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Kenworth marked several firsts in truck production; the company introduced a raised-roof sleeper cab, and the first heavy-duty truck with an aerodynamically optimized body design. The Kenworth W900 has been produced continuously since 1961, serving as one of the longest production runs of any truck in automotive history. The K100 was also released in 1961.
Kenworth traces its roots to the 1912 founding of Gerlinger Motors in Portland, Oregon; the company was a car and truck dealership owned by brothers George T. Gerlinger and Louis Gerlinger, Jr. In 1914, the brothers expanded into vehicle manufacturing, marketing a truck named the Gersix. Deriving its name from its inline six-cylinder engine (one of the first trucks equipped with the type), the Gersix was framed in structural steel, intended for commercial use.
In 1917, Gerlinger Motors filed for bankruptcy and was put up for sale, with E.K. Worthington acquiring the company with business partner Captain Frederick Kent. To emphasize its connection to truck manufacturing, the company was renamed Gersix Motor Company. In 1919, Captain Kent retired, with his son Harry Kent replacing him as partner in the company.
In 1922, Gersix produced 53 trucks in its final year located at its factory on Fairview Avenue at Valley Street. Following continued strong demand of the model line, the company found itself with $60,000 to reincorporate and relocate its headquarters.
The onset of the Great Depression hit the company hard; initially in good financial health, a substantial decline in new vehicles and a high rate of vehicle loan defaults forced the company to adapt. In 1932, Kenworth produced its first fire truck; adapted from its commercial truck, Kenworth fire engines were among the heaviest-duty fire apparatus of the time.
In 1935, the Motor Carrier Act was passed, introducing new size and weight regulations for the trucking industry in the United States; to comply with the legislation, Kenworth underwent an extensive redesign of its truck line. To match weight regulations, the new trucks received aluminum cabs and axle hubs; four-spring suspension was introduced, with torsion bars for the rear axles. In 1936, Kenworth introduced the Model 516, its first cabover (COE) truck; the tandem-axle 346 was introduced for 1937. In 1937, Harry Kent died, with Philip Johnson becoming company president.
In 1939, Kenworth introduced its 500-series trucks, which would form the basis of its commercial truck line into the mid-1950s. By the end of the 1930s, demand for trucks began to recover, with Kenworth producing 226 trucks in 1940.
By 1950, Kenworth had grown outside the Pacific Northwest, marketing vehicles across the western half of the United States and across nearly 30 countries worldwide. In 1951, the company received an order for 1,700 Model 853s from ARAMCO in the Middle East. The Model 801 was introduced as an earth-moving dump truck, adopting one of the first cab-beside-engine configurations.
In 1955, Kenworth began the redesign of its COE product line, launching the CSE (Cab-Surrounding-Engine); in line with the Bull-nose, the CSE shared its underpinnings with the 500-series trucks and did not have a tilting cab.
For 1961 production, Kenworth underwent a substantial revision of its commercial truck line, debuting the W900 and the K900 (later renamed the K100); the W and K model prefixes are derived from company founders Worthington and Kent. The W900 debuted the first complete redesign of the Kenworth conventional cab since 1939 with a standard tilting hood. Similar in appearance to the previous K500, the K900/K100 received a taller cab and the doors of the W900.
To meet increased demand for the new product lines, Kenworth opened a new assembly facility in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1964. From 1964 to 1966, Kenworth nearly doubled its yearly truck sales. In 1968, the company established Kenworth Australia; in place of importation and conversion, right-hand drive trucks were produced and developed in Melbourne, Australia. In 1969 Kenworth hired Gary Ridgway, who worked in their paint department for the next 32 years, during which time he murdered 48 women as the "Green River Killer"
For 1976, Kenworth launched a flagship customization series, the VIT (Very Important Trucker) with a high level of interior features; distinguished by its skylight windows, the Aerodyne sleeper cab was the first factory-produced sleeper cab with stand-up headroom (for both the W900 and K100). To commemorate the American Bicentennial, the VIT series was introduced in a limited-edition series of 50 (with each truck named after a state).
In 1985, the Kenworth T600 was released by the company; in contrast to the W900, the T600 was designed with a set-back front axle and a sloped hoodline. While the latter initially proved controversial, the combination improved aerodynamics, fuel efficiency, and maneuverability. Intended as an expansion of the Kenworth model line, the success of the T600 would lead to the introductions of similar designs from multiple American truck manufacturers. In 1986, the T800 was introduced, adapting the sloped hoodline and set-back front axle for a heavy-duty chassis; the shorter-hood T400 was introduced in 1988 as a regional-haul tractor.
