient tire pressure

The instrument panel of the LP 333 also featured a number of warning lights already. The most original one of these was probably the lance-shaped, sputnik-like tip of the indicator lever on the left, which flashed in a reddish shade when the indicator was activated. The most advanced warning light (and one that is currently being considered again for trucks with single-tire rear axles) was the yellow light in the left-hand bottom section of the instrument panel, which came on to indicate insufficient tire pressure. Needless to say, however, the simple mechanical solutions of the 1950s and present-day electronic systems are worlds apart.
In the LP 333's day and age, spring-loaded brakes were far from being state of the art. And so the classic ratchet brake still emerged at an angle on the left-hand side of the engine tunnel; it had to be pulled several times to secure the stationary truck, to the accompaniment of its characteristic sound. To release the parking brake, on the other hand, it was enough to press a small transverse strut with the ball of the thumb, to return the brake shoe on the driven axle, on which the parking brake acted, to its waiting position.

Engine brake as standard for the first time

With the standard engine brake, the LP 333 introduced a brake system without which modern trucks would be inconceivable, and whose efficiency has reached a level today that would have been inconceivable in the 1950s. The engine brake generated a build-up in the exhaust manifold by means of an exhaust flap, thereby curbing the pistons' movement and decelerating the vehicle on downhill stretches.
Handling the brakes correctly ranked among the elementary skills drivers had to master in those days. The LP 333 did not have a modern-day dual-circuit brake system in which the supply of fresh compressed air is ensured during braking as well. It only had a single brake circuit whose resources were easily exhausted on long downhill stretches and after a correspondingly large number of brake applications. Therefore, the non-wearing and inexhaustible permanent brake, fitted in the LP 333 as standard, was an extremely reassuring feature.
However, this had certain consequences for the configuration of the entire combination, summarized in a release by the sales organization as follows: "When braking ... with the engine brake, a low axle pressure at the rear axle may have unpleasant effects if the trailer is not equipped with control valves for the 'third' brake." In other words, if the fully laden trailer pushed the truck too heavily, high tire wear on the rear axle was unavoidable.
Hence the factory urged its sales staff to convince customers that they needed this control valve to apply the trailer brakes synchronously to a certain extent when the engine brake was activated. Only in this way could it be ensured that the combination remained stretched at all times and that safe handling was retained even in winter.

Semi-retirement to Greece

The LP 333 we are writing about remained in operation for more than four decades. The ancestor of the modern truck went the way many of its colleagues went before and after it in the course of time: in its old age, when it was no longer wanted in Germany, it ended up in sunny Greece. Since the Greek customs regulations prevented new vehicles from being imported for a long time, the Greeks had no choice for decades but to resort to vivid used-truck importing activities.
But contrary to the majority of its brethren, who did service under the Mediterranean sun to the very end, our LP 333 found its way back home. Today, after thorough restoration by classic truck collector Johannes Gottinger in Landshut, it is at least as spick and span as it was on the day it was delivered to its first customer in 1960.

Nicknamed "millipede"

The 1950s were a hard time for German haulage operators. But then again, the three-axle truck owed its very existence with the unusual new feature of two steered front axles to these extraordinary (legal) circumstances in Germany. This new feature in combination with the innocent-looking, nicely rounded cab-over-engine gave the LP 333 the likable appeal of a cute crawler. Its popularity among the population was correspondingly high, and it soon acquired its nickname, the "millipede".
Nevertheless, giving the LP 333 its extraordinary design was making virtue out of sheer necessity. In the course of the years, Federal German Transport Minister Seebohm, who had come into office in 1949 and was to stay until 1966, had developed a deep concern with regard to the growing truck traffic in the 1950s. He vented his displeasure in a number of decrees, seen by the haulage trade as substantial restrictions.
It started in 1953 with a ban on the second trailer which had been widely used until then. This ban was introduced together with a shortening of the permissible overall length of a truck-and-trailer combination from 22 to 20 meters. One year later, some 45 percent of the goods previously carried by truck were banned from the road and vehicle and mineral-oil taxes were raised drastically. But this was still not enough. The haulage operators' world almost collapsed about them when Seebohm amended the StVZO (road traffic licensing order) in 1956, stipulating a reduction of the gross combination weight from 40 to 24 tons and of maximum length from 20 to 14 meters from 1958. Under the new law, trailers were not allowed to be heavier than the truck – exit the combination of two-axle truck (16 tons) and three-axle trailer (24 tons) which had been so popular in Germany until then and was to become widely used again at a later stage.

Designed for the maximum-possible payload capacity

Nevertheless, the new law left certain loopholes, accompanied as it was by a complex range of transitional regulations. These were systematically exploited in the design of the new LP 333 in order to provide buyers with a maximum of payload capacity and productivity even under these extremely restrictive framework conditions. The LP 333 used the available scope intelligently. With its two steered front axle, each with a load-bearing capacity of four tons, the LP 333 was considerably lighter than a three-axle truck with two rear axles. With a 16 ton trailer, the LP 333 became a 32 ton combination, thereby giving the customer the extra bene-fit of a good 20 tons. By comparison: with a conventional two-axle truck and trailer, a payload of hardly more than 15 tons was possible.
However, the gagging of truck transport did not last long. The German stand-alone solution (comparable restrictions were imposed nowhere else in Europe) was soon abandoned again. As early as 1960, Minister Seebohm relaxed some of the regulations and made substantial concessions where maximum weights and dimensions were concerned.

Future-oriented concept

That was the reason why only 1,833 units were built of the LP 333 nicknamed "millipede". Only about a dozen of these trucks have survived to this day. It goes without saying that this truck, tailored specifically to German regulations, qualified for export only to a very limited extent; hence it was sold almost exclusively in Germany. At 82 units, the LP 333's export share was below five percent. One of the few foreign customers was Verwer's Expresse, a Dutch haulage operator whose four millipedes commuted between the company's headquarters in Voorburg and Switzerland.
Although the LP 333 owed its concept to very special circumstances, its three-axle design was to point the way far into the future. The three-axle tractor, the LPS 333 derived from the millipede, served as a model in the design of the extremely successful LPS 2020 tractor introduced in 1966. With its steered forward-trailing axle, it combined perfect handling with minimum tire way in exemplary fashion.

Download : Technical Data of the LP 333

Download : Legally stipulated dimensions and weights

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