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A piece of wheel loader history
“When developing wheel loaders, we deal with the latest technologies and trends on a daily basis. However, we also respect our roots. And this wheel loader here shows that Liebherr was getting innovative machine concepts off the ground even six decades ago,” explains Martin Gschwend, who is managing director of the Liebherr Bischofshofen plant and responsible for the worldwide distribution of Liebherr wheel loaders.
At the Bischofshofen facility, he is inspecting a particular rarity: a Liebherr LSL 1500 shovel loader from the early 1960s, which the wheel loader specialists in Bischofshofen have lovingly and fully restored over recent months. This wheel loader is the only remaining example of a pilot series of only five machines, and therefore the oldest preserved Liebherr wheel loader in existence. Liebherr exhibited the shovel loader for the first time in 1962 at the industrial fair in Hanover. After that, the five prototypes started their working life and performed well over the years.
The LSL 1500 has had a very full life. After only a few years at a gravel factory in the Biberach area, the machine was relocated to the Fried-Sped corporate group in Ummendorf circa 1980. The LSL 1500 served the logistics specialist reliably for around 20 years. One of its main tasks was loading heavy steel angles, for which the wheel loader was equipped with a fork carrier and additional rear ballast.
At the beginning of the 2000s Markus Liebherr took the 40 year old prototype back to the Heinrichsburg in Eberhardzell. From 2011, Liebherr stored the now decommissioned machine at the factory in Kirchdorf an der Iller. However, this storage location was not to be the final resting place for this wheel loader veteran. In 2019, the management of Liebherr-Werk Bischofshofen GmbH decided to fully restore this last remaining LSL 1500.
from scrap metal to an exhibition piece
The path to restoration was not easy. At almost 60 years old, the wheel loader reached the Liebherr Bischofshofen factory in several individual parts. The ravages of time, particularly in the form of rust and frost damage, had taken their toll on the wheel loader. “First, we completely dismantled the machine to check whether all the parts were present. It was only then that we were able to start gradually renovating each module, one by one,” recalls Andreas Scharler, who ran the repair centre for many years.
The project was started in the spring of 2020. The wheel loader experts refurbished each individual part of the LSL 1500 down to the very last screw. For the team, the renovation meant much more than mere nostalgia: “Several apprentices worked on the renovation. For them, this was a rare opportunity to observe and understand the technology of earlier times,” explains Scharler.
In many places, technical skill and improvisational talent were required. “When you start the diesel engine, the operating voltage suddenly switches from 12 to 24 volts. We first had to analyse this process correctly in order to be able to start the wheel loader successfully. It was a splendid moment when we heard the powerful six-cylinder diesel engine running for the first time,” says Scharler, who, with his team, invested more than 650 working hours in this vintage wheel loader. Now, fully functional again, the LSL 1500 is to be an exhibition piece for customer visits at the Liebherr Bischofshofen plant.
The model: LSL 1500
The third Liebherr wheel loader
In 1962, the LSL 1500 shovel loader, weighing roughly ten tonnes, was manufactured by Liebherr in a pilot series of five units. The LSL 1500, driven by a 108 hp Deutz diesel engine, was a technical milestone and at the cutting edge: the wheel loader had a rigid frame and hydraulically supported rear wheel steering which was luxurious for the time. The load transmission was achieved by a torque converter and a four-wheel drive, which could optionally be switched off.
The new kinematics provided a dumping height of around three metres and allowed for the loading of construction site vehicles with larger side heights. For poor weather, an all-weather cover with sewn-in transparent windows and heating was available for the operator’s platform, which was still open at that time. With pride, Liebherr described its LSL 1500 in a data sheet as a “new design based on many years of experience in the construction of earth-moving machines”.
the path towards wheel loader series production
In the 1950s, Liebherr was already experimenting with wheel loaders, a type of machine still in its infancy and underdeveloped at the time. Liebherr’s first two prototypes, the “Elephant” and “Mammoth” models, still had to cope with increased tyre wear and modest traction. In the early 1960s, with the LSL 1500, Liebherr managed to achieve a robust and reliable wheel loader prototype which performed well on a daily basis.
“With the LSL 1500, you can see what foresight the designers had in those days. As with our current wheel loaders, the diesel engine is already installed towards the rear to increase the tip load as a counterweight,” explains Christian Reiter, who worked for Liebherr for 50 years, many of them as customer service manager at the Bischofshofen plant. So why did it still take until the 1980s before Liebherr started manufacturing wheel loaders in series production?
Johann Stickler, the former managing director and technical manager at the Bischofshofen plant, can answer this. He worked for 38 years on wheel loader series production which began in Bischofshofen in 1986. Johann Stickler recalls: “Hans Liebherr was always on the look-out for innovations and unique selling points for his machines. Thus, Liebherr initially continued to research a drive concept that was more suitable for wheel loaders than the conventional torque converter.”
As a result, in the 1970s, Liebherr built a wheel loader prototype with a hydrostatic drive that was extremely innovative for this machine type. “Compared to similar models with a converter drive, the hydrostatic drive turned out to be the more economical system for wheel loader applications. This realisation was the starting point for the series production of hydrostatically operated Liebherr wheel loaders in the 1980s,” Johann Stickler explains.