In 1987, Kenworth introduced the Mid-Ranger COE, its first medium-duty truck. Shared with Peterbilt, the Brazilian-produced Mid-Ranger was derived from the MAN G90 (a wide-body version of the Volkswagen LT). In 1992, the Mid-Ranger became the K300, as PACCAR shifted production to Sainte-Thérèse, Quebec.
In 1994, the T300 was introduced as the first Kenworth medium-duty conventional truck, adapting the T600 to a lower-GVWR Class 7 weight rating. The Aerocab sleeper was introduced, integrating the Aerodyne II sleeper cab and the drivers' cab as a single unit.
In 1998, parent company PACCAR purchased British truck manufacturer Leyland Trucks, two years after Dutch manufacturer DAF Trucks (the two had been merged as Leyland DAF from 1987 to 1993). Within PACCAR, DAF would develop COE trucks for Kenworth and Peterbilt.
Kenworth Australia started building the new range of trucks tying in their 2008 release with the model range being the '08 Series'. This includes the following conventional (bonneted) models; in approximate order of smallest to largest: the T358/A, T408SAR, T408, T608, T658, T908 and C508. The only cab over truck built was the K108, which was very popular in the B-Double market segment owing to its shorter length.
The Kenworth "Legend" Series is a limited production truck based on a previous models styling with modern improvements such as safety and environmental. Originally commencing in 2015 with the Kenworth T950 Legend, inspired by the Kenworth T950 that was in production from 1992 - 2007. This model of Kenworth Legend had 75 produced and sold out in 48 hours. The T950 Legend also came with a special edition Cummins ISXe5 engine which was painted in Cummins Heritage Beige.
2017 Saw the second truck in the Kenworth Legend Series released, that being the Kenworth T900 Legend inspired by the 1991 Kenworth T900. There were 257 Kenworth T900 Legends produced, The T900 Legend came with a special edition Cummins X15 painted in black and red to commemorate the Cummins N14 that many of the original T900 came with.
In 2021 the third truck in the Kenworth Legend Series was released this being the SAR Legend, a homage to the W900 SAR that was produced from 1975 until 1987. The SAR Legend has sales orders of over 700, a final number currently has not been released. The special edition Cummins X15 in the Kenworth SAR Legend is painted in Cummins Heritage Beige, similar to the Cummins Big Cam which were in many of the original Kenworth SARs.
Bus production was a mainstay at Kenworth during the early years of company history; at one time, buses were its most lucrative form of business. When the company was still known as Gerlinger Motor Car Works, their first two full-chassis vehicles were school buses based on the Gersix truck chassis.
In 1933, Kenworth also released its most popular and successful line of transit bus, a conventional styled bus based on their Model 86 heavy duty truck. Powered by a Hercules JXCM engine, the model 870 as it was known, would soon be replaced by a model 871, which became Kenworth's standard line of buses throughout the early and mid-1930s. Experiments with "deck-and-a-half" buses would soon follow, made reality in the W-1 model, as well as the company's very first experiments with rear-engine coach-type buses in 1936.
At the onset of World War II, war production took precedence over bus manufacturing as Kenworth supplied recovery vehicles for the U.S. Army. Along with military variations of their commercial truck line, Kenworth buses remained in production for use as troop transports. In 1945, Kenworth was sold to Pacific Car and Foundry; both companies believed bus production would play a pivotal role in jumpstarting a postwar economy. Kenworth also saw the opportunity in hiring former military truck and aircraft workers as part of launching its post-war product line. For 1946, Kenworth launched four new model lines of buses, deriving their model designations from the first four letters of the company name. The Model K was a line of small intercity/interurban buses; the Model E, a trolley coach; the Model N, a city transit bus; the Model W, an intercity bus.
After the boom of school bus production, and to focus more on truck production due to a rising number of heavy duty truck orders, all bus production was shifted from Kenworth over to Pacific Car and Foundry in the middle of 1956. After some final cleanup, PC&F wound up completely outstanding orders for the Pacific School Coach in early 1957. Shortly afterwards, PC&F sold all rights, tooling, and equipment to school bus manufacturer Gillig Bros. of Hayward, California. 781b155fdc