Now that we live in a smaller town surrounded by a countryside that consists mostly of farms, I have been bugging Kay about getting a truck. There's no way this will happen in the foreseeable future, of course, but every time I see a slab-nosed square Silverado with straight pipes, Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band play a special rendition of "Like a Rock" between my ears.
That's not really a truck, though. Nor is the Toyota Tacoma or new 'mid-size' General Motors twins, as nice as they look. I've come to the conclusion that even though American companies (and consumers) think they're masters of the truck—but it may not be the case.
Turns out the French know how how to make trucks. And, in the case of the Berliet T100, the world's biggest truck, way back in 1957.
If there's one thing I've learned about that culture, it'd have to be that they're masters of publicity. From Citroën putting their logo on the Eiffel Tower from 1925-1934 to Peugeot's masterful modern assault on Pike's Peak—and Sébastien Loeb's masterful performance on the mountain—they're generally quite good at getting the word out about new things.
The Berliet T100 is no exception. Its introduction at the 1957 Paris Motor Show had to be done in a specially constructed pavilion, because it wouldn't fit in the main hall. They noticed its proportions, in a photograph, would make it appear scarcely believable as the World's Biggest Truck, so in most photos there are people (or a Vespa 400!) for scale.
Before the Second World War, Berliet made a range of simple, no-nonsense cars, sort of like how the Dodge brand operates in North America. Truth be told, at one stage around the year 1919 they actually copied a Dodge—a meaningful shortcut if you were too cheap to pay engineers and designers to come up with new models!
After the Second World War, the firm made only trucks. And with oil fields and exploration in the Middle East being such a focus for the oil and gas industry, it made sense to develop a truck that would be at home in the desert—and useless everywhere else.
It's a beast that's all about the numbers. T100? It weighs 100 tonnes. That "600" or "700" on the front grille? Horsepower from its twin-turbo 29.61-litre V12 Cummins diesel engine. Top speed? 34 km/h (21 mph).
Its brake discs were from large airplanes. It had a semi-automatic transmission with four forward speeds and four reverse, in conjunction with locking axles.
Two tanks of fuel held 950 litres…each.
My favourite stat on the T100 is that it had power steering…powered by an engine from a Panhard road car.
At 15.3 meters (50 feet) long, with tires that measure in meters, I suppose you'd need a car engine to steer the massive machine.
Of course, being a French design, after a few years of production—only four were made, I should add—T100 #4 had a slab-nosed cab forward design, which was at one point brought to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for an oil and gas exhibition. It was also used as a test mule for a 1000 horsepower Turboméca Turmo III C gas turbine from a helicopter.
As many sources note, fuel consumption was "very excessive." Since a total fuel load of 1900 litres would be enough for my Fiat to drive to the moon and back—and still have enough left to swim in—I hate to think about how quickly that turbine turned fuel into pollution!
Two of the four trucks made still exist; one is at the Berliet Foundation's museum, the other is rotting away in the sun at the Algerian town of Hassi Messaoud.