For almost 40 years they were a common sight on the roads, not only in Germany but all around the world. Series production of the so-called short-hood truck models from Mercedes-Benz, which were instantly recognizable by their compact, rounded engine hood, began in 1959. These Mercedes trucks were a new design departure between the earlier cab-behind-engine trucks and the more modern forward control trucks, where the engine is located beneath the cab.
The first version, the L 322, paved the way for a truck dynasty covering the gross weight range from 7.4 to 18 tonnes. The portfolio of variants extended from tippers and tankers right up to tractor trucks. Mercedes-Benz also offered all-wheel drive versions. Short-hood trucks are still in use by fire departments and municipal services to this day, as both the diesel engines and the chassis are legendary for their robustness. An extremely strong ladder-type frame provided the backbone for numerous body variants.
In fact these semi-forward control trucks were a compromise solution. On the one hand the engineers were obliged to comply with the length restrictions imposed by the German road traffic regulations, and on the other the sales experts feared that the full-forward control Mercedes trucks which had been presented only recently might scare off customers. Nobody could have guessed what a success story was in the making. The medium-heavy L 322 and L 327 models were followed into the market by the heavy L 337 and L 338 variants.
As they were equipped with a larger and more powerful engine, it was necessary to extend the front overhang by around 20 centimetres. In 1960 Mercedes-Benz presented the L 334 with a gross weight of 16 tonnes as the heaviest version to date. Like its heavy-duty successors above 15 tonnes, this model carried its headlamps in the (considerably more muscular) front bumper. In 1961 the model range was rounded off at the lower end with a five-tonner named the L 328 and the lighter L 323, which could be driven by holders of a passenger car driving license.
In 1963 the confusing variety of model designations according to development codes was replaced by a new nomenclature. The first two numerals now stood for the approximate gross weight, the last two for a rounded ten percent of the engine power. The heavy L 334 was henceforth named the L 1620, for example. From the end of the 1960s the sales emphasis shifted mainly to the medium-heavy construction vehicle segment, and to the export markets.
Variants such as the L 911 or L 1513 were therefore a common sight on roads all around the world – partly thanks to the robust diesel engines in this series. The fact that these power units were kept simple in their design, which made for easy maintenance and repair, also contributed to the international success of the short-hood trucks. New production plants for these very popular models were even constructed in Brazil and Argentina. They were also in operation in North America.
By the end of the 1980s the sheer variety of models had been gradually thinned out in Germany, but many loyal customers kept their faith in these legendary trucks. Only more stringent safety and emissions legislation at the end of the decade ensured that the short-hood trucks could no longer be registered in Germany. Production continued until the mid-1990s for the export markets, however, the last models being the L 1924 and L 1928.
In early 1996 Mercedes-Benz produced a final batch of 60 units before production ceased after around 37 years. All in all, over 650,000 complete vehicles and around 300,000 parts kits had been sold. And with a little luck it is still possible to encounter one of these unmistakable icons on the road.