Driving a DAF3300 ATi brought back memories of when being a truck driver was a proper job! With its SpaceCab this truck was ideal for the long haul and its contribution to the road haulage industry should not be overlooked. Kevin Swallow reports.

GO ONLINE and you can still buy a DAF3300 4×2 tractor unit in ‘new’ condition. Be prepared to dig deep. It’s residual value far and exceeds its original recommended retail price!

I’ll be honest, I’m no collector of 1:50 scale models. You can’t play with them, instead each one much be lovingly put on display in a glass cabinet facing south by south west.

To compensate, I was given the chance to drive a real one around Scotland and what followed was nostalgia turned up to full volume.

First, let’s set the scene: For the next few hours I would be spending some time behind the wheel of an all new high-tech XF530 complete with its lane departure warning system, adaptive cruise control, hill assist and heated wing mirrors, fridge and many other state-of-the-art features I could list, and then, a 28 year old 3300 ATi.

Both were parked at the Redmoss Truckstop, just up the B7078 from M74 J13, ahead of a day’s driving across Lanarkshire.

First, the retro classic. Launched in 1973, the 2800 range (with F241/2.41m wide cab) replaced the 2600 range, built from 1962 to 1974. This was augmented in 1982 by a new flagship, the 3300, with production of F241 models ultimately lasting until 1995.

With the distinctive livery as its launch colours, the first incarnation of SpaceCab arrived in 1984. The much anticipated 95 was still some way off and DAF needed something to maintain the interest of operators and bridge an inevitable price, technology and image gap through to 95’s eventual launch in 1987.

SpaceCab was DAF’s initial response. Volvo already had Globetrotter that set the standard as the largest cab on the market, but SpaceCab heralded a wave of ‘standing height’, long haul cabs from other competitors.

DAF’s ATi (Advanced Turbo intercooling) range arrived in 1985. This incorporated many of the driveline upgrades scheduled for the 95, taking the 3300 to 354hp and launching another new flagship, the 3600, at 373hp.

The 1987 launch of the 95 coincided with the merger of DAF with Leyland Trucks/Freight Rover to create Leyland DAF UK branding with the 95 and 80 Series (DAF engined Leyland Roadtrain) models taking over from 28/33/3600 to spearhead the new company’s heavy truck range.

BUILT FOR EXPORT

But that wasn’t the end of DAF’s F241 cab. The 28/33/3600 refocused its attention on non mainstream export markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. It even got a new ‘slatted grille’ face and revised blue/grey interior materials carried down from the 95. And new models were added too; the 2900 and 3200, a few of which found their way to the UK.

And it’s here where our ‘test’ truck enters the fray. Built in 1990, it is an export only model most likely for Singapore or Thailand. It has little in common with the UK spec 3300 of its heyday: a hub reduction drive axle with over drive 16 speed transmission instead of single reduction direct top gearbox; air conditioning; a fixed driver’s seat; and electric powered driver’s window only.

But for whatever reason, this truck never made it out to the Far East. It was first registered in 1993 for the Irish Army (Ireland was deemed an export market for DAF) and in 22 years of active service, it clocked just 58,500 miles. On demob, the 3300 ATi was acquired by dealer Lothian DAF who spent 18 months restoring it to its former glory.

Today the 3300 ATi enjoys iconic status as a retro classic truck beloved by those who can now afford to restore it and relive their youth. And yes, this drive was eagerly anticipated. I last drove one in anger in the mid 1990s for a long gone marquee hire company.

Much of what I’d experienced returned in flashbacks; the narrow windscreen, an offset 16 speed transmission, convex mirrors with a built-in blind spot thanks to the wide corner post, and the exhaust brake button on the floor. Needless to say, I loved it.

ENGINE GROWLED

Using a tandem axle trailer with a five tonne weight through the kingpin, the engine growled as it responded to my heavy right foot when setting off. The early changes were tentative because the amount of play in the gear selection meant I wasn’t sure I had the right gear, and I didn’t want to damage this recently restored truck.

Starting in 2L, up into 4L, then slap across from low range to high range, letting the gearstick find its resting point and then up into 5L, it took a while to get up to, and trundle along at, 30mph before gaining enough confidence to open it up, just a little. Down to 6L then up into 7L, from where split changes were introduced going up to 8H. I cannot remember the last time I used a splitter let alone wrote sentences about it. I loved it.

Suddenly block changes were introduced as we slowed, then we confidently accelerated up to 40mph, the speed limit for trucks on two-way A roads in Scotland, all in a timely fashion to suggest I had an urgent appointment with an RDC.

Motoring up to 50mph on the dual carriageway was done with ease, and all the while reminiscing. Deploying the engine brake for descents required a four gear block change to force up the revs, and there were times that lugging down to 1,000rpm on the climbs felt like it was too much. It’s easy to forget that yesterday’s engines focused on using power more than torque.

BRUSHING THE MIRRORS

I rediscovered that the lane departure warning system is the sound of leaves and branches brushing (not hitting, definitely not hitting) the nearside mirrors when getting too close to the edge of the road.

By the time I’d finished driving the DAF3300, part of me was glad it wasn’t my truck five days a week. It required effort, forethought and concentration to drive it; it drained me mentally just keeping the wagon on the road. I also must acknowledge that this truck, with its SpaceCab, was, at least for a while, one of the best money could buy. And it’s in that light that I want to remember it.

After being reluctantly hauled out of the cab to let someone else have a go, I was ushered into a XF530 6×2 tractor. There are some tenuous links between the pair. The ‘SpaceCab’ lives on, this one is a Super Space cab, the transmission is a ZF albeit the Traxon 12 speed, it came with an engine brake and electric windows.

In truth there is no comparison, today’s trucks are mechanical masterpieces that allow the driver to work in a safe environment with all the modern conveniences at the touch of a finger. It has adaptive cruise control, EBS and ABS to name just three and it’s effortless to drive.

Following a hearty home made fish and chips and a second cup of tea at the Redmoss Truckstop, I went back out to have another look at the 3300. It’s unlikely I will drive another, so I was left with the problem of how best to remember my drive.

Perhaps a 1:50 scale model in a glass cabinet is not such a bad idea after all.