On the road in a bullnose

By: Chris McCullough, Photography by: Chris McCullough

Deals on Wheels visits McGeown Logistics Ltd to check out their ‘bullnose’ Scania T Series truck

Once a common sight on international trucking routes, the Scania T Series dramatically lost its sex appeal about 20 years ago, spelling the end for these once-popular machines.

They’re now regarded as nice collector’s items among some hauliers, who have spent a fortune restoring them back to their original showroom condition.

Gary McGeown and his family firm’s famous Scania T Series

One of the models with a new lease of life is probably the best-recognised Scania T Series trucks that travel on Irish roads. For owners McGeown Logistics Ltd, their ‘bullnose’ is a much-loved part of their trucking family.

Although unofficially retired, this famous truck still takes on the odd local haulage job, but is more familiar strutting its stuff at shows and on road runs raising money for worthy causes.

Based in the County Down city of Newry, McGeown Logistics traces its heritage back to 1971, when Francis McGeown founded it as a one-man trucking operation. It expanded rapidly as he built a strong reputation for a good service hauling loads from Ireland all over the UK and Europe and back again.

These days this impressive T Series is more show pony than work horse

Scania was the brand of choice during those early years and that loyalty is still apparent in the fleet today, albeit with some other popular brands emerging.

Today, McGeown Logistics is run by Francis’s son, Gary, who is renovating the haulage yard and offices as well as expanding the fleet once more.

The current fleet extends to 26 articulated units, which spend 80 percent of their official driving time hauling loads to Europe, mostly to Spain, Germany and Sweden.

"It’s a mixed fleet of trucks," says Gary. "We run seven Volvo units, eight DAF, two MAN and then 10 Scanias. Each truck is largely assigned to one driver, who I have to say really do look after them.

McGeown company heritage writ large on the bullnose’s cab art

"We like to run a tidy fleet of trucks and trailers as that sets a good example to our customers," he says.  The latest addition to the fleet is a 2018 DAF 530XF; a purchase prompted by one of the McGeown drivers who has been driving the brand for 12 years and likes it so much he says he would find it hard to change to any other.

While the fleet is mostly known for its blue, black and white livery, one of the Scania trucks, the 2001 T Series T580, really stands out from the rest.

Now mostly retired, the bullnose - as T580s are more commonly known as - was purchased second-hand in 2004 and was a working truck for the firm for the next eight or nine years.

"It was mostly used for low loader work hauling construction equipment, including excavators and dump trucks, from site to site," says Gary. "When the new motorway was being built outside Newry, we had the contract for moving all the equipment around for the contractors. That type of work can be very hard on a truck.

"For the majority of its working life here, the T Series was driven by one long-serving driver, who ultimately decided it needed to be restored. In fact, he started the restoration one night by himself without letting us know what he was doing. Only he could get away with that spontaneous act as he really was a long-standing employee and very much a good friend."

The Scania brand is a big part of the company’s past, present and future

Sadly, the driver died before finishing the restoration but Gary was determined to get it completed, even if the work was done in stages.

"The T Series sat in a shed for a number of years before I could really get the time to restore it properly," says Gary. "It’s really a four-axle unit, as one of the axles is hidden behind the panels. We did some modifications to the truck during the restoration project, including taking out the original engine and replacing it with a V8 engine.

"On top of that, a Topline cab was added, and new grilles at the front. The final piece of the exterior restoration was added at the beginning of November. There is still some tidying-up to do inside the cab but that can wait for another day."

Gary admits the restoration has been a learning curve, but says the only difficult issue now is the amount of money required to finish the job. However, the experience with the T Series has not put him off restoring trucks—he has another model in the shed awaiting a makeover.

"My dad used a range of the older Scania models in the business over the years, including the Scania 140, 142, 143 and 144 models.

"We have those trucks painted on the rear of the Scania T Series as a tribute and it’s my goal to add them to the fleet at some point, albeit into the collection for shows rather than for doing any work.

"Some of those models are becoming increasingly hard to find and indeed are expensive, but we have already found a Scania 141 to restore.

"I know it’s not a 140 but it is as close to that model as we are ever likely to get. I actually found it in Italy and jumped at the chance to buy it and bring it home. It’s from around 1970 and is our next project in waiting."

Gary is now the only driver who takes his famous Scania T Series out on jobs, but it is mostly used for exhibitions and truck shows raising money for charity.

"On the front of the nose we have placed KBRT, which stands for the Kevin Bell Repatriation Trust," says Gary. "We try to help the trust as much as we can."

This trust offers funding to Irish families who have lost a loved one overseas and assists with the logistics of bringing the body home. Kevin Bell was a good friend of Gary’s who was killed in a hit-and-run in New York in 2013. Two Scania 730 S9 100 Silver Griffin models are among the units at McGeown Logistics that act as a shop window for the business. The pair actually landed the company a lucrative contract for a job to Italy.

Long-bonnet Scanias became a thing of the past in the early 2000s

"The Lamborghini world racing finals were held a few weeks ago in Italy and we actually had the job of moving the cars around using one of the team’s special car transporters," Gary says.

"The organisers had spotted our trucks somewhere and wanted one to haul their special trailer as it is the same colour as our Silver Griffin.

"Our driver took the Silver Griffin over to Italy to pick up the trailer to move the cars while I flew in to be part of the event. It really was a dream come true for me, and both the driver and I enjoyed our VIP moments a lot."

Gary has big plans for the future and has a deadline to finish the yard and office development: he and his wife are expecting their first child. Gary says McGeown Logistics is well known for its professional approach to haulage. "Our drivers and us provide a reliable connection between our customers and their suppliers across the Continent. 

"Our reputation is really built on having good staff and well-maintained and professional trucks. Our trucks are our shop window, therefore it is vital we keep them looking clean and smart all of the time.

"We transport refrigerated goods to Sweden and dry cargo to Spain and we also operate a multi-drop service throughout Holland, Belgium and Germany."

The end of the T Series

Today, the Scania T Series is growing in popularity as a collector’s truck

Production of the bonneted Scania T Series came to an end in 2005 after sales plunged 50% in Europe and 90% in Latin America in the previous decade. During the year prior, fewer than 1000 units were sold worldwide.

Bonnets were intended to improve accessibility to the engines, but with advancements in technology and tilting cabs, interest in bonneted cabs dwindled.

Scania had been the market leader in bonneted trucks in Europe and Latin America since the early 1990s, and was practically alone on the market for much of the time they were in production.

Demand for bonneted trucks has shrunk continuously over the past few decades. In the 1970s, they accounted for around 50 percent of Scania’s truck production; the 1980s saw this figure drop to around a quarter.

Drivers said they felt safer behind the long nose of a T Series than in conventional trucks but this favouritism waned over time.

While bonneted trucks are still popular in the United States and Australia, cab-over-engine units are very much preferred in the rest of the world.

Keep up to date in the industry by signing up to Deals on Wheels' free newsletter or liking us on Facebook