Star gazing

by James Menzies

PORTLAND, Ore. – There’s no better way to see the country than in the cab of an 18-wheeler, and Western Star offered up two of its trucks for a ride-and-drive along the Columbia River Gorge, Oct. 23.

The evaluation trucks consisted of a Western Star Constellation cab 4900 SA equipped with a Mercedes-Benz MBE4000 engine, and a LowMax 4900 EX.

4900 SA Constellation

Cary Gatzke, director of engineering for Western Star, can’t help but develop some favoritism among the trucks he deals with on a daily basis, and he admits this truck tops his list.

“It’s my favorite of the products that we have,” he says.

“It’s a departure from the traditional square-nosed, large rad look.”

The truck was built specifically for the Mid-America Truck Show, and therefore it carries a lot of little extras, which have endeared it to the engineer.

Among its features are a steertek air suspension front axle, an aluminum wraparound front bumper, and a lightweight aluminum steering assembly.

It also features a set-back axle configuration and a “tuck-and-roll” padded ceiling.

Despite the windy conditions on I-84 running along the Columbia River in Oregon, the loaded truck handled well.

The MBE4000 engine (which will be available with all 4900 FA and 4900 SA models beginning in January, 2003) is a smaller, quiet-running engine that doesn’t lack power.

The engine is rated from 350 to 450 horsepower, with a peak torque of 1,550 lb.-ft. at 1,100 RPM.

The MBE4000 can be customized for specific vocational needs and is equipped with a waste gated turbocharger offering optimum performance at any engine speed.

The company says the unit pump fuel injectors contribute to excellent fuel economy and longer maintenance intervals.

Another interesting feature of the engine is its stopping power.

“The engine brake on this product is so good that a lot of folks are finding it irresistible for that straight truck application where they’re hauling heavy loads on steep grades,” says Gatzke.

“The turbo brake on paper can provide up to 600 brake horsepower which is incredible for an engine this size and it does come standard with a decompression style of engine brake delivering 325 brake horsepower.”

The engine brake operates almost soundlessly, which is a major benefit of the engine, especially for linehaul operators frequently running through urban areas.

The truck itself features Western Star’s unique polypropylene honeycomb sandwich panel technology in the sleeper and cab floor, which helps compensate for the extra weight of the steel cab.

“We were able to take at least 400 lbs. out of our cab/sleeper assembly which places us very favorably with the competition,” says Gatzke.

The sloped hood offers good visibility, but still has the distinct Western Star look.

“Every day we simply find more and more applications that we could put this product in because of the versatility of the design,” says Gatzke.

LowMax 4900 EX

The LowMax was initially designed to meet the needs of car-haulers and other height-restriction applications, but it has proven to be a popular truck with over-the-road owner/operators, says Gatzke.

“We’ve found a lot of affinity for this truck in places we really didn’t expect,” he says.

“I think right now we’re seeing more of these low-riders spec’d for general linehaul operations than we are for car haulers or height-restriction applications.”

Unveiled at the Mid-America Truck Show, the LowMax places the driver nearly a foot lower than the standard 4900 EX configurations.

“Our target height for this configuration of the vehicle was to be under 104 inches,” says Gatzke.

The truck comes in at 103.5 inches.

Featuring a Caterpillar C-15 engine and an Eaton-Fuller 18-speed overdrive transmission, this truck also handles the windy conditions on the highway with ease.

The low height offers good visibility, despite the traditional long, wide hood. It’s dressed up in lots of chrome and stainless steel and built to handle the toughest of conditions.

One of the added bonuses that come with this truck is six-inch stacks.

“Six-inch stacks are something that are typically not offered as original equipment by most OEMs,” says Gatzke.

“We’ve been using six-inch stacks for about three to four years now.”

Getting in and out of the truck is easy, thanks to an oversized door opening and the lower than usual steps.

Inside, the dash and door are lined with wooden panels and the silver gauges offer a classic look.

Western Star’s test driver compares it to a Harley-Davidson motorcycle because of the attention to detail given to the truck.

“It’s a little more alive than the interiors we’ve shown in the past,” says Gatzke. n

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