Ah, the smell of a new truck. Almost as good as the smell of a Sawzall blade slicing through the sheetmetal of a new truck. Introducing this year's double-whammy project truck from 4-Wheel & Off-Road. This time we're starting with a zero-mile, new-in-every-way truck, not a rusty and abused basket case. Can we stand to whack sheetmetal that's never been washed or waxed? Toss shocks in the trash that aren't even broken in? Replace engine parts that don't have a layer of oil on them? With a smile!
4-Wheel & Off-Road's Ultimate Adventure is the ultimate test of trail vehicles. Four ultra-tough trails strung together by roughly 1,000 miles of asphalt. Most participants have dedicated off-road vehicles on the trip, so the road miles are the toughest for the vehicles to handle. This year, 4-Wheel & Off-Road's official Ultimate Adventure project vehicle will take a different approach. We'll start with a work truck that is quite at home on the pavement, and make upgrades to make it more capable off road. We didn't choose weenie trails this year to accommodate our extra-large vehicle, so we'll pay careful attention to off-road performance and protection throughout this buildup. The beauty is that this project vehicle will hit home with Ford Super Duty owners, whether you're dreaming of an ultimate tow vehicle or an awesome off-road fullsize.
We picked up our Super Duty from Mullahey Ford in Arroyo Grande, California, with just the road wear that occurs driving the truck off the assembly line and into the transport, and a few trips around the dealership. We ordered the truck as a Super Cab shortbed for a number of reasons. A short wheelbase is helpful off-road, but you can't get a standard cab shortbed Super Duty. You can order a standard-cab longbed with a wheelbase of 137 inches, but for a couple of extra inches in wheelbase (141.8) you can have so much more room in the cab. We also needed the Power Stroke engine. We haven't had an opportunity to tweak on one of these in a number of years and we're dying to see what we can do with the 7.3L turbodiesel. We accidentally got the Lariat package, which netted us every power convenience you could imagine, including rich, Corinthian leather. Guess there are worse screw-ups to make. Toss on the telescoping mirrors, premium in-dash six-disc stereo, chrome steps bars, and a limited slip and we were pushing a $40,000 MSRP. But what a swingin' truck.
We lit the diesel and hit the highway to head back to the office. We're just as spoiled as the rest of the world when it comes to modern trucks, and the bouncy ride of the empty F-250 took a while to get used to. We were also reminded of how big this truck was any time we tried to make a U-turn or pull into a tight parking spot.
But that's not what a Super Duty is all about. It's about having the ultimate tow vehicle and utility truck, and it does those things just fine. The 444ci diesel pumps out 250 hp at 2,600 rpm (275 hp with the six-speed) and 505 lb-ft of torque at 1,600 (520 with the six-speed). Even though there are inches of gas-pedal travel (we're not exaggerating) before the motor comes to life, once you've planted your foot, a stock Power Stroke is capable of getting the 6,000-pound (empty) truck moving pretty well. We made it downright scary, but you'll read about that in a little while.
We've had the truck about a month and have a definite list of likes and not likes. We dig Ford's straightforward definition of truck: It's heavy-duty, relatively simple, and crude in all the right places. It has a great foundation: solid axles front and rear, leaf spring suspension, and an awesome engine. We were surprised how much we liked the adjustable pedals, which allowed us to get more comfortable in this truck than in any other Super Duty we've driven.
What didn't we like? The turning radius, the billet-blah hard-plastic dashboard, and seat heaters with switches and lights where you can't see them. To make matters worse, they automatically turn off after about 10 minutes. What's with that? We plan on fixing the other shortcomings (lack of height, departure angle, limited traction) in the coming months.
We drove the truck from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City to hit a couple of Ultimate Adventure product sponsors. This trip and some local miles were just starting to knock the knobbies off the tires when we pulled into the Les Schwab in Centerville, Utah. If you live in the Northwest, you know Les Schwab as the place to get tires, but it also carries the full line of Tuff Country suspension products. We were met in the parking lot with the typical Les Schwab greeting (young man running up to the window welcoming us and asking how he can help today), which frankly just scares a good-old boy from Los Angeles. Jeff Beba from Les Schwab and Shane Jones from Tuff Country knocked out the installation of a complete 6-inch Tuff Country lift in about five hours. That included a precision alignment and a testdrive after all the work was done. The Tuff Country lift for these trucks is simple and bulletproof. It comes with all the brackets and parts you'll need, and there are several options to ensure your truck will best meet your needs with the kit installed. We left the stock tires in place for now, but we'll be fitting this thing with beastly Michelin tires eventually.
Far from having the engine broken in, we pulled into Advanced Turbo Systems (ATS) to break the seal on the 7.3L. The crew at ATS knows how to squeak maximum power out of diesel burners of all types. They have a lot of experience with the Power Stroke and have a simple multistep program for improving the output of these engines. The first step is replacing the factory exhaust with a true 4-inch mandrel-bent stainless system and a high-performance muffler. Step two is a multistage computer module that gives you a stock setting, towing mode, and high-performance stage. The icing on the cake is a propane-injection system that works with the diesel fuel to improve power and fuel economy. What more could a tow-freak ask for? Even if you're not towing, these parts combine to make this Super Duty a 6,000-pound cruise missile. They also tossed on a trio of Auto Meter gauges for precise engine management, and an ATS compressor housing to overcome the common turbo stutter that becomes very noticeable when you start making killer power. We'll have to dyno and dragstrip this thing once the engine is fully broken in.
The final destination for this month was Avalanche Engineering where the Super Duty will be fitted with rock sliders to protect the acres of shiny sheetmetal. We'll bring you details on this stop next month, but for now it's time for us to hop a plane home.
Advanced Turbo Systems (ATS)