Fahrenheit 351?

The Peterbilt 281 and 351 ‘needle nose’ trucks are icons of American Trucking for many of us in the UK largely through the auspices of Steven Spielberg’s film Duel. Given the opportunity to drive one in American Truck Sim, I eagerly grabbed the mod and loaded it into the game. It has since spurred me to doing quite a bit of research into the species, prompted by some things that, after the initial glow of anticipation had passed, didn’t seem quite right.

My main issues are around the shape of the hood, grill and air cleaners. The grill looks too broad – it’s closer to the size of the later 359 grill and that makes it look less tall than maybe it should. It also has the effect of making the headlamps look too small. This then impacts on the hood which has a pronounced taper along its length in the real world 351; something that is much less obvious in this computer model. Additionally, the hood has a double hinge along the top but the 351’s I’ve seen in videos all have single hinges. The air cleaners don’t look quite right either but I haven’t been able to find a photograph that exactly matches the type shown. I did find that the smaller styles were mounted lower down between the hood and the cab door. The larger ones have a hose connection that exits the side of the hood curving back to where the air filter sits on the side of the cab. So, my suspicion is that the ones portrayed in the mod are a designer’s compromise. As a footnote, air cleaners were not always fitted to both sides on these trucks and the hood had a bulge on the RH side if a turbo-charged engine was fitted. The grill carries the bird in flight ornament which makes it the post 1965 version.

After the reservations above, I’m pleased to report that the cab is a very good representation of the post 1960 Peterbilt Unilite cab. It looks spot-on, as does the 36” sleeper unit behind. The interiors of the cab are excellent too with the décor finished in Oxblood Red. Looking through the rear window into the sleeper – I’m a little concerned that the décor might lead the cops to think I’m operating a house of ill-repute back there with the tasselled curtains and all! There are two dash choices offered in the model and these influence the type of seats fitted too. There is a trap here – the dash I’ve chosen is more proper to 359 and was referred to by Peterbilt as the ‘Dash of Class’. The wood looks like 1960’s Formica rather than the polished walnut I have in my Kenworth. The color-coding of the switches is probably not something you find in the prototype either although their sizes look about right. I have gone back and retrofitted the correct dash for the Unilite cabbed 351 and include it in the screenshots below.

Lots of engine choices are available and some appropriate gearboxes. I chose to go with the Spicer 14 speed with retarder and the Caterpillar 3406 475HP engine. The engine sounds really great with a distinctive turbo-charger whistle above the mechanical diesel rattle. I did have some concern that maybe the sound was wrong but research on YouTube allowed me to hear some CAT 3406 engines running and the sound does seem to be pretty realistic although the whistle might be a little too pronounced.

Overall then, what do I make of the Peterbilt 351 mod? I get the feeling that the builders have fallen between creating a 351 and a 359 as evidenced by the dash and the hood / grill issues I have mentioned above. I think it’s also important to remember that this truck mod was originally made for Euro Truck so it’s quite an old mod and the color coding of the rev counter on the 351 dash is probably a throwback to then. That said, this is a very pleasing truck both visually and to drive in the simulation though the interior is not as nice using the correct dash as it is with the ‘Dash of Class’. Despite the short cummins (pun intended) she’s a real joy and I certainly intend to keep her in my fleet – though I’ll probably switch back to the Dash of Class!

In the first image I shared of the truck she was painted in a metallic greenish-blue. Under streetlights I decided that I didn’t like the shade of green on the hood when viewed from in the cab. The upshot is that I repainted her in a metallic Purple with a hint of blue and that is how you see her in the screenies below. I’ve named her ‘Purple Rain’, taking the words from the song Ventura Highway.   Those of you with a fetish for rubber will probably note that I have also changed out the Bridgestone’s for a set of Good Year boots.

Footnotes – I have just seen a couple of videos of a new mod that is nearing completion for a Peterbilt 359, so I’m looking forwards to that being released. Apart from YouTube and Flickr for research I found Tims Trucks a handy resource for all things Peterbilt. I now intend to look at another older truck and this time it will be a cabover. I’m going to load up the Freightliner FLB and see how I make out with that.

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