Click for Larger Image
Story by Jack Baruth – Disturbingly poor photography by Jack Baruth
And… we’re back! The reaction to the first Towin’ Speed:Sport:Life article has been good, so it appears that we weren’t totally crazy to think that a lot of our readers are dragging various clapped-out race cars to tracks and events across the country. With that in mind, then, we’re trying again, this time with an epic 1,400-mile journey to the SCCA Solo National Tour event in Atlanta, Georgia. Last time we had a positively luxurious Lariat Crew Cab, but this time we’ve got a truly hardcore tow rig – a regular-cab, diesel-powered, six-speed manual F-250 4×2 in XLT trim.
Once upon a time, regular-cab trucks were pretty cramped affairs, causing taller drivers to assume all sorts of odd positions on the completely flat vinyl bench seats common to most trim levels. At 6’2″, your humble tester found his 1995 F-150 Regular Cab to be a real bow-legger of a truck – and the competition was even worse in that regard. It’s hard to look cool in your new rig while simultaneously rubbing your earlobes with your knees, and as a result, over the last ten years the market share for extended-cab and crew-cab body styles has risen to the point that most Ford dealers don’t bother to stock any regular-cab Super Duty trucks on their lots. Note, also, that unlike the F-150 Regular Cab, which now has a reasonably-sized cargo area complete with mini-window behind the door, the Super Duty is still an old-school short-cab.
The rarity of regular-cab Super Duty trucks means that we instantly achieved hardcore trucker status the moment we stepped up into our test rig, but this particular truck had a few more features to endear itself to non-sissies everywhere. To begin with, we had the monstrous PowerStroke diesel, complete with six hundred and fifty pound-feet of torque. That’s like having a Lamborgini Murcielago and a Mazda RX-8, torque-wise. With that much twist, accompanied by the angry compression-ignition rattle and audible turbo spool on each shift, we were tempted to start demanding access to the “professional driver” showers at our local Pilot station – but just to make sure we felt totally hardcore, Ford thoughtfully provided the truck with a six-speed manual transmission. Make no mistake – were Ernest Hemingway still alive today, he would insist on having the shift-it-yourself model. He would note with immense satisfaction that the eighteen-inch-long shift lever and super-vague gating makes every shift a voyage of discovery, while nodding approvingly at the amount of double-clutching required to uncork the PowerStroke’s savage pull up a long hill or smoke a Civic Si at the stoplight outside a movie theater. He’d also probably be completely cool with the regular cab, noting that the slightly pinched interior would still be more luxurious than the ambulance he drove in The Great War. The only question would be: in an era of male manicures, would we be able to cope with Hemingway’s truck?
#1. What’s it cost, and why? Our tester was $37,150 from a base price of $26,580. Major cost options included the PowerStroke diesel ($6,895), big polished 18″ wheels ($855), the TowCommand integrated brake controller ($230), and the Tailgate Step pull-up handle ($375).
#2. What did we pull, and how well did it do? We started by pulling a 2004 Mazda RX-8 from Winchester, Kentucky, to the SCCA National Tour event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where car owner Mark Baruth finished in the trophies. We then sent Mark and his crummy little trophy (note: our attitude towards SCCA Solo trophies has nothing to do with the fact that we did not win one ourselves) home by himself so we could pick up our Porsche 993, which was being stored in Hilton Head, SC, and return it to Ohio. Total trip was nearly fifteen hundred miles. We used our Quality Trailers 18″ steel-deck trailer for a total towed weight of around 5100 pounds, plus another 300 pounds or so of wheels, tires, and equipment in the bed. Our route took us up and down several long, steep hills, including a few eight-percent grades. In terms of on-the-road stability, we didn’t expect this Regular Cab 4×2 to match up to the Crew Cab 4×4 we tested last week, but if anything it was more composed on the big hills than its bigger brother. The outstanding “Tow Command” trailer brake system offers independent braking control, but we never used it. Not only did the trailer rarely waggle, a quick brush of the brake pedal was always enough to settle it. Tow Command understands that trailer-brake gain should be managed differently under different conditions, and it’s pretty much always right.
