Needlenose Cab: 1972 Peterbilt 351

Perhaps one of the most recognized tractor trailer cabs is the Peterbilt 281/351, otherwise known as a “Needlenose.” The truck was, in my opinion, synonymous of the trucking industry, a design that was seen on the rolling plains and metropolitan interstates for decades, enhancing its reputation as a reliable workhorse. Now, they have achieved classic status, and trucks like these that were retired and parked when its continued use become less economical have emerged as a classic model worthy of restoration. Find this 1972 model here on Facebook Marketplace for $12,500.

It’s amazing how the workhorses we grew up with become icons later in life. School buses, mike trucks, tow rigs – once you realize you haven’t seen a particular design of a vehicle that was once everywhere in decades, nostalgia wafts in and you wish you could see one pounding down the road again. That’s the way I feel looking at this barn find Needlenose, a truck you used to see at every construction site, loading dock, and rock quarry in town. The seller notes this example was last registered in 2008 and still runs despite its extended retirement.

Now, if you lived somewhere that the 281/351 didn’t have much visibility, there’s another place you may have seen one: on the big screen, in perhaps one of the most mesmerizing films about man versus machine. Of course, I’m talking about Duel, which pits a very nervous Dennis Weaver against an unseen enemy behind the wheel of a rusty, snarling, Needlenose that is hell bent on killing him (and also terrorizes a small roadside animal display). It’s worth a watch, if for no other reason than to enjoy the premise of being hunted by a tanker truck with a Dodge Dart as your getaway car.

The seller notes that the Peterbilt comes with a 400 b.h.p. Cummins paired to a 13 speed tandem axle. The truck used in Duel was modified to about 300 b.h.p. so it could hit speeds of 90 m.p.h.; presumably, this example could reach an even higher top speed. The tires, despite having plenty of tread, will need to be replaced, according to the seller, due to dry rot. There’s plenty of work to be done, but these Needlenose cabs can live on as either a properly restored working rig, or a heavily modified truck for the show circuit. Which path would you choose?

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Comments

  1. Howard A Member

    Tires schreeching, whooa, HO!!! Finally, I have nothing to say,,,except,( settle in for a long one) nice write up, but a little off, sorry. 1st, this has to be a ’73 or newer 359, for several reasons, and my qualifications are just, I had 2, 359’s, a ’72 and an ’85. Okay, The ’72 had small windshields, and in ’73, they came out with the bigger windows,( some leftover ’72 small windows were titled as ’73’s) also, the round dash, some called it Corvette dash, and I didn’t care for that,it was either round or flat dash also came out in ’73, I think, and newer style doors. This truck has Reyco spring ride, an awful choice, especially when most Pete’s had air ride, so a major downside there. Before my Pete’s I had a Western Star with spring ride, and had a Peterbilt air ride grafted on, with much better results. The “needlenose” Jeff refers to, were the older ones with butterfly opening hoods, like the Duel truck, this has the fiberglass tilt hood, and I suppose was still called needlenose, but not by many. My trucks all had Cummins motors, not the most powerful, but never let me down. This is a smokin’ deal, and won’t be around long. 359’s are in high demand, mostly because, they were made before current regulations, and folks trying to get around those regs, are going for older trucks, plus the fact, a new Peterbilt today is $150 grand, easy. I couldn’t imagine trucking today, and am overjoyed I’m no longer in that industry, but for 35 years, it paid the bills, plus had a bit left over for my classic car projects. Now with trucks 6 figures and classic cars 5 figures, you can see my disgust with how things are. Great writeup, Jeff, and thanks for featuring it. The pics are poor, I apologize, the red truck was my ’72, and the black one was my ’85 daycab.

    Like 27
    • Howard A Member

      I was going to make a motorhome out of the ’85, but lost interest.

      Like 19
      • Howard A Member

        This was my Western Star w/ Pete air ride. I made money with this truck.

        Like 24
  2. geomechs geomechs Member

    Well, it looks like Howard beat me to it but that’s just fine; he drove them while I kept them running. My money says 359. Lots of these still on the road although I heard that there are forces in play to get them off. The drivers are resisting. As far as this one goes, if I had the money and the space. Lots of parts still available although some components, like rear suspension that was readily available until recently, are getting scarce. I sure hope that this truck gets the chance to see the road again, even if it’s just to go from one show to another…

    Like 16
    • Howard A Member

      Couldn’t have done my job without ya’,,a heartfelt thanks to the men and women that kept them going.

      Like 17
  3. Howard A Member

    Just one more thing,,( in my best Columbo voice”) and I don’t mean to pick on Jeff, the car in Duel was a Valiant, and this truck featured, wouldn’t do 90 mph in it’s best day.( I guess that’s 2 things) This truck was made for when the speed limit was 55 mph, and trucks with “long legs” had Cat motors and not until recently, tall ratios to keep the rpms down, are the norm today. Unless the ratios have been changed, trucks like this typically had like 4:11’s, maybe 3:90’s, and would top out at about 75, still enough to get a ticket. Back then, we called 13th, the “trouble gear”. Thanks again, Jeff for the memories.

