Ford lets us in on its big "dirty" secret
It was February of last year when we broke the story on www.fourwheeler.com about the existence of a top-secret pickup truck that was being developed by Ford. The vehicle was so well hidden that our spy photographer looked back in her archives and realized she had shot the original mule several months earlier without knowing what it was. Camouflaged as a typical reader's F-150 with stickers, Glassworks fenders, and a JD Fab suspension kit, only a Michigan manufacturer's plate hidden in the back window gave the truck away. Even with photographic evidence, Ford reps likened our find to an urban legend.
Soon our story reached across the Internet to other automotive sites, prototypes were spotted and shot on a regular basis, anonymous tipsters dropped us nuggets of information, and readers informed us of local sightings. At the time, we put an educated guess together based on tips and conjecture, and surmised the truck would be available with a wide-track long-travel suspension, reservoir shocks, 35-inch tires, a selectable locker, and unique bodywork. It would be powered by Ford's upcoming 6.2L V-8, possibly a turbocharged version of the engine. Little did we know how accurate our educated guesses were at the time, the only indication being immediate responses by Ford's less-than-thrilled PR team.
The other piece of the story that SVT wanted to keep under wraps was that this F-150-based pickup, for all intents and purposes, would be replacing the beloved Lightning in its lineup. After reviewing the booming off-road market, SVT made the decision to go wheeling, a choice that would put a larger emphasis on chassis performance. This new truck would bring back to fulfillment SVT's "one car, one truck" brand strategy and would be unlike anything ever put into production.
Raptor, once a program codename, became the name of the production vehicle after the moniker was given legs in various reports that started with our coverage, as nothing else sounded as right for the truck.
As the story unfolded with positive responses from the enthusiast base, Ford decided that they would invite Four Wheeler to be the first print publication to see the Raptor in person--giving us exclusive access to the product and people behind the program a month before its official debut at the 2008 SEMA Show, held in Las Vegas last November.
After two years of research and almost a year of speculation, the moment of truth came when we were lead into a seemingly empty design studio in Dearborn, Michigan, and presented with a brief movie showing clips of the camo'd Raptor mules romping over desert terrain. As the movie ended and the screen was raised, behind it sat SVT's much anticipated return to the pickup. What you see in these pages is what will come to market in fall of 2009 as the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor.
It was decided early on that styling would set it apart from the common F-150. It wasn't to look pretty; it was supposed to look rough and purposeful. With the formula in place, the designers worked hard to wrap the body around the wide chassis (73.6-inch track, versus 67.2 inches for the base F-150). Ford designers settled on the SuperCab 5-foot box to get the proportions just right, and what they came up with is a body that is muscular in the flanks with some Coke-bottle flair when viewed straight on from a high vantage point. The beveled edges around the headlights and taillights make the extra width look integrated and give the organic shapes some mechanical character. And unlike aftermarket fiberglass body panels, fit on the Raptor is with OEM precision, and even the hood vents are functional.
A closer look at the grille reveals a take on Ford's family three-bar design, with "F O R D" carved into it as if it were formed from a piece of solid billet. Also integrated in the grille are three amber LED lights that are required to meet Federal regulations because the Raptor's body is over 80 inches in width. Width was also a concern in terms of production (the Raptor is within millimeters of being too wide for the size parameters of the plant) and transportation (it is slightly narrower than a dualie, so it does fit on the standard trucks and trains).
Wheels, developed with strength in mind, are 17x8.5 inches in size, made from aluminum and cast in a great-looking SVT design. The lip has a machined finish, which provides a nice visual border between the LT315/70R17 (35-inch) Raptor-spec BFGoodrich All-Terrains and the gunmetal-colored centers.
The overall look of the Raptor is wide and low. The argent-colored grille, bumpers, and flares contrast nicely with all of the four colors (Oxford White, Tuxedo Black, Blue Flame, and Molten Orange) that will be available when the Raptor launches. The Raptor will also be available with an optional tear graphic for the rear of the truck that the design team likes to refer to as "digital mud," a little tabasco on top of that Habaero, if you will.
