We wanted a new-model project truck to build in OFF-ROAD; as many of you have told us, you're buying new trucks and are interested in seeing some buildups on them. Our Super Duty is a couple of years old and has progressed well beyond "mild," as you'll see in upcoming issues. We were also thinking that, since we have a heavy-duty one-ton pickup, a Ranger mini truck, and an Explorer Sport trac already happening as projects (not to mention our two Jeeps), we should probably try to procure a mid-size or full-size half-ton to build and use as our daily driver.
This is easier said than done, though. In our opinion, the latest crop of mid-size pickups includes some of the worst-looking vehicles to hit the market. While this is a totally subjective statement to make, all of us at OFF-ROAD agree that these new trucks' styling leaves something to be desired. It's almost as if the Pontiac Aztek (the ugliest vehicle ever conceived) disease has swept the styling departments of most of the OEs, causing them to slip when designing their new trucks. The new uneven fenderwell designs are especially absurd.
Looking at full-size trucks, one OE that seems to have dodged the disease is Ford. Their trucks still look tough, not "cute" or swoopy. The new F150 that appeared in 2004 had no strange lines and was strong, straight, and modern-looking. The only small concern we had was with the bed sides, which looked a bit tall to us. Now that we've seen the truck enough, the F150's bed sides look normal.
The F150's competition is tough. All the trucks in this segment drive extremely well. The Chevy and GMC half-tons have great powertrains, but they also have updated front-end treatments we don't like. Dodge's Hemi V8's thirstiness removes it from our list, although we like the Dodge's styling. A quick aside about Dodge's styling - for 2006, Dodge "updated" its full-size truck's grille to look a lot like the strange Durango/Dakota grilles. We thought that was going to doom these trucks, but in person the new '06 full-size Dodges look fine. Toyota and Nissan both build respectable, quality trucks for this niche, but their pricing removed them from our consideration. In fact, with offers and rebates, the F150 was $7,000 cheaper than the Nissan Titan, the only other half-ton that competes with Ford's tough box-frame design. Another reason we passed on the Nissan was that our Nissan dealer wasn't dealing - and never does. The Japanese have a quality edge over their American counterparts. Is it a $7,000 edge? We'll see.
So the F150 won our styling test, has one of the strongest frames of any truck, and was a really good deal once we sat down to buy it. Buy it, we did. Let's tell you a bit about the truck and our plans for it. We purchased an '05 F150 Supercab 4x4 XLT with the 5.4-liter Triton V8 and 3.73 gears. It had a two-tone paint scheme with an Arizona Beige strip along the rockers, so the first thing we did was take it to the painter to get that fixed. Larry Dittman of Showcar Kustoms in Hurricane, Utah, made quick work of disposing of the two-tone rocker panels, and our truck is now red and ready.
The 5.4 V8 produces respectable numbers, although to us it has about the same seat-of-the-pants feel as the GM 5.3 or the Dodge Hemi. Perusing the forums about this engine produces as many opinions as there are owners. Evidently some 5.4s are real dogs, while others are screamers. Our truck is able to chirp the tires from a stop sign, which is OK for a stocker. We plan on installing a supercharger that should really wake up the powerplant! Stock, we've been getting about 14-18 mpg, much better than the Dodge Hemi and about the same as GM's 5.3 and Toyota's and Nissan's V8s.
The F150 comes from the factory with coilovers up front and an independent front end. There are no torsion bars here! There's a Ford 8.8 reverse pumpkin up front, too. The rearend is a Ford 9.75-inch with 34-spline axles. This is a beefy half-ton rearend. With the popularity of the F150, we were surprised at the lack of differentials for the 9.75. Ford, Auburn, and Eaton offer positraction units, while Detroit Locker now offers both a Truetrac posi and a Detroit Locker. ARB is working on an Air Locker that will be available some time in 2006. We plan on changing gearing and installing some kind of traction-adding differentials in our truck.
Suspension-wise, we plan on installing King's new F150 coilovers and shocks (see the January '06 issue of OFF-ROAD). This suspension upgrade works so well that we just have to do it to our project. The King system lifts the front about 2 inches and doesn't lift the rear at all, leveling the truck. This should be enough for us to run the 34-35-inch tires we plan. Our project F150 is not going to be a hard-core rock crawler. We plan to use it for everything except hard-core trail use. We'll be using it to explore the backcountry, search out destinations for adventure features, use it to go camping with, tow other projects around, and, mainly, drive on the street for transportation. We need the F150 to work great on-highway as well as off.
We plan on a cab-high truck cap and a bedliner in the back to make the truck useful during camping and exploring trips. We might upgrade the interior with some kind of navigation system and high-end entertainment system, but that's pretty far down our list. Sirius satellite radio is at the top of that list, though. Satellite radio is great in the backcountry and, whether you prefer XM or Sirius, is almost a must-have once you experience it. We like Sirius.
So, to recap: Our '05 F150 is going to get gears, differentials, new coilovers and shocks, 34-35-inch tires with new wheels, Bedrug, cab-high cap (camper shell), Sirius satellite radio, and, maybe, some interior upgrades. These should turn our project into a useful and competent backcountry explorer that can tow and take us to our destinations, no matter where we need to go - on-pavement or off.