Today, the tenth of March, is International V8 Day, a time for the V8 engine to be celebrated around the world. And the perfect day to make a visit to Charles Russell Transport in Cheltenham in the South West of England.
Charles Russell Transport is where the past, present and future come together. Besides a fleet of 35 Scania trucks (of which 20 are V8s) that handle today’s tough transportation tasks, it keeps a unique collection of vintage V8s. And both the company and its exhibition space are going for growth.
On entering the gates of Charles Russell Transport’s premises in Cheltenham in the South West of England, you might be fooled into thinking you were on a farm. Yet the picturesque rural setting of this haulage business is home to an amazing collection of Scania V8s: an exhibition featuring every model ever produced, all presented in an increasingly crowded space.
The latest addition to the company’s “Scania V8 museum” is a 1986 R142, which has been stripped down to component level. Now waiting to have its cab installed, it is then due to be refurbished and repainted to get it back into pristine condition, just like all the other trucks in the collection.
Classic truck enthusiast and founder of the company Charles Russell has his own personal favourite: the 1972 140 Super. “That’s because of the iconic status of the model,” he says.
Restoring vintage vehicles
Having now taken a step back from the day-to-day operations of the business he founded in 1969, Russell still takes great pleasure in lovingly restoring his vintage vehicles, and spends as much time as possible on each project himself. Ever the businessman though, he always tries to minimize the cost of refurbishment. For his latest R142 project, he bought a similar V8 for parts and sold on the cab for more than he had spent on the entire vehicle.
“I display my vehicles at classic-truck shows, and even I display some on behalf of Scania in Great Britain,” he says.
Russell’s interest in collecting all things V8 and Scania started in a modest way in the 1980s with a series of posters and memorabilia. But it was without doubt his love of the engine that sparked his passion: “In my opinion, the Scania V8 is the best diesel engine ever produced.”
Classic Scania V8 collection
Rather like the business itself, his V8 collection is starting to outgrow the company’s current premises, so they are investing heavily to support expansion for the next generation. One reason that the company has survived and thrived is the fact that it takes a specialist approach to haulage. The handling of industrial machinery accounts for 80 per cent of the business, while the rest involves abnormal and interesting loads including large sculptures, boats and aircraft.
Coming from a farming background, Russell started out transporting livestock to local markets. As the business grew, he moved into transporting industrial machinery, which is when he acquired his first crane truck so he could load and unload on site at customers’ factories. As this side of the business grew, in 1980 Russell started transporting industrial machinery to various parts of Europe. “Then I decided to offer customers an additional service: installing their machinery. That way, with our complete package, they’d only have one company to deal with.”
One-stop shop for transport and installation
The concept of a one-stop shop has since become the bedrock of the business. Customers’ requirements are assessed, and the manpower and equipment needed are organised so that all the work can be carried out without the help of any subcontractors. Assignments might involve anything from the transportation and installation of a single machine to the relocation of a complete factory.
Russell’s son Ben, who works as Operations Director, says: “We operate a tailor-made IT system that is designed for abnormal loads and machinery. Customer demands have increased and timescales have shortened so we have to respond rapidly.” Indeed, the company carries out 20 to 30 jobs a day, and ensuring that the trucks are fully loaded as much of the time as possible is key.
Quality customer care
Customer care is a strong feature of the business. When tendering for his first major customer (one he has retained until the present day), Russell said, “If we don’t get it right, you don’t need to pay us.” The customer has never had any cause for complaint.
Quality customer care is something that Charles Russell Transport has in common with Scania, which makes them a good fit. Russell bought his first Scania 141 for the company in 1983. “I kept it for three years and sold it for more money than it cost,” he says. “As a young businessman I thought that was a great deal. That day, I became converted to Scania for the reliability, the day-to-day running costs and the residual value of their trucks.”
Runs a fleet of 35 Scania trucks
Today, the company runs a fleet of 35 Scania trucks, 20 of which are V8s, with the new generation of vehicles due to be delivered in 2019. Along with their acquisition of new vehicles, Charles Russell Transport provides workforce training in the new technologies and features that the new trucks have. The company also runs its own apprenticeship scheme to prepare the next generation to support the business.
While transporting industrial machinery accounts for most of the company’s business, helping out in the art world is probably the most fun and most demanding of their activities. They work with some of the most prestigious names in the large-sculpture domain, though they are very discreet about their clientele. Charles Russell Transport has been involved in installing works in locations as diverse as New York, Hong Kong, Mexico and Paris.
Monumental sculptures to Doha
One of the company’s most challenging art projects to date was transporting a series of monumental bronze sculptures from a foundry in the UK to Doha in Qatar. In total the sculptures weighed more than 200 tonnes, each one weighing up to 29 tonnes. They ranged in height from five to 15 metres, with a width of up to seven metres. During this three-year project, Charles Russell Transport’s full range of services were enlisted, including the instalment of the sculptures at the Sidra Medical and Research Centre in Doha.