SVT decided that its performance focus on the Raptor would be on suspension, truly setting the Raptor apart from anything else ever built for the truck market. At the heart of the Raptor is its basic chassis layout that brings the track width out by 3.2 inches on each side and a wheelbase lengthened by 15 mm. In the front, it is done with massive aluminum lower control arms and new upper control arms with beefy ball joints and strengthened tie rods. The front CV axles are bigger and stronger and have the ability to run at more severe angles. The rear 34-spline 9.75-inch rear axle (a 31-spline 8.8-inch is used in the front) has been widened and uses thicker tubes for increased durability, as well as stronger steel for the shock mounts.
As a testimonial to how strong the basic F-150 frame is, the SVT engineers found that they had an exceptional foundation to start with. The frame is only modified in the way the shocks attach and in the ability to fit a matching, full-size 35-inch spare under the bed.
The real story of the Raptor, however, is in the shocks, co-developed with Fox Racing. These specially constructed dampers were made specifically for the Raptor program and are unlike any other Fox product available. In fact, Ford has exclusive use of the Fox patent for the technology in these exclusive internal triple-bypass shocks used here.
Let that soak in a minute for you hard-core enthusiasts: An OEM internal triple-bypass shock. For those of you not familiar, a bypass shock--in very simple terms--breaks the shock piston travel into zones that allow a specific amount of oil to bypass the piston so that only a fraction of the total valving, dictated by the piston and shims, is used at a particular point in the travel. Generally speaking, this means that the shock can be set up to be very progressive, only allowing the full valving of the piston to come into play at the end of the shock travel. Bypass shocks are not only velocity-sensitive, but also position-sensitive and can be very finely tuned.
While traditional bypass shocks have external bypass tubes, an internal bypass shock uses a sleeve on the inside of the body with a series of holes drilled into it. The beauty of an internal bypass for this type of application is that external tubes are not required, making for a more durable shock body that will last in the harsh, long-term environment of a production vehicle.The SVT/Fox shocks also differ from your typical aftermarket shocks in key areas. One of the first things you notice is that there are no Heim joints on these shocks because they won't pass durability testing, so specially formulated rubber bushings, developed with compliance in mind, are used here. The rear shocks also feature piggyback reservoirs and since the ride height is set from the factory, the front shock bodies are not threaded. The coil spring used is from Ford's standard spring supplier, built to Raptor specifications. The rear leaf spring is a single-stage design.
Other features of the SVT/Fox shocks are a 2.5-inch body, piggyback reservoirs on the rear, and a 7/8-inch shaft diameter. The shocks use 47mm pistons (compare that to 35mm front and 32mm rear piston size of the standard F-150) with 7.1 inches of front shaft travel, while the rears have 10.9 inches of shaft travel. This equates to an impressive 11.1 inches of front wheel travel (compared to 8.5 inches on the standard F-150) and 13.1 inches of rear wheel travel (same as the F-150) for the Raptor. While those numbers may not sound as good as some aftermarket long-travel kits, remember we are talking about bypass shocks here, which give beautifully controlled, clean travel. The Raptor is also very streetable and passes all of Ford's internal requirements for on-road handling.
It should also be noted that these shocks are not take-aparts, so they are not designed to be rebuilt or recharged. However, SVT engineers took this into consideration, filling the shocks with the highest-grade seals and shock oil available. These shocks, as well as all of the Raptor components, have passed Ford's standard 10-year/150,000-mile life-cycle durability requirements.
Overall, these suspension changes, in addition to the tires, bring the Raptor up 2 inches over the standard F-150's overall height, enough to require a new crash-testing program. Payload, while not finalized at press time, was estimated to be about 1,000 pounds, while the Raptor will still be offered with a 6,000-pound tow rating. Even Trailer Sway Control and the integrated trailer brake system will be options. If there was one thing missing off our wish list in the suspension department, it would have to be hydraulic bumpstops, as the Raptor uses microcellular jounces.