Heritage Takes Vocational On The Road

July 25, 2016

Let’s be cynical for a moment: Is a new trim package worth a feature article? I thought so when I accepted an invitation to visit the Paccar Technical Center near Mount Vernon, Wash., to check out and drive Peterbilt’s new 567 Heritage. That’s because the truck is both handsome and a hint of what younger owner-operators and “premium” fleet owners might choose over the company’s traditionally styled Model 389.

Peterbilt’s long-hood, blunt-nose 389 and its predecessors, the 379 and 359, are the models most frequently seen at truck beauty shows in most of the country. In many eyes, they look like trucks and therefore deserve custom styling and special paint jobs. Many show trucks are also working trucks; meanwhile, in stock form, 389s and 379s are also quite busy hauling everything from sand, gravel, and concrete to general freight on America’s streets and highways.

567 Heritage Test Set

Truck: Peterbilt 567 Heritage, conventional-cab tractor, BBC 121 in., w/ 80-inch sleeper box, 10-3/4- x 3/8-in. steel frame rails and aluminum cross members

Engine: Paccar MX-13 diesel, 12.9 liters (788 cu.in.), 500 hp @ 1,700 rpm, 1,850 lb.-ft. @ 1,100 rpm, w/ MX engine brake

Transmission: Eaton Fuller FO18318B, UltraShift Plus automated, 18-speed double-overdrive

Front axle: 13,200-lb. Meritor MFS13 on taper leafs, w/ Sheppard HD94 power steering

Drive axles: 40,000-lb. Meritor MT40-14X w/ locking differentials, 3.25 ratio, on Peterbilt Low Air Leaf air-ride

Wheelbase: 260 in.

Brakes: Bendix air discs w/ Bendix ABS, automatic traction control and stability control

Tires & wheels: Bridgestone Ecopia, R268 295R22.5 front, M711 285R22.5 rear, on Alcoa Dura-Bright polished aluminum discs

Fuel tanks: 26-in.-diameter polished aluminum, 135-gal. right, 110-gal. left

Fifth wheel: Holland no-tilt

Trailer: 48-ft. Fontaine Xtreme Beam steel flatbed

The 567 is Peterbilt’s latest vocational model, and it’s taken over most of the orders that once went to the earlier-series 365 and 367. The 567 has a more modern appearance but retains real-truck looks. Separate headlight pods, for instance, harken back to the early days of the motor truck, more than a century ago. The pods are also practical because they keep headlamps away from most impact damage at job sites and in truck stops. The hood is sloped for good forward visibility and smooth air flow. Overall streamlines are rounded, but the theme is traditional and is there for anyone with any imagination to see. I sure do.

So the 567 is a great candidate for customizing, and that’s what Peterbilt stylists have done for the Heritage package. It’s available only with a long 121-inch bumper-to-back-of-cab dimension and a set-forward front axle, like original Petes built for logging and other West Coast work in the 1940s and ’50s. When combined with a sleeper box, that western configuration became known as a “large car,” and when length laws were liberalized in the ’80s, it became popular throughout the country. Purists insist that large cars also had certain components hung along the frame to fill gaps, such as air tanks located behind the front wheels and fenders. There, today’s 567 Heritage has bright-metal panels called “quarter-fender closeouts.”

Also in the package: An 18-inch-high bumper resembles the flat “Texas tall” type, but this one’s curved at the sides to let air ease by. Of course there are dual chromed exhaust stacks. Other exterior features that are either chromed or polished include three vertical trim bars in the grille, front fender supports, air intake bezel, hood latch hardware, mirror housings, sun visor, steps, battery boxes, fuel tanks, and rear quarter fenders. The plastic tank for diesel exhaust fluid—something never anticipated in large-car days when diesel exhaust smoke was black as coal—is wrapped in polished aluminum.

Heritage badges are placed in the grille and on the sides of sleeper boxes, if they’re ordered, and badges on the first 567 vehicles produced might be individually numbered. Eighty- and 72-inch-long sleepers are available, as is a daycab, which is more likely for construction applications. Inside, simulated wood trim accents in the dash and door panels continue on the cabinets and storage compartments of sleepers. Seats are upholstered in deep brown leather, while seat backs and the two-tone sleeper back wall are embroidered with the Heritage logo. Finally, the covering atop the dashboard is black, which is both attractive and practical because it reduces sun glare in the windshield.

Visibility through the windshield and along that sloped hood was superb, I found when I got behind the wheel. Side windows were likewise large, and mirrors well positioned with glass that’s multi-adjustable. The aluminum cab’s width is 2.1 meters or 82.7 inches, which is about 8 inches more than the old but famously stout cab on the 365/367 and other earlier Petes, including the 389, but this new one is also tight and strong. It’s plenty roomy but not oversized, so it seems as appropriate for vocational use as for on the highway. Interior trim, including the special Heritage pieces, was attractive without being ostentatious. Years ago, power windows were considered over the top, but now they’re common and appropriate to this upscale model.

The engine was Paccar’s MX-13, rated at 500 horsepower and 1,850 lb.-ft. of torque—amazing output from just 12.9 liters or 788 cubic inches. Being an old guy, I remember when it took almost 1,000 cubic inches to make 425 horsepower. The 500-horse MX almost effortlessly pulled the test trailer, a 48-foot flatbed with concrete blocks, at least on the level; there were no close-by hills to really test it, but I think it would be capable on most upgrades. If not, order the Cummins ISX15 (soon to be the “X15”) with up to 600 horsepower, and off you’ll go.

Another nice-to-have component is Eaton’s UltraShift Plus automated transmission, especially when it’s programmed as well as this 18-speed model was. It always smoothly upshifted at moderate rev points—usually at 1,500 rpm or less—and seemed to pick the right ratio for any situation. Same thing for downshifting, which was always spot-on. I talked about the tranny with my guide for the drives on the Technical Center’s grounds and out on nearby highways, Scott Bailey. He’s a mechanic by trade with considerable education and experience in the field, and he’s also a traditionalist when it comes to driving.

“I still like a manual transmission,” he said. “There’s almost nothing to go wrong with it and leave you stranded, and it just keeps running and running.” He’s got a point there, and it helps explain why not everyone by any means orders an automated gearbox these days. But for me, the self-shifting transmission added to the pleasure of driving this truck. It rode well, turned easily—even with the forward-set steer axle which sometimes means limited wheel cut—and was quiet underway.

Though the 567 is a work-truck platform, this one was set up as a road tractor, with the 80-inch sleeper. I think it’s drop-dead handsome. But will it catch on among Peterbilt loyalists, even causing some 389 types to switch? It’d make sense, for the 567 has better aerodynamics that can cut drag and save fuel, and its cab is more roomy and comfortable. Peterbilt will happily build either model for its customers, and Derek Smith, the public relations manager who set up this visit and drive, said the 567 Heritage is “absolutely not” a replacement for the 389. So let’s see what happens.