Home » The Berliet Stradair Was Yet Another Example Of The French Truckmaker’s Strangely Good Designs

The Berliet Stradair Was Yet Another Example Of The French Truckmaker’s Strangely Good Designs

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Automotive design was all over the place in the 1960s, all over the world, but one area where you wouldn’t think truly outlandish stuff cropped up was the light-duty hauler realm. I’m talkin’ delivery vehicles meant for intercity duty—stuff that’ll fit on narrow city center roads and perform its intended use faithfully and comfortably.

One bizarre-yet-truly-neat-looking creation from this era is the Berliet Stradair, and I can’t stop gazing at it. By the way, the name comes from molding the Italian word Stradale—road—with the French word Air—air.

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Just look at that face. France had no shortage of cool and intuitive automotive design during this era, but I didn’t expect this type of truck to be included as well. Here’s why the Berliet Stradair was such a neat vehicle, and why it paved the way for similar engineering that’s become household today.

berliet stradi
Berliet

[Editor’s Note: Never underestimate the design chops of Berliet, I realized long ago. For a maker of hardworking utility vehicles, they always manage to have incredible style. And are willing to take big risks – look at that asymmetry! That’s one of the true great daring automotive styling challenges! – JT]

Not Just a Cute Face

By the early 1960s, Berliet was a well-regarded name in media and large trucks, in fact, a quick perusal of FavCars.com gives you an idea of the hardware it was producing. But the company also wanted to go smaller and come up with something that’d fit lighter duty well, such as any type of hauling within a crowded city’s limits. It needed to be robust, functional, and efficient.

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The Stradair covered those well. Under its cute face was a 5.8-liter inline-four diesel that made 118 horsepower, and put power to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual transmission. Payload was rated at five tons.

1512px Berliet Stradair
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[Editor’s Note: Look at how the logo’s center is also an air intake! This was decades before VW did this with the Quantum/Passat or the famous Chevrolet “flowtie!” – JT]

The Stradair also needed to be comfortable while maintaining the capacity of its stature. A tall order, and apparently development time was lengthy. Four-wheel air suspension was fitted, dubbed “airlam” which was an airbag type of design with torsion bars, and was in its infancy for non-passenger vehicle applications at the time. Have you paid a few Euros for a ticket onboard a lengthy coach trip across Europe lately, and done so in good overall comfort? Thank the Berliet Stradair.

Allegedly, according to French Wikipedia, airlam was so comfortable that drivers weren’t cognizant of the damage being done to its components at higher speeds. Wild. The French people certainly are well-regarded for all things Air.

Judging by the way it’s thoroughly mobbed in this in-period promotional video, it looks like Berliet indeed put a lot of work into it:

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Short-Lived

In addition to its shorter, diminutive size, it had a pretty short run, too. From 1965 to 1970 just 3,000 units were sold, a flash in the pan by any metric.

Apparently, its original intention of squeezing into dense urban settings was never fully realized, either. Its size was just large enough to not legally travel into deep Paris, past its ring road. Yep, that’s an issue.

But still, what a unique, cute, and cool-looking vehicle. That long, sloping nose, interesting headlight placement, and absolutely massive front windscreen. Cool stuff for sure, and it’d be so cool to happen upon one in a museum or out on the road someday. It’d be epic to take one for a spin and do a proper deep dive, too. I can dream.

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Mike Smith
Mike Smith
18 days ago

I am, of course, partial to Mack trucks anyway, but I do think they did some really cool brochures back in the day too. Some of my favorites were the mid-70’s bicentennial era ones – check out this gold R model with *gold wall tires*, by golly! https://www.bigmacktrucks.com/uploads/monthly_02_2015/tutorials-10018-0-95095800-1423082909.jpg
Though my all-time favorite is the original Mack Maxidyne brochure – touting the (very real) benefits of Balanced Design (engine, transmission and axles designed to work together). Technically well ahead of its time, as well as the brochure itself being visually appealing.
https://www.bigmacktrucks.com/tutorials/article/144-mack-endt-675-and-trl-series-transmission-brochure-march-1968/

Martin Dollinger
Martin Dollinger
18 days ago

He may rival Brooks Stevens for „most overlooked important designer of the 20th century“ 🙂

Alpine 911
Alpine 911
18 days ago

Looks a bit like the big brother of a FIAT Panda. Sort of big fella and muscle but a bit dumb. Maybe from another father

Andy Individual
Andy Individual
18 days ago

Non-functional bumpers due to lights embedded in them. So far ahead of it’s time!

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
19 days ago

Is it just me, or it looks like it’s truck mating season?

M0L0TOV
M0L0TOV
19 days ago

So I have a stupid question. I’m well aware of horsepower but is there a difference when the engine is larger? Like, lets say you have a 7.0L diesel engine with 50 hp versus a 1.0L turbo gasser with 200hp. Is the 1.0 more powerful or does HP numbers change relative to the size of the engine? I never really thought about it until now.

Alpine 911
Alpine 911
18 days ago
Reply to  M0L0TOV

Yes, the 1.0 is more powerful in this case, but the diesel is likely to have more torque: One should consider not only HP but also torque, and that’s where bigger engines tend to have more of, all else being equal. That is a reason to stick a turbocharger on a smaller engine. Simplifying a bit, you could also add displacement or revs. In reality, gear ratios and final axle ratio will influence acceleration and top speed as well.

Kevin Hughes
Kevin Hughes
19 days ago

Man, that video looks like something straight outta The Rockford Files!

Jesus Helicoptering Christ
Jesus Helicoptering Christ
19 days ago

Perhaps Berliet should have spent more time researching the vehicle dimension limits in inner-city Paris and less time dubbing tyre screeching sounds over their promotional videos.

Schrödinger's Catbox
Schrödinger's Catbox
19 days ago

I love how this video starts out with guys in white lab coats doing what guys in white lab coats do – very serious engineering-type things.

Then they proceed to hoon the shit out of this truck.

It’s a work of art.

Fruit Snack
Fruit Snack
19 days ago

Well it sure looks like… something. Wouldn’t it flop over on its funny face under hard braking, unloaded?

The Clutch Rider
The Clutch Rider
19 days ago

what is the purpose of the snout on it? isn’t this a cab over anyway?

IRegertNothing, Esq.
IRegertNothing, Esq.
19 days ago

Alright, you included enough distinct images to convince me that this truck is real and not an April Fool’s prank. I love how form completely follows function with this design. Why give the radiator more grill than it needs?

Industrial_design_guy
Industrial_design_guy
19 days ago

Love that design! And look at that thing slalom and jump! I must admit, it stokes my French pride. God I love the French.

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