Hans Liebherr is most famously associated with the early development of self-erecting mobile tower cranes, with his first machine, the TK10, in 1949 but it wasn’t long before he was making excavators and loaders, and by as early as 1955 he had diversified into domestic refrigerators.
The very first Liebherr wheeled loader was the Elephant Type 90 (pictured above), designed and built as a prototype in Kirchdorf, Germany in 1954. It had a bucket volume of 1.25 m³, a 66 kW (90 HP) engine output and an operating weight of 12,000 kg. To steer, both pairs of wheels were braked in opposing directions, like on a skid-steer loader. However, the Elephant never went into series production and acted only as a test unit for further development. The Liebherr engineers developed a second, larger variant alongside the test vehicle, the Mammoth 90.
In the 1962 Liebherr showed the LSL 1500 bucket loader (below) at the Hanover trade fair. It had a 2.0 m³ bucket, 10,300 kg operating weight and 79 kW / 108 HP output with torque converter. However, the operator's cab was an optional extra. Even side panels and heating were special features and as such were only available as extras.
In 1974 Liebherr's French plant in Colmar produced the world’s first wheeled loader with hydrostatic drive. Two L 531 test machines were built. At 11,000 kg, the L 531 was somewhat heavier and had a greater performance than the LSL 1500 at 87 kW/118 HP; the bucket volume was the same at 2.0 m³.
Up until that point, all wheeled loaders had been equipped with torque converters. So they built one machine with a torque converter and one with hydrostatic travel drive. Both were put through the same endurance tests and after all kinds of tests and comparison, the hydrostatically-driven wheeled loader was preferred.
The first small series wheeled loaders with hydrostatic drive, types L 531 and L 541 were put into production at Kirchdorf in 1983. In addition to the fuel savings the drive system provided, these units also offered various other innovations: this included the single Liebherr control lever for the bucket attachment, multi-disc brakes and automatic limited-slip differential. The L 531 and its big brother, the L 541, were the first hydrostatically-driven Liebherr wheeled loaders to be put into series production.
By the end of the 1980s, the complete wheeled loader range was being manufactured at Bischofshofen, near Salzburg in Austria. In 1989, the range already included seven different models. From the smallest, the L 506 at 4.5 tonnes operating weight and 0.7 m³ bucket volume, through the L 508, L 510, L 521, L 531 and L 541, to the L 551, a 3.5 m³ wheeled loader with an operating weight of 20 tonnes. The smaller units had a hydrostatic drive while the larger units were also fitted with two- and three-stage power shift transmission.
Since then, Bischofshofen has been HQ for Liebherr wheeled loaders.
At the 1992 Bauma fair, Liebherr presented a new model of wheeled loader, the L 522, which was the first machine of its kind with plastic panelling. It raised a few eyebrows at the time, the company recalls, but competitors all soon followed suit.
The drive concept also made the L 522 a pioneer. In 1992, the L 522 was fitted with two oil engines as a technical extension of the hydrostatic drive concept in order to be able to drive the heavier units more quickly. This allowed the speed range to be increased without the need for a gearbox. The result: the L 522 was the first wheeled loader that accelerated without interrupting the tractive force.
In the early 1990s, demand grew for more compact wheeled loaders for congested urban sites. The challenge for manufacturers was improving manoeuvrability. Liebherr’s solution was the stereoloader concept, introduced for its smaller units in 1994. These featured a centre pivot and a steered rear axle ear, with the combination of oscillating centre pivot and pendulum axles. This unique steering system gave the stereoloader with a 20 per cent smaller turning radius compared to the competition. Liebherr now has three stereoloader models in the range, the L 507, L 509 and the L 514 Stereo.
At Bauma 1998 Liebherr-Werk Bischofshofen introduced the fuel efficient L 580 (below), with the claim that it needed eight litres less fuel per operating hour than competitor machines. The design was also revised, with the cab on the rear vehicle for the first time.
With fuel efficiency and emissions the focus of product development in the 21st century, Bauma 2007 saw the launched of the L 586 – Stage IIIA compliant and the world's largest wheeled loader with hydrostatic drive. The standard version of the first L 586 weighed almost 32 tonnes. Key to this machine was the hydrostatic driveline combined with the special lengthways installation position of the diesel engine in the rear. This kept the operating weight down and the tipping load up.
And now the 50,000th Liebherr wheeled loader has rolled off the production line at Liebherr-Werk Bischofshofen. A Liebherr L 566 XPower, it was delivered to the Geiger Group, a long-standing customer that is using it in a quarry in Wertach im Allgäu, Southern Germany.