Home » There’s Just Something About Big Mid-Century French Work Trucks: Cold Start

There’s Just Something About Big Mid-Century French Work Trucks: Cold Start

Cs Saviem 1
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Industrial and commercial truck design is interesting; you might think the aesthetics just wouldn’t matter for vehicles like these, and yet, somehow, we still design our working machines to have some kind of visual impact and personalities. There’s all sorts of eras and schools of design of these kinds of things, but I think one of my favorites has to be what was happening in France in the mid-20th century. For whatever reason, it seems like French commercial and industrial vehicle designers couldn’t help but make trucks that looked like big, sweetly-morose animals or strange fictional beasts, just an overall sort of fantasy creature vibe. But not like dragon-fantasty-creatures; more like things that are like hippos crossed with colossal bullfrogs crossed with huge basset hounds or something.

Just look up top there and you’ll get an idea of what I mean; those are all taken from a 1959 brochure for Saviem, a French maker of buses and trucks that was formed by Renault after buying and merging two other truck makers, Souma and Latil; eventually they were merged with Berliet (whom I’ve featured here before), and all of these various companies were building big trucks with the sort of look I’m describing here. They varied in their own ways, of course, but they were all, likely unwittingly, playing into larger themes that maybe we can only really see all these decades removed.

Vidframe Min Top
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Here, look at these things:

Cs Saviem 2

Look at these three big rigs; they all have such distinctive and unique faces, and, at least to me, they all feel like beasts of burden, which I suppose is what they actually are. But there’s a strange pathos there, too, a combination of visual elements that makes me feel like these are strong beasts, capable of doing what’s asked of them, but I also want to unhitch them from their burdens and give them a big pan of diesel to drink.

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Cs Saviem 3

Look at this guy! It looks like it’s pouting! Someone give this truck a hug and tell it that it’s doing a good job, please.

Cs Saviem 4

Even in diagrammatic form, these things feel like animals. Is it the proportions? What are the visual cues that suggest this?

Cs Saviem 5

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This one even has a face that feels less conventionally laid out, at least in regard to how biological faces tend to work, yet I still get that impression. It has a sort of brow, looks a bit concerned, but still capable. Also, I like how the fuel tanks are angled along the chassis rails there.

This one reminded me of something I’ve seen before:

Cs Saviem 6

What does that face look like? Sort of droopy, little eyes…it’s firing some long-dormant neurons in my brain and until I figure it out it’ll be like an itch inside my brain. What does that look like? Oh! Yes! This:

Cs Saviem 5a

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Remember Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal? It was full of creepy and sometimes actually scary Muppets, in some elaborate fantasy set-story? There was a remake or sequel of it not too long ago. Anyway, one of the kinds of beings in that were these little lumpy things called podlings, and that’s what that truck reminds me of.

Whew, That’s a relief. It’s like having a song halfway stuck in your head.

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Vetatur Fumare
Vetatur Fumare
24 days ago

Second all that. They also remind me of the ohmu in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.

Pedro
Pedro
25 days ago

My Hero!

Tom Herman
Tom Herman
27 days ago

I wish someone in my neighborhood owned a Renault Dauphine. I don’t think I want to own one, but it would be fun to see it every day.

AlterId
AlterId
27 days ago

Didn’t Renault spin Latil off in the late ’50s or early ’60s as a manufacturer of a bullshit cancer drug you had to go to Mexico to buy, like Steve McQueen did?

Jonathan Hendry
Jonathan Hendry
26 days ago
Reply to  AlterId

Lol that’s Laetrile, made from peach pits.

Kleinlowe
Kleinlowe
27 days ago

I’m not sure if it’s the black and white printing but it gives me ‘Psyche Rock’ video vibes.

Industrial_design_guy
Industrial_design_guy
27 days ago

That Somua is so darn cool! I love the proportions, they’re very human centered. Nothing is too high or out of reach. It seems so reasonably designed.

Jonathan Hendry
Jonathan Hendry
28 days ago

The pouting one looks like a pug or French bulldog.

The truck below that has a face that reminds me of the helmet Leia wears to infiltrate Jabba’s palace.

Not The Ford 289
Not The Ford 289
28 days ago

The one with the big grille reminds me of an ’80’s Mack cabover.

