Mack MD6 ably carries author’s car

Builder’s new medium-duty model conventional has a satisfying big-truck feel.

December 2020/January 2021

Tom Berg

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In late summer of 2019 I was on the way to a family gathering in Wisconsin when my car broke down on Interstate 69 in northeastern Indiana. The idler pulley popped loose and the serpentine belt broke, leaving the engine ram-cooled only. I pulled off at the next exit, parked and called Triple A. Sooner than I expected, up rolled a well-worn, bright-yellow early ’90s International driven by a guy whose name I don’t remember, but he owned and operated the truck. It had a roll-back body, and he quickly winched my 20-year-old Lincoln Continental aboard. He hauled the car and me into Auburn, where I sought repairs and holed up for the night. I got to Wisconsin and back with a rental car.

A year later, it was almost déjà vu as I drove my 21-year-old Lincoln onto another roll-back flatbed. This time the car was not in distress but being positioned to provide a realistic load for my drive of the new Mack MD6 chassis that you see here. This was at McMahon Truck Centers, a Mack and Volvo dealer in Columbus, Ohio. Tightening the tie-downs and pulling the Jerr-Dan’s control levers was Paul Blackston, vocational segment manager, who went along for the test drive. McMahon is also a Jerr-Dan dealer and sells ready-to-work tow trucks on Chevy, Ford and Hino chassis, and the medium-duty Mack was a new product for him and the dealership.

Mack is among many domestic and imported builders competing for medium-duty business, but it differs from some of them by offering a midrange truck with big truck feel.

That’s my takeaway from venturing onto the streets and freeways of the Buckeye State’s capital city. For one thing, the galvanized steel cab, adapted from highway tractors, sits rather high for a midrange truck, and the adjacent hood slopes upward to meet the cowl. Put another way, it slopes downward to allow the driver a good view of the road. The Mack bulldog ornament and the hood’s leading edge are visible, and the chrome dog makes a good aiming sight on narrow roads. If the dog is at the edge, the wheels are still on the pavement.

The well-sealed door slammed with a thunk, and there was considerable room inside. Instruments, switches and controls were on a pair of oblong dashboard panels to the driver’s front and right. The steering wheel had no switches – something I prefer because they’re usually low, requiring drivers to take their eyes off the road to peer at them until they learn what does what, and then can operate them by feel. As on most Class 8 Macks, the steering wheel’s rim is flat at the bottom, giving a bit of extra room for one’s thighs while sliding in and out of the cab. At freeway speeds the ride was rather quiet and smooth, with the multileaf front and rear suspensions doing a nice job of soaking up bumps.

The truck had Meritor S-cam air brakes and they were strong and well balanced.

The 300-hp B6.7 spun busily as it’s meant to. Its redline is 2,600 rpm, and cruising at highway speeds has it revving at 1,700 rpm or so, thanks to the rear axle’s 4.69 ratio and even with the six-speed Allison’s overdrive ratios in fifth and sixth (0.64 and 0.78, respectively). The transmission was a 2500 RDS (rugged duty series), which always shifted smoothly, choosing the correct ratio for any situation. The Allison downshifted as the truck slowed while approaching a stop and was ready to accelerate immediately when I put my foot back on the go-pedal. The transmission had a power take-off mount to run a hydraulic pump that powered the Jerr-Dan’s bed and winch. Of course the body’s aluminum flatbed carries banged-up and disabled cars and light-duty trucks (or running cars that need to be transported) plus a wheel-lift apparatus for picking up and towing a second vehicle.

Mack Trucks has gone into and out of medium-duty trucks several times since the 1930s, and in the ’80s and ’90s it did so with low-cab-forward models obtained from European owners and modified for North America. It returned this year with a conventional-cab truck more attuned to the wants of most buyers here (traditionally, 85% of midrange truck customers choose a conventional over a cabover). Engineers and designers did an able job as the MD6 (and, I figure, the Class 7 MD7) is a nice truck to drive, and feels more than strong enough to carry anything that needs to be dragged aboard, whether it’s my car or anyone else’s. LL

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