the standout feature was the exceptional ‘understanding’ between engine, transmission and retarder over rolling terrain. In all models, the cohesive relationship between the various functions is nothing less than outstanding, and perhaps best highlighted by the fast and almost undiscernible engagement of the ‘Eco’ roll function on downhill sections.
Yet as good as the 1630 model was in many respects, a steering wheel sitting off-centre and what seemed a considerable need for wheel alignment were surprising and disappointing features. Fortunately it was the only one of the four demo units with these traits but, as Mercedes-Benz knows only too well from past experience, service is everything in this day and age – and that certainly includes a high level of attention to pre-delivery standards, whether it’s a press test or not.
Stepping from the smallest to the biggest, the 3243 eight-wheeler sets itself apart in several ways, not least through a significantly more aggressive grille design derived from the heavyduty Mercedes-Benz Arocs range.
Despite its distinct ‘bite your face off’ looks, this truck displayed extremely good road manners with a level of steering response largely at odds with the tendency of most twin-steers to ‘bite’ into bends. Surprisingly, though, the twin-steer layout was a non-load-sharing design. According to Mercedes-Benz sources, this particular truck was primarily imported as a test unit for a distinct application and we’re assured a load-sharing front suspension will be the norm by the end of the year.
Next was the 2635 6x4 which, as already explained, had the benefit of 70,000km of realworld testing under its belt and was arguably the smoothest and most responsive of all four trial units. In every respect, this was a highly impressive truck which made easy work of the diverse road conditions and points to an even more positive opinion of the new Benz breed as time and toil gather.
Finally, the 6x2 2530. This was perhaps the most uninspiring of all four, not because it did anything wrong but because it ran the same engine and transmission combination as its 4x2 counterpart yet carried considerably more weight. Plus, I climbed in immediately after driving the lively 2635 model. Consequently, performance felt notably more subdued.
That said though, it’s still a model which shares all the impressive traits of its rigid siblings – such as an exceptionally smooth and intuitive engine and transmission combination, great ride and handling, easy access into and out of a functional and entirely comfortable cab, and levels of operational refinement that are both extensive and quickly familiar.
As we’ve now said on a number of occasions, Benz is back. Big time!
“We like nothing too ridiculously over the top. We generally like a heavier block letter. We like a shadow on it, or a shade.
“We like similar things to [what] other drivers would have. Something that was written in the
’70s would still fit today’s truck driver. We’re not very good at change.”
He has observed subtle differences between the scrolling styles used in different states. For example, some Sydney signwriters will often draw a line all the way through their scrolls. Rick says Victorian signwriters are more likely to draw a line that meets a scroll but doesn’t pass all the way through it, “or starts behind the scroll”.
“In Queensland they would probably be a little more extended in their scrolls,” he says.
Ole ‘Lee’ Christensen’s scrolls illustrate this style. Lee often uses a specific scroll pattern which has been used around Brisbane since the horse-drawn era.
Within states there are variations of signage styles. Rick is confident he could distinguish between the work of other Victorian signwriters including Winton Francis or Euroa, Gordon McCracken of Wodonga, the late Mal Ashdowne of Melbourne, and the late Frank Weeks of Geelong.
Rick says lines and scrolls look great on all brands of trucks.
“Between brands, it would only be the area that you scrolled that would be different – as opposed to the style.”
He has embraced modern techniques. “The advent of PVC Tape has made it just that little bit quicker to top and bottom the letters.”
Rick sometimes uses this removable tape as a guide to help hand brush long straight lines. “Some people use it. Some don’t. It’s just another tool in the box.”
Adhesive vinyl lettering is also part of his toolkit. “It has to be generated on a computer and then forwarded to a plotter where it’s cut with an automated knife.”
He witnessed signwriters adopting this method in the 1980s. It was widely used by the 1990s.
“Because it’s cut out of vinyl, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a junky, cheap job,” Rick
says. “I don’t denigrate anybody for using any technique.
“I try to incorporate whatever I need to do to come out with the correct job. It may be vinyl lettering for easy removal. It may be hand-lined and scrolled or a combination of both.”
Rick hand-paints his scrolls – except for the rare occasion when a client requests vinyl scrolls. In this case, Rick would digitise one of his own hand-painted scrolls.
The number of signwriters who specialise in hand-brushing trucks is dwindling, but the demand for scrolls remains. That’s one reason some of the scrolls you see on today’s trucks are vinyl. Rick says expertise is needed to know where to place scrolls, regardless of whether they are vinyl or painted.
Vinyl is popular among fleet owners who turn their trucks over regularly. They want signage which can be removed quickly and affordably when they sell them.
Today many trucks are plain white, which is a logical money-saving option. But there are still plenty of eye-catching trucks on the road. Signwriting draws attention away from scratches and minor dints, which is helpful if you run up lots of kilometres before trading in your truck.
Rick loves old trucks. He says signwriters rely on a “calculated guess” when asked to reproduce the style of old fleets, because old truck photos rarely show signwriting in detail.
He is developing a technique which makes new lettering look weathered. In 2015 he painted the door of Geoff Dolan’s cabover Kenworth, deliberately making it appear as if it the signage has faded for 30 years.
Rick hopes future truck restorers will resist the temptation to strip and repaint every project.
“We’ve got more than enough flash shiny ones now. I think every [truck] that gets painted and restored is another one that doesn’t exist in its original livery. I’d like to see a few more as they were – mechanically cleaned up and visually left alone.”
Above: Eight-legger: Based on the heavy-duty Arocs platform, the 8x4 is a key model in the new MercedesBenz rigid range
1. In the digital age, Rick Hayman is proud to be among the signwriters respected for their brush skills2. The finished job: Rick’s hand-brushed lettering on an International3. Rick Hayman painted Geoff Dolan’s cabover Kenworth in 2015 and deliberately made it appear that the paint had been fading for 30 years. Geoff takes it to classic truck events with this old Vaughan Transport trailer4. The Kenworth’s door with its intentionally faded lettering
5. Rick hopes more trucks like this old K5 International will be preserved “in their working clothes”. He suggests one professional signwriter and perhaps two farmers have written on the door6. Andy McKenzie’s Ford has been painted, lined and scrolled by Rick Hayman 7. Medwell’s Transport’s SAR Kenworth had a white stripe on it when it arrived at Hayman Signs. Rick hand-painted the lines and scrolls and added the digitally printed lettering 8. Gordon McCracken with his own Kenworth S2, which showcases his signwriting ability9. Gordon’s distinctive scrolls