The Forgotten Steinwinter Supercargo Is Unlike Anything on the Road Today

A homage retro-modern concept that never quite took off.

The transportation industry in the United States is absolutely humongous. More than 10 percent of the U.S. GDP is accounted for in some way by the transportation industry. That says a lot about the trucking industry, which moved the bulk of of the shipments – more than trains, planes, and boats. But aside from Tesla’s semi, what big changes have we seen involving tractor-trailers on the road? Here’s one truck that is often overlooked as being the one of the world’s strangest truck.

Meet the Steinwinter Supercargo. From depths of retro-future hell, this cargo carrier was the brainchild of Manfred Steinwinter, an auto engineer from Stuttgart, Germany. It made its first debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1983. This “nutzfahrzeuge,” or “commercial vehicle” was the engineer’s idea of efficiency—likely much different than what manufacturers have started doing today. Its low profile was believed to save on fuel costs by reducing the drag created by the gap from truck to trailer, and its overall length is cut down, enabling more freight to be loaded without disrupting legal requirements of vehicle size.

via Steinwinter

The Supercargo was powered by an eight-cylinder Mercedes OM422 diesel engine that produced 276 horsepower and a whopping 753 foot-pounds of torque. The engine output its power to a 16-speed ZF transmission to a single axle in the rear. All of this was packed into a platform which sat above the ground only half an inch taller than a Lamborghini Huracan.

via Steinwinter

One of the biggest ideas behind this semi truck was that it could be modular. It could tow a trailer behind it, a cargo container on top, or even be re-purposed as a tour bus. All of these applications could simply be nested on top of the truck, creating a low-cost solution that could be applied to many situations (similar to how Volkswagen uses its MQB platform to build vehicles).

via Steinwinter

Speaking of Volkswagen, one might think that the Supercargo was possibly inspired by the Volkswagen Bug’s fifth Wheel, which was released nine years prior to Steinwinter’s design. The camper attached to a fifth wheel on the roof of the bug and enabled the trailer to be towed overhead. No official word on this, but it’s nice to speculate some possible connections behind the design of such a modernized concept.

Inside the vehicle sat a very modernized cockpit. Its steering wheel resembles the four spoke wheel found in BMW’s e36 3-series, while its wide center console and rigid dash screams “I want to be a luxury car“. To top it off, the driver is placed right in the center of bolstered Recaro leather seats. If I didn’t know any better, it’s almost like the engineers behind this project expected someone to take it on a track.

via Steinwinter

As I’m sure you could tell by now, this story can’t have a perfect ending to it. After all, have you actually seen any of these on the road? Unfortunately, the project was a flop. The vehicle had its complications, like very limited visibility when the driver was seated and the engineer’s inability to perfect the handling just right. Additionally, some reports indicate that reliability was a problem, as longevity was not envisioned to meet that of the million-mile trucks of today. As a result, funding dried up when Mercedes wouldn’t back the project. And so the truck of tomorrow was lost forever.

Five years later, the truck popped up once more, completely altered from its original appearance. This time, it was on film in the TV series The Highwayman. The video clip below shows the truck actually being driven around the 2:30 mark. No known video exists of the original Supercargo being moved. The last known appearance of the Steinwinter happened in 2002 during the filming of Power Rangers Time Force.

Though trucks have advanced in technology over the last several years, no huge design changes have been adopted by the public. Even Wal-Mart attempted its run at a proprietary commercial truck it called WAVE, which seems to have vanished as well. Will Tesla’s big electric move go the same way? Nevertheless, it seems that this truck once destined for greatness by its creator turned out to be just a child movie star.