Peterbilt 281 Specifications

by Liz Frazier
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Peterbilt's 281 truck series was in production from 1954 to 1976. The 281 is a heavy-duty truck used for hauling freight over long distances and pulling trailers up to 30 feet long. The 281 series was made famous in Steven Speilberg's 1971 movie, "Duel." The film starred Dennis Weaver as a motorist on the open road who is terrorized by a faceless trucker in a Peterbilt 281. Though trucks under the 281 series did vary over the years, there were many similarities in terms of engine, transmission and construction.


The engine in the "Duel" truck was a Cummins NTC 350 horsepower small cam. The engine had six cylinders and was turbo-charged. Cummins engines were very popular in the heyday of the 281; some used models of the NTC 350 are still available for purchase online.


This type of truck had two transmissions, a main and an auxiliary. The main transmission was a five-speed Spicer produced by the Dana corporation. The 281's auxiliary transmission was a three-speed Lipe-Brown.


The 281 had three different axles: the steer axle, the drive axle and the tag axle. All three axles were manufactured by Rockwell Parts. The FE900N model axle served as the truck's steer axle. This is the axle that is located at the front of the truck and controls the front two wheels which steer the rest of the truck. The drive axle on this truck, which connected the engine to the back wheels, was a R170 with a 5.34 gear ratio. The 281's tag axle was also a Rockwell. The tag axle goes directly behind the drive axle, but unlike the other axles, is not powered.


Like many trucks of the time, the 281's frame was made out of steel. The tankers hauled by these trucks were often made of steel as well. The cab, however, had an aluminum construction In terms of design, the Peterbilt 281 series had very distinctive look, due in part to its butterfly hood design and prominent fenders.


Peterbilt 281 trucks have reached top speeds as high as 74 mph on the highway. On the open road some trucks have also achieved fuel efficiency of 5.1 miles per gallon. The 281s were used to transport long range freight so it is not surprising that these trucks pulled trailers as long as 30 feet with carrying capacities of 7,000 gallons.

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