    Like 23
    • djjerme

      Except for some local setups.

      And garbage trucks..

      I think one of the steepest ratios I ever saw was on some Garbage trucks that came through the shop when I was the graveyard manager at an International Dealership.. Something like a 5:13 or near that.. Talk about stump puller.

      Like 5
  4. Jim

    The perfect vehicle for the guy for whom the current ridiculously sized pickup trucks just aren’t large enough.

    Like 16
  5. Fletch

    If this does, indeed, still run, pull it out and take some decent pictures.

    If I’m thinking about dropping $12k on something, I’d like to see a little more of it. Digital images are cheap.

    Like 12
  6. Troy s

    The true meaning of “work truck”. I dont drive these monsters but always have the upmost respect for them on the road, unlike some motorists who get all mad and stuff.
    Duel is one of those movies I’ll never forget. Stunt legend Carey Loftin claimed he drove the big truck usually around twenty to twenty five miles an hour during filming, although it appears to be going bonkers fast. It was a new looking truck so they dumped oil all over it, lots of it, to give it that worn appearance. That scene where David Mann is relaxed going up the slight grade then that semi appears in his rear view mirror coming hard around a blind curve early in the movie,,,,
    still makes the hairs stand up on my neck!
    Camera tricks, speeding up the film, it’s all smoke and mirrors.

    Like 13
    • 370zpp

      Same with me. “Duel” left a lasting impression. Horror without the usual gimmicks, all funneled through the most baddass truck I have ever seen. Simple and effective.

      Like 10
      • pixelpusher

        and with very little dialogue…

        Like 5
  7. Mr.BZ

    Never owned one but drove a few, good strong trucks for sure. If you plan to tag and drive it, watch out for CAs retroactive smog laws for big truck diesels. They are shutting them down, one by one.

    Like 3
  8. christopher swift

    I’m pretty sure the Duel rig was an Autocar.

    Like 3
    • AZVanMan

      That’s what i thought, but wiki and others say a 55 Peterbuilt.

      Like 3
    • John

      The Duel truck was actually TWO trucks: a 1955 Peterbilt 281, as well as a 1960 351. Spielberg needed a sacrificial truck.

      Like 2
  9. Dave

    The Valiant had a 318, not a Slant Six. How fast can they go? I was a back seat passenger in a 1969 2 door Dart on I-271 near Cleveland on our way to Jamestown New York. I woke up due to a cold draft. I looked up and saw a gap between the right door and the roof. The speedo was beyond 120! Mike, the driver, was in a daze. I tapped him on the shoulder and said “You in a big hurry to get home?”
    Hopper should have thrown a rock through the truck’s windshield.

    Like 2
    • Little_Cars Little_Cars Member

      You mean Dennis WEAVER, not Hopper.

      Like 7
  10. Steve Bush Member

    Great stuff Howard! You certainly owned some nice trucks! I’ve always enjoyed talking with the over the road drivers. They always have good stories and strong opinions on the state of the trucking business, from what I gather is tougher today than ever. Good luck and stay safe!

    Like 8
    • Howard A Member

      Hey Steve, thanks. To be clear, I was always a regional driver, company jobs mostly, when I bought my 1st truck, the WS in 1988, had a decent company job, by the hour, they thought I was nuts. But like most company drivers, I always had the dream of owning my own. I had a friend that kind of “shanghied” me into buying my own, and pulled rail cans out of Chicago to the midwest and some overnights, and the sleepers were a welcome addition. I made money, and no malice intended to geomechs, but I did all my own work, and saved a ton of money. I saw guys that went belly up because they went to a mechanic for a battery cable ( or whatever) and I’m not even sure what mechanics charge today, got to be over $100/hr. That adds up quick when the wheels aren’t turning.
      Today, the biggest obstacle for an O/O is insurance and regulations. The little guys just can’t pay the premiums, and one mishap, the vultures take everything you have. A big company can absorb that much better. I made money because I was an outlaw, ran ’round the clock, you had to, to make a buck, and I wasn’t alone. Today, with HOS( hours of service) rules and liability, you can’t do it.
      While O/O’s are fading, there just may be a call after all again, as finding help today is by far, the biggest concern of big companies. I read, 30% of new hires quit within 90 days, and almost half within a year.
      I don’t regret the years I spent trucking, good friends, many gone now, that would help no matter what, could bend the rules 1/4 turn before breaking, nobody on your axx, it was a different job.

      Like 14
  11. Maestro1 Member

    I have no experience with anything this major league. But reading Howard, Geomechs, and all the others is fascinating. Thank you Barn Finders, and certainly much thanks to the above.

    Like 7
  12. Steve S

    My dad drove semi’s for a few years while laid off from his normal job he drove coast to coast. I also have a cousin that has been driving semi’s for 28 years now. He bought his own tractor and was a owner operator for a couple years he did all the work on his truck himself until it got to expensive and got rid of the truck I think he had a kenworth though but I can’t remember what brand of truck he told me he had for sure.

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