Why International Once Built a Semi Truck With Windshields on the Floorboard
They don’t make ’em like this anymore.
The rabbit hole of oddball work truck design is one I never expected to fall down, but here we are. There's a plethora of wacky-but-useful pickups and semis that'd be better discussed in a book than a blog, but let's talk about one of the lesser-known models out there, at least for us youngster: The International Harvester Sightliner.
If you blocked the middle of the Sightliner out with your finger, it'd look like any other cabover. These trucks were built to seat the driver over the engine, hence the name, to be as compact as possible. Regulations back in the day required tractor-trailer combos to be much shorter, often totaling just 50 feet for the two of them. Nowadays, trailers alone are often longer than that.
In the late '50s and early '60s, International was able to condense its cabs to just four feet in total. Problem is, this resulted in poor visibility for the drivers—not exactly what you want when you're hauling 20 tons.
International hoped to remedy the inherent pitfalls of cabover trucks with the Sightliner. Instead of just building a taller windshield, the manufacturer kept the narrow brow at the top and added a pair of extra windows just above the floorboard. Theoretically, this would allow the driver a better view of what was directly in front of them, making for a safer experience.
As you might guess, though, this backfired. Not only were drivers forced to wear pants—kidding...kinda—but their legs were now exposed to the elements. If a car or truck were to kick up a rock, it could hit one of the smaller windows and end in a goose-egg on the driver's shin. The main complaint from truckers, however, was that their legs would sunburn on a hot day with the windshields acting as magnifying glasses.
The Sightliner probably caused more headaches than it saved, and many drivers were said to have covered the windows with sheet metal or simply painted over them. It's hard to find a clean example as a result, but I happen to know where you can buy one...at the hidden-gem Knuckin yard in Ponderay, Idaho. You can tell them I sent you. Or don't. Doesn't matter.
Caleb Jacobs is Deputy News Editor at The Drive. He buys weird things, like a '66 Ford dump truck and a '65 Chevy school bus. We continue to employ him, though we can't seem to understand why. Send him a note: firstname.lastname@example.org