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THE POINT OF April Fools Road Tests in R&T was to poke fun at the magazine’s testing procedures, not the vehicles being evaluated. This was particularly important when I approached DHL, FedEx, and UPS with the “Three Superlative Delivery Vehicles” concept.
The fun was combined with learning more about these three companies: their origins, their current activities, and their highly competitive business of delivering goods. Here are tidbits gleaned from the April 2007 article.
Probably the most challenging part of it all was convincing the companies that we were to be the fools, not in any sense their vehicles. Once they trusted us, the company drivers had a ball, especially watching our “extensive test procedures” and photo sessions.
In alphabetical order, the three superlative delivery vehicles were a DHL Sprinter, FedEx W700 Hybrid, and UPS Sprinter P570.
DHL. I used to think DHL stood for Deutsche Handlung Luft, and, indeed, Deutsche Post World Net has been DHL’s parent company since its complete acquisition in 2002. However (a good bar bet here) DHL stands for Adrian Dalsey, Larry Hillblom, and Robert Lynn, three American guys who founded the company in 1969, primarily to shuttle goods between San Francisco and Honolulu.
By the mid-1980s, DHL had expanded its delivery routes to Eastern Europe and the People’s Republic of China. Even to this day, because of foreign ownership, DHL is unique in delivery to North Korea. (Government sanctions prohibit the other two.)
I wrote, “We were delighted when DHL agreed to bring one of its Sprinters. Although it’s labeled a Dodge, we recognize that the Sprinter is actually a Mercedes-Benz—and, after all, we’ve always been Janis Joplin fans.”
The DHL Sprinter had a double-overhead-cam, 20-valve, inline-5 turbodiesel. Like the other test participants, its disc brakes all around functioned with ABS.
Brake Testing. When I started at R&T in 1979, optimal braking distance depended on a skilled right foot precisely probing incipient lock. Once Antilock Braking Systems arrived in the next decade, it required no particular expertise: Stabilize at the test speed of either 60 or 80 mph, then mash the pedal, and let ABS do the work.
No fools they; the DHL, FedEx, and UPS drivers arrived with vehicles sans packages. For verisimilitude, we provided our own cardboard boxes, their “This Way Up” arrows arranged in arty directions.
FedEx. Founded in 1971, Federal Express shortened its name to FedEx in 1994. R&T noted “an interesting bit of company history: On Saturday, June 21, 2003, FedEx teamed up with Amazon in quite an amazing feat of e-commerce. It delivered some 400,000 copies of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on this first day of the book’s availability.”
FedEx offered R&T a choice of two different W700 (“Walk-in, 700-cu.-ft.”) vehicles. “Being the whacko techies we are—and knowing how timely it is—we opted for the Hybrid.”
“What does a FedEx Hybrid have in common with a Ferrari 599?” we asked. “Though sans paddles, the W700 Hybrid gearbox is a manual that’s shifted automatically. There’s even a little computerized blip downshifting into 1st.”
Skidpad Testing. The point of a skidpad evaluation is to assess the vehicle’s steady-state cornering; R&T’s, on a 200-ft.-diameter circle.
“Curiously, each vehicle displayed increasing understeer in successive laps. ‘It’s almost like the tails were getting lighter,’ noted Elfalan cogently.”
UPS. The origins of United Parcel Service are in 1907 Seattle, with a 19-year-old kid running errands on foot or bicycle. Later came a couple of motorcycles and a Model T Ford. “When a few more Model Ts were added,” R&T noted, “each was purposely painted a different color—this, so folks would know there was more than one vehicle.”
The name United Parcel Service came in 1919. About that time, a unified livery was selected. R&T learned, “Pullman railroad sleeping cars—painted a rich brown—were the era’s height of elegance, from which evolved UPS Brown, a hue that’s now trademarked by the company.”
The UPS Sprinter P57D’s Ultramaster had something “in common with Briggs Cunningham’s 1950 Le Mans entry.” The UPS coachwork was by Grumman-Olson; Cunningham’s Le Monstre had bodywork designs and fabricated by Grumman engineers.”
Slalom Test. R&T’s usual slalom cones “looked decidedly dinky.” And, after evading errant boxes on the skidpad, Elfalan had no problem weaving around the stacks of boxes used in lieu of cones.
The DHL, FedEx, and UPS drivers were understandably uneasy about R&T’s choices of slalom demarcation. Delivery professionals treat parcels with a lot of respect. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020