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Berliet T100. The 50-ton behemoth designed for the sands of Algeria

The French colonization in Algeria generated vehicles adapted to the desert sands. The most famous is undoubtedly the Citroën 2CV Sahara with a motor on each axis. However, giants like the Berliet T100 were also lit up. A truck of fifty tons designed to carry another fifty of cargo with mining as the main utility in the sight.

On July 3, 1962, France recognized the independence of Algeria after years of increasingly intense violence. In this way, a long process of occupation was put to an end in which the settlers had to face the rigors of the desert since 1830. Rigors that required fine-tuning of irrigation techniques, but also innovate with means of transport suitable for a terrain hostile to any motorized vehicle. In that sense, the most significant automobile was the Citroën 2CV Sahara. Possibly the most coveted version of the model by collectors, defined by equipping each axle with its own motor.

The only way in which Citroën engineers were able to satisfy the needs of settlers and the military in Algeria, who after the Second World War lived an increasingly aggressive environment. Thus, Knowing that their days as a colony were numbered according to the National Liberation Front gaining support from the Algerian masses, they launched into a fierce search for resources.. Among them, oil stood out. Necessary to feed the growing national industry and found in deposits deep in the sands of the Sahara.

Geographical situation that posed a considerable challenge for logistics, since access is difficult due not only to the absence of roads but also to the fickleness of the sands. Thus The paradox arose that the cutting-edge technology to extract oil had to be carried by camels. A complex option, since some pieces were too heavy to be carried on the backs of animals. Thus, the French companies longed for the answer capable of carrying a large load without being trapped in the dunes. Something that finally came when the Berliet T1957 was introduced in 100.

berliet t100

BERLIET T100. THE ARRIVAL OF THE GIANT FROM THE DESERT

Nicknamed "The giant of the desert" The Berliet T100 is a myth in the history of trucks. At first glance the reason is obvious, since with its more than five meters high and fifteen long it is impossible not to notice him. In addition, its weight of fifty tons when empty is used to carry up to another fifty of cargo. A sum that is equal to what some seventy or eighty C-segment passenger cars would weigh. However, the true appeal of the Berliet T100 lies not so much in its size as in its dynamic behavior.

berliet t100

A term that seems more typical of light rally cars, but in this case it is perfectly applicable thanks to the prodigious ability of this truck to overcome terrain where others would be trapped. But how? Well, for this, the first thing we must take into account is the way it was designed. Starting from the largest tire made by Michelin, with more than two meters in diameter and almost a ton after coupling it to the rim. From there, a chassis is mounted where there are three axles with six wheels in total.

Something that brings us to the first big problem to be solved in the design of the Berliet T100: traction. Obviously, speaking of such a tonnage in conjunction with the unstable desert, it was necessary to transmit the engine's power to the ground in a homogeneous way. To do this, a all-wheel drive system where all three axles are driving. A considerable engineering effort that required great power to move. Thus, we come to the second key point in the manufacture of the Berliet T100: the engine.

In this case, speed was not something to take into account since the territory of this truck is not the roads. However, it was essential to find an engine capable of delivering an inordinate amount of power from very low turns. For it The French chose a V12 diesel from the North American Cummins, responsible for giving up to 700CV with a displacement of almost 30 liters. The heart of this giant of the sands fed by two tanks with almost a thousand liters each.

RELEASED JUST BEFORE THE END

Developed in just nine months, at the end of 1957 the first Berliet T100 of the four built was presented in Paris. Taken into the desert for the first tests on real terrain, it proved effective and manageable thanks to the power steering with its own engine. Encouraged by success, the French manufacturer assembled the second unit and shortly the third, commissioned by the French government for mining work. A meteoric rise for a vehicle so special and expensive, which as quickly as it had appeared would meet its end due to commercial and political reasons.

Regarding politicians, everything is understood by time. And it is that the military hostilities were increasingly strong between both sides, creating a state of open war that even led to a strong political crisis in the metropolis. All this pointed to the end of Algeria's time as a colony, which came just five years after the Berliet T100 was unveiled. In this context, no Western company was interested in creating infrastructure in Algeria. This paralyzed the nearest orders, causing Berliet to seek luck in the American market.

For this he assembled a fourth and final unit with the cabin integrated over the engine. A sample that he sent to various fairs in the United States to attract his mining companies as clients. Nevertheless, the precise adaptation of the Berliet T100 to the dunes of the desert made this vehicle a very uninteresting product in commercial terms. Reason why Berliet canceled the T100 project in 1964, the second being the only survivor of the four manufactured. Saved by Berliet Foundation Since 1981, this behemoth has remained the most astonishing model of the company that Renault absorbed in 1978.

Photographs: Renault Trucks / Berliet Foundation

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Miguel Sánchez

Written by Miguel Sánchez

Through the news from La Escudería, we will travel the winding roads of Maranello listening to the roar of the Italian V12; We will travel Route66 in search of the power of the great American engines; we will get lost in the narrow English lanes tracking the elegance of their sports cars; We will speed up the braking in the curves of the Monte Carlo Rally and we will even get dusty in a garage while rescuing lost jewels.

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