Tuesday, June 12, 2012
The Mercedes Benz 1213 ‘War Horse’
Over the next thirty years the Mercedes’ engine was rebuilt four times, saw four different radiators and brake drums replaced five times. Eight new sets of clutches were fitted, and the front axles replaced on two occasions. The gearbox was redone once. It just kept on going.
If the L-series cab-after-engine Mercedes Benz truck Jacobs purchased for his business seems idiosyncratic in its wire-hard toughness, don’t be fooled. The Germans had hard-wired these 4 speed merchants to be long-distance, heavy load specialists. As an export product, the Kurzhauber (“short bonnet” as the Germans called it) was leaving the Gaggenau plants and nailing the markets of South America, the Middle East and Africa. The first two numbers of the model designation reflected the tonnage (12 in this case) and horsepower (13) respectively, a convention that started in the 60’s and survives to this day.
And while similar iterations to the 1213 had been fanning out all over Saudi Arabia since the 60’s (and well into the 80’s), what makes this truck’s legacy unique was that in Saudi – and in Africa – the sheer spread of dirt roads (which have no weight limits on haulage) meant these trucks could be driven into the ground – literally. Their popularity sprang from their endurance, their reliability and best of all, their sheer indestructibility. The trucks seemed to be able to carry far heavier loads than they were designed to...which meant that entrepreneurs like Jake Jacobs had hit the jackpot by purchasing this truck. Nothing, it seems, could kill it.
Over the next 2.3 million kilometres, which saw 20 upholstery makeovers and 6 paint jobs, and day-night trips reaching 1200km, the 1213 remained “the hardest working truck in the yard, bar none.” A&S Mining grew and grew, and Jacobs was soon able to acquire a small fleet of trucks, but his 1213 remained the star.
“The steering wheel,” de Korte adds in Afrikaans, “has a bit of play – but for its age it still drives very well.” Another driver, David Malefane – who has worked with A&S since 1988, describes a harrowing adventure with the 1213 through Hluluwe in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Steep, wet, curvy roads made for a tough spell conveying 300 tons of steel cables through snake infested jungle. It was one adventure among many that the truck pulled through without complaint. Malefane sums up the truck with this: “Sy’s lekker sterk en sy breek nie.” (She’s strong and unbreakable).