Volvo’s truck division is not above the occasional stunt to show off its technology. In the last few years, it has released videos and advertisements featuring Magnus Samuelsson (the world’s strongest man, towing 750 tonnes in a fresh-from-the-factory stock model), Charlie (a hamster, steering a truck solo up a curvy quarry road), and Jean-Claude Van Damme (an “actor”, performing a split between two reversing Volvo big rigs to a calming Enya soundtrack). But this latest stunt was an engineering feat so impressive that one can forgive the gimmicky aspects.
From a standing start, the Iron Knight set a (pending) FIA record by clearing 1000 metres in 21.29 seconds at a top speed of 171mph (276kph), averaging over 100mph for that distance; it incidentally set a record in the 500 metres in the process. Volvo the truck will sprint from zero to 62mph in a mere 4.6 seconds — as quick as a Porsche 911 Carrera. That’s astounding for a 4.5-tonne vehicle, and it’s thanks to the impressive degree of customisation that Volvo baked in. The mid-mounted engine is a heavily modified 13-litre six-cylinder diesel with four turbochargers and an intercooler, achieving a fairly monumental 2,400 horsepower and 4,425 pound-feet of torque. The concept-truck cab is as aerodynamic as one can make a brick, built of fibreglass and stripped of mirrors, wipers and extraneous electronic bits. We hope, at least, they kept the CB radio.
But stunt wasn’t really about the record, or all the engineering that went into creating the Iron Knight. It was about showing off Volvo’s I-Shift Dual Clutch transmission — and unlike everything else about the Iron Knight, this part was mostly unmodified from Volvo’s FH series trucks. The dual-clutch technology is nothing new to road and racing cars, where it enables seamless acceleration, but porting it over to the freight industry is a new application. The very things that make it work on the track make it work in trucking, since there’s no interruption of power during gearchanges on climbs or curves.
The Iron Knight’s record-setting runs were achieved with 1994 FIA European Truck Racing champion Boije Ovebrink at the wheel. Though Ovebrink fills out his Nomex racing coveralls handsomely, the Volvo tech behind the steering and the drivetrain seems to limit his involvement to stepping quickly onto the accelerator, and holding the steering wheel with hamster-like precision.