In 1939, a Motor City company named Grico solved the power problem in trucks in a novel way: with a pair of V8 engines stuffed in a Ford cabover tractor. Here’s the story.
Today’s over-the-road trucks have something we take for granted, a property the big rigs of the late ’30s were sorely lacking: cheap, powerful, reliable engines. (You know the old joke: Choose any two.) The best Ford had to offer was the 221 CID V8 with 85 hp, or the 239 CID Mercury/truck V8 with 95 hp. There were more powerful powerplants available, sure, including the brand-new GMC 6-71 diesel introduced in 1938, but the GMC was not yet proven and it wasn’t cheap, either.
Into the breach stepped the Grico Two Axle Drive Co. with its clever solution, the Grico Twin-Motor Ford Truck. Grico was a spinoff division of the Gear Grinding Machine Company of Detroit—a company that happens to be one of the greatest Motor City stories never told.
Gear Grinding Machine’s leading technical mind was Alfred Rzeppa (pronounced Cheppa, approximately), the inventor of the Rzeppa constant-velocity universal joint. A key component in all modern front-wheel-drive cars, the Rzeppa joint was just one of the Gear Grinding Machine Company’s many critical contributions to the auto industry. But today, few have heard of the company, even in the industry.
As the name indicates, the Grico subsidiary’s chief product was tandem axle setups for heavy-duty trucks, and the Twin-Motor Truck might be considered a logical extension of that approach. The Ford COE tractor’s original V8 engine, drivetrain, and rear axle were retained. A second V8 engine, transmission, and driveline were installed behind the cab, under a sheet metal housing, driving the second axle in the tandem.
The two powertrains were configured so that either one could be operated individually to propel the truck, or they could be run in tandem controlled by a single throttle, clutch pedal, and shift lever. How many Twin-Motor Trucks were produced is not known. However, while it was quite possibly the first, Grico was not the only builder of dual-engine Ford trucks in this period. Manufacturers included Spangler, E&L, Merry-Neville, Thorco, and others. But the trend didn’t last. Modern, high-output diesels were already on the way, and one engine would prove to be enough.