Pete’s 387: Rare Air

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Cynics who labelled Peterbilt’s long-awaited new truck the “Me Too T2” with reference to expected similarities to the Kenworth T2000 may be puffing up their chests right about now. Should they? Well, yes, Pete’s Model 387, introduced to dealers, key customers, and press last month in Las Vegas, looks pretty similar to its Paccar Inc. stablemate. The aerodynamic conventional uses the T2’s windshield, firewall, doors, sleeper skin, and mirrors. The cab/sleeper manufacturing process relies on adhesive bonding, also a T2000 feature. There’s no mistaking the 387’s heritage. But beneath those surface elements, according to Peterbilt general manager Nick Panza, the 387 was otherwise designed from a clean sheet of paper.

The chassis, the truck’s basic systems, and the interior are distinctly Peterbilt. He adds that the 387 represents the biggest new-model investment in the company’s history.

We can infer that it would have been a radically bigger investment if it weren’t for borrowing from Kenworth.

In fact, at the 387’s glitzy launch, Panza said we’ll see more sharing within Paccar in years to come. It’s inevitable. In a world where new-product development costs are astronomical, manufacturers are being forced to spread those investments as widely as possible so as to bring down unit costs and make their projects feasible. That’s why we’re seeing so many mergers these days, and not just in truck-making,

Production on the 387 will start some time this summer, but Panza says he’s in no hurry. The truck is in final testing now and the company’s Denton, Tex., plant will start building the 387 “when everything is right.” First to come on stream will be the 112-inch mid-length cab, with the longer 120-inch model projected for later in the year. Front-axle setback is 48.4 inches on both trucks.

The new Pete’s aluminum/composite cab maintains the various weight advantages of the Model 377 or 385 while offering 17% more room-including 30 inches between the seats. The 387 will eventually replace the 377 and sleeper versions of the 385, incidentally.


Obviously, Pete’s design team paid much attention to aerodynamics here, and the new truck is said to produce a significant 13% less drag than the most efficient existing Pete. Engineers used computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and wind-tunnel testing to refine the various design details in the name of aerodynamic efficiency.

“The CFD analysis was instrumental to the design process,” says Bob Morrison, Peterbilt chief engineer. “It optimized the management of air flow both around the vehicle to reduce drag, and under the hood for improved HVAC and engine cooling performance.”

One of the smaller aero elements is the specially designed contoured headlamp, said to throw a more even and powerful beam of light, and likely to reduce driver fatigue. The lens is 60% thicker than the norm, so it should last better than most do. Happily, the lamp uses a readily available off-the-shelf 9007 bulb cartridge, and it’s easily replaced without tools.

Among the new truck’s most interesting and advanced features is its engine-mounted cooling system with radiator and charge-air cooler placed side by side. It saves space, yet it’s said to offer 10% greater cooling capacity than today’s 1270-square-inch packages. There will be no problem spec’ing one of the new 600-horse engines, by the way.

“Improved cooling with a smaller package is attainable because the air is not restricted and not pre-heated by the charge-air cooler before it passes through the radiator,” says Morrison. The system’s engine mounting reduces fan tip clearance and improves airflow through the radiator and charge-air cooler. It also allows for more convenient and efficient mounting of the air conditioning condenser, transmission cooler, fuel cooler, and other engine componentry, reducing parasitic horsepower loss and fan cycle time, Morrison adds.

Another significant advantage of the side-by-side cooling module is the ease of servicing. The framing structure surrounding the unit can be disassembled and the components can be removed individually. The charge-air cooler can be removed without having to drain the radiator or disturb the HVAC system, reducing downtime and costs if repairs are required. The cooling and HVAC systems were tested in both the lab and the real world-in such severe environments as the Northwest Territories and the Death Valley desert.

More interesting is the electrical system, based on four isolated regional load centres (for the cab, sleeper, chassis, and trailer) and on multiplexing. The aim: to reduce wiring complexity and the electrical system parts count (by 45%) while improving reliability.

Easily accessible for service, the load centres isolate the system functions, which simplifies troubleshooting and repair. And they are protected by a “mega-fuse” in the battery box. The cab and sleeper load centres use proven circuit-board technology, Peterbilt says, with circuit breakers that reset automatically. LED continuity indicators pinpoint exact circuits to repair if a fault occurs. Identification should be easy, as all wiring is color-coded with circuit numbers printed every six inches. Also, auxiliary power connections are available to ease installation of owner-supplied electronic devices.

Other features: a foot-actuated tilt/telescoping steering wheel; big 3.5-gallon windshield-washer reservoir; and a three-piece hood and two-piece bumper to make repairs easier and cheaper. Air bags are not available.


After a brief look at the new Pete in Las Vegas, the strongest impression was not of technological advances or similarities to the T2000, rather the superior materials and the excellent finish of the interior. And that’s not to mention the cab’s roominess. The modular cabinetry looks very solid, and the liftable 42-inch bunk reveals 25 cubic feet of storage space underneath, accessible from outside the truck on both sides. Upper tilt-out windows provide ventilation. A second-generation Unibilt sleeper air suspension with tuned shock should let your co-driver get decent rest.

There will be three sleeper configurations: a premium-length high-roof model and a medium-length in mid- and high-roof versions. Interestingly, when Peterbilt development people were benchmarking the competition to set design goals, they looked not only at other trucks but also at luxury cars, recreational vehicles, boats, and even corporate jets. That effort shows in the interior.

If you’re interested in the new 387, you’ll have to cool your jets a little. Peterbilt won’t be taking orders until testing is done and manufacturing start-up plans are set some time in the next few months. The price will be “competitive,” Panza says. Other details were few and far between at the 387’s launch, but we’ll try to fill in some of the gaps in the meantime. On the face of it, this one could be worth the wait.

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Rolf Lockwood is editor emeritus of Today's Trucking and a regular contributor to

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