Classic Machines

The Liebherr R984

This month’s subject, the Liebherr R984 first saw the light of day in the early 1980s and designed for heavy duty construction, quarrying and mining duties. By Richard Campbell.

Liebherr was founded in 1949 by Hans Liebherr and has grown to the point that it has now become a worldwide group of companies. From humble beginnings after WW2, Liebherr (pronounced leeb-her) has now become an earthmoving, mining, and construction giant with its larger size excavators dominating the mining industry, and, with offices and manufacturing facilities located all over the world.

Liebherr’s first hydraulic excavator, designed to help reconstruct a war-ravaged Germany, was the model A300, introduced in 1955.

It was a small, mobile, three-wheeled machine, simple, but well-constructed, and squarely aimed at the general construction market.

Since that time, Liebherr machines have just got bigger and bigger!

This month’s subject, the Liebherr R984, was developed from an earlier Liebherr hydraulic excavator, the model R981, a 90-ton machine that first saw the light of day in the early 1980s and designed for heavy duty construction, quarrying and mining duties.

In a clever move, Liebherr marketed the R981 as both a backhoe excavator and a hydraulic front shovel, which meant it appealed to a wider cross section of the earthmoving and mining community.

Boom front ends could be changed in service to convert the machine from one configuration to another.

The R981’s successor – the R984

Replacing the R981, the first iteration of the R984 appeared in 1986 and was a 100-ton machine powered by a 586 horsepower Cummins diesel engine, using either a 10.5 cubic yard backhoe bucket or an 11.8 cubic yard front shovel, depending on how the customer wanted the machine configured.

The new R984 was immediately successful and found buyers all over the world, further cementing Liebherr’s place as a major player in the excavator marketplace.

As time progressed, and through various customer requests, strengthening and other improvements were incorporated into the machine culminating in a new model, the R984B, which was officially launched in 1996.

Changes included: a new Cummins KTTA-700 diesel engine rated at 680 flywheel horsepower; improvements to the operator’s cabin; new hydraulic pumps with a higher flow; a substantial increase in machine operating weight, up to 112 tons as a backhoe, and 114 tons in shovel configuration; and an increase in bucket size to 12.5 cubic yards (backhoe) and 13.75 cubic yards for shovel versions.

It is also worth noting, at this point, that Liebherr were responsible for manufacturing practically the entire machine apart from the engine, and included a very sophisticated, computer-controlled hydraulic circuitry that Liebherr called its Litronic system, still used to this day in various forms on all Liebherr hydraulic excavators.

The R984B, like the first version of the R984 (which we will call R984‘A’), was very well received and sold in good numbers, especially the United States, Australia and Africa.

Final production version – the R984C

Further improvements and embellishments were made to the R984 resulting in the final production version of the machine, the R984C, which was introduced in 2002.

As it turned out, the R984C was also the most numerous of all the R984 variants.

Improvements over the former R984B included yet another engine change, this time to a Cummins QSK-19C-750 with an output of 685 flywheel horsepower, and further improvements to the hydraulic system.

Operating weight also rose slightly, up to 116 tons for the backhoe and 118 tons for the front shovel.

Interestingly, although the capacity of the front shovel was not increased, the backhoe bucket size went up to 13 cubic yards.

In continuous production from 1986 up until May 2016, when the last R984 came off the production line, over 1100 Liebherr R984s were manufactured, many of which are still in daily operation, some having over 60,000 operating hours on them!

It is highly likely that this type will be around for quite some time to come.


The R984 was designed to load off-highway trucks of up to 85-ton capacity and was of conventional hydraulic excavator layout and all-welded high strength steel construction.

It featured a heavy duty 13’8” gauge track frame with nine bottom rollers and two carrier rollers per side.

Severe duty 24” (600mm) double grouser track shoes were fitted as standard but other sizes could be supplied at customer request.

Liebherr literature of the period claimed that 40 percent of the weight of the machine was in the undercarriage!

The operator was provided with a very spacious and comfortable cab with varying levels of external protection depending on how the machine was configured.

The R984 in its various early versions, was manufactured at Liebherr’s Colmar, France facility with later versions of the machine also being built at Liebherr’s plant in Newport News, Virginia, USA.

The R984 was replaced in Liebherr’s product catalogue by the all-new models R9100 and R9150 in 2017.

The R984 in New Zealand

Several examples of the Liebherr R984 have been imported here, most notably the R984Bs of Henry Walker Eltin, which worked in the Huntly coalfields in the Waikato for a considerable period of time and turned in some impressive production and machine reliability records.

For the model collector

For collectors, it is nice to report for a change that most versions of the Liebherr R984 (and R981) have been produced in 1:50 scale model form by German diecast manufacturer Conrad (which has a license agreement with Liebherr to build models of its equipment).

All three versions of the R984 – (R984‘A’, R984B and R984C) can be purchased as backhoes or front shovels, and while they may not be paragons of a lot of fine detail, they are accurate and make great additions to any earthmoving or mining model collection.

The older R984‘A’ and R984B are generally available on Ebay and similar diecast platforms, while the R984C can be purchased through Buffalo Road Imports in the USA.


Related posts

The Le Tourneau-Westinghouse C-500 motor scraper

Contrafed PUblishing

The International-Harvester TD-18 tractor

Contrafed PUblishing

Hancock’s elevating scraper pioneer

Contrafed PUblishing