Gracing the pages on Craigslist right now is one of the weirdest semi trucks that you’ll find anywhere. This 1982 Peterbilt was built for a 1980s TV show that was a mix of Knight Rider with a dash of Mad Max. NBC’s The Highwayman may have lasted just a short nine episodes plus a pilot, but the awesome custom big rigs from the series have survived. This sort of “cab-under” truck is one of them, and you can own it.
The story about this wild truck–and its even wilder companion (we’ll get to that later)—goes back to the mid-1980s. TV shows featuring high-tech vehicles like Knight Rider and Airwolf were in vogue, and in 1987 America would get yet another. Knight Rider creator Glen Larson would join forces with director Douglas Heyes to create The Highwayman. In this show, which reviews suggest is like Knight Rider with a splash of Mad Max, the “Highwayman” roams around in his truck, solving crimes and mysteries in a dystopian reality. This show features multiple cool trucks, and this one is one of them:
The show is probably best described through its own opening narration, voiced by William Conrad:
There is a world, just beyond now, where reality runs a razor-thin seam between fact and possibility; where the laws of the present collide with the crimes of tomorrow. Patrolling these vast outlands is a new breed of lawman, guarding the fringes of society’s frontiers, they are known simply as ‘Highwaymen.’ And this is their story.
Here’s a look at the vehicles in the show; the truck above is featured prominently in this clip:
And heck, if you want to see a full episode, complete with 1988 car commercials, here you go:
The “Highwaymen” do their crime-fighting out of massive futuristic semi-tractors. The hero truck (below), driven by lead character Highwayman played by Sam Jones, started life as a 1980 Kenworth cabover with a Detroit Diesel 8V92T. It reminds me of a crazy Luigi Colani creation, but it isn’t.
According to Hemmings, the truck was converted by Jon Ward Motor Sports of Alpine, Texas into what appeared on the TV screen. The $287,000 conversion involved sticking part of an Aérospatiale Gazelle helicopter onto the front of the truck.
This functions as the truck’s cab, which features Knight Rider-style computers. In the show, the helicopter portion of the cab can detach and fly away, and the trailer can deploy a Lotus Esprit. The truck is also armed and can even cloak, at least in the show. After filming, Jon Ward Motor Sports reportedly held on to the rig and performed part of an RV conversion on it. In 2009, the shop listed it for sale. As of 2015, it was owned by The Highwaymen USA Ink, a tattoo firm.
While not the hero truck, this rig is still pretty cool. It was driven by the Highwayman’s sidekick, Australian outback survivalist Jetto, played by Mark “Jacko” Jackson. This truck’s party trick was detaching and becoming a car. I’ve done a lot of digging and could not find information about who built this rig for the TV show, but it is clear that it hasn’t fared as well as the hero truck.
It’s currently for sale in North Hollywood, California and the seller does give us some hints about its past.
According to the listing, the truck’s paperwork says that it’s a 1982 Peterbilt, and despite its visual condition, it runs and drives. If the sound effects in the show are anything to go by, the original truck was powered by a two-stroke diesel. Two-stroke 12.1-liter Detroit Diesel 8V92 V8s were an option for Peterbilts in the 1980s, so it’s possible. It isn’t said what this truck was originally powered by, but at some point, it gained a new Detroit Diesel. That engine apparently has six cylinders, makes 700 HP and is accessed through hatches with Ferrari-style bodywork. Currently, the most powerful engine offered by Detroit is the 15.6-liter DD16, a six-cylinder offering up to 600 HP. Whatever Detroit Diesel is powering this rig, the seller says it has just 5,000 miles on it.
There have been questions about the origins of this truck for years. A popular theory, and one that Hemmings speculated back in 2009, is that this is a modified Steinwinter truck. Of course, if it’s weird and German, you can bet that Jason has written about it. I’ll pass the mic to him:
If you described a carmaker’s logo that has a yellow shield with a prancing horse on it, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that anyone would think you were describing Ferrari’s logo, because, well, that’s Ferrari’s logo. But it’s also the logo of an odd little carmaker you’ve likely never heard of, but I bet you’ve seen at least one thing they’ve made. And I think Ferrari never bothered with them because it might have revealed a possibly uncomfortable truth about the origin of Ferrari’s famous badge.
The carmaker is a German company called Steinwinter, and you can see their logo and Ferrari’s logos side-by-side up there.
Steinwinter was known for oddball creations. Notably, Jason points out that the company took Fiat 500s and Fiat 126s, tossed out their original engines, and replaced them with engines of half of the size. Steinwinter also had a bizarre wedge-shaped 50cc car and a dune buggy. But relevant to what you’re reading right now is Steinwinter’s truck concept. I’ll pass it back to Jason:
That’s the Steinwinter Supercargo, a revolutionary new concept for a tractor-trailer truck design, shown first in 1983. Manfred Steinwinter was the eponymous engineer who came up with the concept, and while it seemed very futuristic and clever, it was actually quite flush with conceptual and design problems that prevented it from ever becoming anything more than a cool curiosity.
The Steinwinter Supercargo 20.40 concept was unveiled at the 1983 Frankfurt Motor Show. This truck of the future was supposed to be easily maneuverable, comfortable, and able to be converted from a semi to a bus. The project was road-tested, but never made it into production. In his piece, Jason also pointed out that the Steinwinter truck was reused five years later in The Highwayman after modifications. But to my eyes, these are actually different trucks following the same concept.
It’s said that the Steinwinter truck was built on a Mercedes-Benz chassis and powered by a Mercedes-Benz OM422 four-stroke diesel. The cab of the truck in The Highwayman has a different profile, doors from what seems to be a Chevy S-10, and it also sits up higher than the Steinwinter.
If the seller is correct in that this is a Peterbilt underneath, it’s unlikely to be the Steinwinter. Since The Highwayman first aired in 1987 as a movie, then in 1988 as a nine-episode TV show, perhaps this truck was inspired by the Steinwinter truck.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about this is that the concept of a “cab-under” truck wasn’t limited to Steinwinter or whoever built this Highwayman truck. As the Australian vehicle history site Historic Vehicles writes, there have been a number of trucks built with the idea of having the cab under the cargo. Bussing had a truck like this in the 1960s, and in the 1970s, U.S. trailer manufacturer Strick Corporation developed a semi where the trailer was on top of the cab.
Ultimately, this Peterbilt is perhaps one of the weirdest trucks that you could own in America, well, aside from the show’s hero truck. The seller claims that $500,000 was spent to construct it, but no proof is provided. They also say that the truck had sponsors for its restoration, but it didn’t happen. It was also listed for sale at Jingle Truck a year ago for $10,000 with a similar description. I’ve reached out to the seller for more details.
As of right now, the asking price is $65,000, which I’d almost say is worth it just for something so out there. It would probably be impractical for a semi, but imagine turning this thing into an RV!
If you know anything definitive about this truck, drop me a line at email@example.com. I’d love to solve this mystery once and for all!
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