We’ve been down this road before

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Gow Litzenburger pictured with one of 36 vintage fleet trucks still in operation at his Michigan landscape company.Gow Litzenburger pictured with one of 36 vintage fleet trucks still in operation at his Michigan landscape company.

Gow Litzenburger of Litzenburger Landscape in Michigan reminded me of how trends sometimes come full circle. We see this a lot in fashion, though 1980s leg warmers still remain largely out of view, and we sometimes see this in the auto industry.

Litzenburger was excited to hear about my recent test drive in Nissan’s 2016 Titan XD. I explained that Nissan adopted a new powertrain, led by a powerful 5.0-liter Cummins turbo diesel, that, with 555 foot-pounds of torque and 12,000 pounds towing capacity, really took the truck out of a ½-ton class and placed it in a unique 5/8-ton class.

But Litzenburger, a member of the American Truck Historical Society who’s restored 36 vintage fleet trucks for his Harbor Springs business, was quick to say that the 5/8-ton class is not so new.

“Everybody had those back in the old days, like the F150, and Chevy had the one they called the heavy half, and that all went away,” Litzenburger explained. “The half-ton was always the F100. The F150, that was the 5/8 model, and so to counter that, Chevy came out with a truck that they called the heavy half and it was their answer to that, and it was a 5/8-ton.”

Chevy’s 2001 Silverado 1500HD Crew Cab, which was dubbed a heavy half, offered a 300-hp Vortec 6000 V8 powerplant that helped deliver 325 foot-pounds of torque.

By comparison, Nissan’s Titan XD generates 230 more foot-pounds of torque in a more fuel efficient 310-hp diesel engine. This 5/8-ton is flexing some bigger muscles and turning heads.

Still, Litzenburger makes a good point that truck companies have consistently made changes through the years to appeal to more buyers. And sometimes they’ll look back to see what’s worked in the past.

“Things all come in a cycle. That’s not the first rodeo for a 5/8-ton. So many things we can take from history and the past and it’s almost like it’s new to people because they don’t remember it the first time. It makes sense to do that. You see that a lot in the truck world.”

Though Volkswagen’s recent diesel scandal has generated plenty of headlines, Litzenburger also reminded me that scandals are nothing new to the auto world.

“I was reading somewhere that Lee Iacocca did a similar thing when he was at Chrysler and nobody really made that big of a fuss, although he paid a hell of a fine,” Litzenburger explained.

“He rigged the cars so that when you turned on the air conditioning in certain models, it would disable the emissions because the performance would suffer too much if you had both of them going. He got caught. It’s an interesting article.”

Litzenburger enjoys keeping up with new and old truck technology. He’s a big fan of Randall Reilly’s CCJ, or Commercial Carrier Journal. He said the American Truck Historical Society, located in Kansas City, Mo., has a large archive of CCJ magazines in the Zoe James Memorial Library that spans the magazine’s 100-year history.

The library also includes 100,000 photographs, 35,000 pieces of sales literature and 45,000 books and periodicals that offer plenty of truck history from a long list of businesses, including the White Motor Company and Peterbilt. An extensive scale model truck collection is housed there as well.

“They have a huge facility there. It would just blow your mind. Everything they’ve got there is about trucks. People don’t even know it’s there. What a resource,” he said.

The historical society’s flagship magazine, “Wheels of Time,” is now available online at http://www.aths.org/wheels-of-time.

“They’ve just entered the 21st Century. They were always a print magazine because bigger, old trucks is their focus and the average reader is about 150 years old,” Litzenburger joked. “For them to be online took a lot of effort. It just happened.”

Visit the ATHS website and take a ride down memory lane. You’ll be glad you did.