This

Twobox Designgineer
Twobox Designgineer
28 days ago

The Netflix Dark Crystal followup series was not bad. I wish it had been renewed. It ended with a typical end-of-season unresolved sort of cliffhanger.
It also a rather unique peeing scene. After a drunken celebration, one skeksis is screaming at another, both in silhouette in order to not have too much visual detail, something close to “WHAT‽ Public micturition‽ SHAME!” — and you can see *three* streams arcing up. Them skekses are wild.

Argentine Utop
Argentine Utop
28 days ago

I love the Art Noveau inspiration in the windows treatment of the first truck, and the grill of the third one. There is an architectural reference there, somehow, like early ’20s metro stations in Paris or Buenos Aires, or facades in Nagymező utca in Budapest.
Or maybe I need another coffee.

Jakob K's Garage
Jakob K's Garage
28 days ago

Is it only me who wants to unhook the trailer and do a stoppie in on of those? 😀

John Patson
John Patson
28 days ago

The big steel wheels on those camions, and on Italian ones of the time do a lot for the look.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
28 days ago

Pretty wild to think how that Saviem car transporter with those five Renault Dauphines is carrying a total of 7,150 pounds (early Dauphines had a curb weight of just 1,430 pounds) so not much more than one single Cybertruck which is about 6,800 pounds and certainly less than one single Hummer EV which is around 9,000 pounds. Egad.

Flyingstitch
Flyingstitch
28 days ago

The one with the big drums on the trailer gives me spider eye vibes.

Collegiate Autodidact
Collegiate Autodidact
28 days ago
Reply to  Flyingstitch

Yeah, pretty apt since spiders are famously strong:
https://pm1.aminoapps.com/5858/c979e4231bd6d67ce35ada95ad987aeb98de04c1_hq.jpg (no worries, this is safe for arachnophobes 🙂 )
(And, yes, that’s a young Jay Leno on the left, no idea who the other one is)

Last edited 28 days ago by Collegiate Autodidact
Hugh Crawford
Hugh Crawford
28 days ago

The other guy is Malcom Forbes.

Redapple
Redapple
28 days ago

French products are under rated. German products are over rated.

Canopysaurus
Canopysaurus
28 days ago
Reply to  Redapple

Except in war.

Col Lingus
Col Lingus
28 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

How do you say “run away” in French?

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
27 days ago
Reply to  Col Lingus

“Merde”

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
27 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

The Cesar cannons and Scalp cruise missiles currently kicking Putin’s butt beg to differ.

PS: can we move on from that cliché? If there’s one country whose ass has been kicked the most during the last 70 years of conflict, I’d think of the USA before France.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
27 days ago

70 years..so 1954 and on. Looking at the list I’m not seeing a lot of wins for France. Most of the victories listed were a team effort in which France was not a heavy hitter or the US shares as much or more credit for the victory as France

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_involving_France

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_involving_the_United_States

As to Vietnam its worth remembering the only reason we got into Vietnam in the first place was because of France. In hindsight we probably should have helped Vietnam win their independence because we’re all about freedom, right?

RIGHT??

And as to why we get our asses kicked we tend to play nice. You REALLY don’t want those gloves to come off.

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
27 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Based on your own sources, I count 5 French losses and 9 American losses on the agreed upon time frame.

I’m not saying any of our countries does not suck, I just mean that Americans have their fair share of Ls and could give the whole “the French lose a lot of wars” thing a rest.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
26 days ago

Well you can’t lose if you don’t play.

Manuel Verissimo
Manuel Verissimo
26 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Again, based on your own links:
33 US conflicts listed
37 French conflicts listed

That gives:
27% failure rate for the US
13% failure rate for France

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
26 days ago

So next time Germany comes calling we can stay home. Good.

Goblin
Goblin
25 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

So next time LaFayette’s fleet is needed to save the American Revolution, they can stay home. Good 😛

Last edited 25 days ago by Goblin
Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
27 days ago
Reply to  Canopysaurus

No, German stuff was overrated there too. Too expensive, too complex, too fragile, too late.

The French stuff was neither overrated nor underrated as it finished the war having only been drop tested ;p

Leon Muks
Leon Muks
28 days ago

One of these reminds me of a Jeremy Clarkson image..

Angrycat Meowmeow
Angrycat Meowmeow
28 days ago
Reply to  Leon Muks

How many of us knew what it would be before we clicked it

Alex Rockey
Alex Rockey
28 days ago
Reply to  Leon Muks

I was thinking big-lipped “Wallace and Gromit” style characters.

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