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April 1982: Battle of The Inline-Sixes - Trail's End

Posted in Features on March 27, 2015
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We were thumbing through the Apr. ’82 issue of Four Wheeler when we spotted this great road test story about a Ford F-150 Styleside versus Dodge W-150 Utiline. The two trucks were really cool, but what made the test even more fascinating is that each truck was powered by a six-cylinder engine that was bolted to a four-speed manual transmission. The Ford had a 300ci I-6 engine and the Dodge had a 225ci “Slant Six” I-6 engine. The Ford ’plant made 122 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque and the Dodge mill made 95 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. Yeah, by today’s standards, the power ratings are amusing.

The test took place in the Midwest at the farm of a man named Fritz Sundermann. This immigrant farmer had 60 years of age on the author of the story, which meant he was probably at least 80 years old. He drove an “old” Ford pickup, which probably meant it was at least a ’60s model, maybe older. Fritz wanted a pickup that was a draft horse without brains. He wanted a truck that was big enough to do a full day’s work and simple enough to ignore at night. Apparently he was the perfect guy for the test.

Off-road, the somewhat clumsy, constipated Dodge six/granny-low bloomed into one of the most agile four-wheelers this side of a CJ-5.

We wrote that even in the early ’80s the two trucks we were testing were unusual in the truck market, but we were glad to see ’em. “Our tolerance has grown thin from an endless parade of tiny, expensive, impractical pickups, and we’ve begun to lose hope in finding trucks with enough headroom to wear our hats and shoulder room for the hired man,” we noted. We called the Ford and Dodge “corn-fed, bona-fide anachronisms that give you a good feeling in your gut.” The author wrote, “They’re big and simple, cheap and economical, and their very existence warms my soul with the thought that there must still be a few Fritz Sundermanns around or these vehicles wouldn’t be here.”

The story noted that the 300ci engine in the Ford “balked” on acceleration and that it “needed all four gears.” The Dodge’s Slant Six “was clumsy but faithful, never balked from a standing start, and strained when forced toward higher revs.” We noted that the Ford’s transmission was “smooth,” but the Dodge’s tranny “resisted every move and the clutch required size-12 boots and a trunk-size thigh.” We were impressed at the Ford for having both fuel filler doors on the same side of the vehicle (“a design that should be emulated by all manufacturers,” we noted), and we dug the “antique” fuel filler spout on the Dodge. The Ford’s independent front suspension helped provide a “smoothing ride,” while the Dodge, with the optional heavy-duty shocks, “was still a truck.”

“Off-road, the somewhat clumsy, constipated Dodge six/granny-low bloomed into one of the most agile four-wheelers this side of a CJ-5,” we wrote. And it was off-road where the Ford met its demise. “Ford’s F-150 has three major virtues off-road: short-throw pedals, the smoothest shifting gearbox on the fullsize market, and the wall-to-wall rear window for spectacular visibility. But the short-stroke six-cylinder engine is like a confused child when tossed into the backcountry, requiring so much gearbox stirring that the clutch failed completely, leaving the Ford sitting helplessly in the brush as the Dodge skittered gleefully into the sunset.”

As we read this road test, we were fascinated by the specifications and test results of each truck when compared to modern fullsize pickup trucks. Both of these trucks had an approach angle over 34 degrees, a minimum ground clearance in excess of 8 inches, and on-road, the Dodge returned a max of 17.5 mpg, while the Ford returned a max of 19.3 mpg.

This story brought back a flood of memories for us because we’ve spent time driving vehicles with both of these engine/tranny combos. We’ve even smoked a clutch in a 300ci/four-speed Ford truck. We also remember how small these engines looked in the engine bay of the trucks they were in.

Do you have memories of driving trucks with these powerplants? If so, please send an email to ken.brubaker@fourwheeler.com and tell us about it. If you have a ’82 Dodge W-150 Utiline, please send the entire truck to our headquarters.

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