#3. Does it have enough motor? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. The PowerStroke is a very expensive option, and selecting it dooms you to a lifetime of searching for diesel fuel in suburbs and standing in long-smelly lines at the truck stops, but when it comes to pulling a load, there’s no substitute. Consider this: In top gear, pulling a combined load of nearly three tons, running at 80 miles per hour, the PowerStroke will accelerate up a steep grade. Around town, freed of its trailer, the F-250 is a point-and-shoot sporting truck, able to rip through traffic thanks to its communicative steering, short(ish) wheelbase, and instant-power engine. Take a little bit of time to master double-clutching, and the six-speed manual can even be shifted with reasonable speed. What can’t the PowerStroke do? We were unable to find out. It really does amount to a complete answer for the full-time race hauler, even if some of us continue to think that the Triton V-10 represents the best compromise for a daily-use truck which hauls on the weekends. And if the $6,895 price worries you, consider that it wouldn’t even buy you quilted leather trim in a Bentley Arnage T, which happens to be pretty much the only car or light truck you can buy with even more torque than the PowerStroke.
Two tough Fords: a Shelby GT rips through the autocross course while the mighty F-250 relaxes between tows.
Click for Larger Image
#4. It is “enough truck” for a club racer? Well, that depends. The Regular Cab is much bigger than it used to be – we didn’t feel cramped during six-hundred-mile stretches – but it’s still woefully short on storage space for driving suits, helmets, timing equipment, and all those other things that really need to keep dry during a race weekend. For this trip, we used the same bed extender which proved to be so useful in our short-bed Lariat last time, and turned it around to create an easily accessible storage area as shown in the photo above. We then had a place to put our baggage – but when we stopped at a restaurant or hotel, all of that stuff had to go in the cab. Despite the Regular Cab’s many useful benefits – lower cost, easier maneuverability, tough look – we’d recommend a SuperCab for a two-man team, and a Crew Cab for everybody else. The Regular Cab is simply too short on space. On the other hand, a committed one-man autocross or race team would do just fine.
#5. What was the fuel economy? There are two answers to this question. On the way to Atlanta, we flew up the hills, floored it in the city, and generally behaved like hoons – and we got 14.4 mpg overall. On the way back, we ran a steady 68 miles per hour, shifted early, and behaved in a socially responsible manner, being rewarded with 16.0 mpg, despite the long grades and heavy load. This is 50% better than our Triton V-10 tester. How much was due to the 4×2 drivetrain, how much was due to the six-speed manual, and how much was due to the lighter body style? Conversely, what did it cost us to pull 3100-pound street cars instead of a 2200-pound racer? It’s hard to say. Let’s do some quick numbers. During Memorial Day weekend, diesel averaged $4.70 during our pull, while regular gasoline was $3.85. It cost us $.29/mile to run the diesel, compared to $.37/mile for the Triton. The difference in the option prices is $6,200, so you will need to run 77,500 miles to get your money back. Of course, the PowerStroke will have considerably more residual value – used diesel 3/4-ton trucks are worth a lot of money when you sell them – so that has to be taken into account as well.
#6. How’s passenger comfort? As noted above, the Regular Cab is actually pretty decent for a two-driver crew. There’s room to relax and stretch a bit. We also prefer the construction and springiness of the XLT cloth seats to the Lariat leather seats in our previous test truck. It’s a relaxing ride, and suspension comfort is better than in the 4×4 models. Make no mistake, though: no Super Duty truck rides as well as a half-ton. On a particularly bad section of Kentucky freeway, the waves and potholes combined to create a situation strongly reminiscent of bad turbulence in a Regional Jet, with harsh thumps combined with occasionally frightening fore-and-aft pitch. What can we say? If you want to pull the big loads, you have to take the big bumps.
#7. What options do I need? As with our last test, we’d definitely recommend either the Triton V-10 or the Powerstroke diesel; the 5.4 V-8 just isn’t enough motor. Tow Command is a must, and we’d definitely pay the relatively small price for the tailgate extender and the “step up” handle on the tailgate. The XLT trim level is the preferred choice for a working race truck, we think. The six-speed manual works very well for those of us who can operate it competently – and that isn’t everybody. With our money, we’d at least buy the SuperCab and probably the Crew Cab. We’d also seriously consider the 4×4 option. There are times when 4×4 is really, really useful. Don’t dismiss it out of hand. Last but not least, the polished aluminum 18″ wheels are bad-ass. Don’t skip ’em.
#8. What options should I avoid? The reversing sensors aren’t worth the money unless this is also your daily driver. It would also be a good idea to buy Ford’s excellent tow mirror package instead of the standard power mirrors.
#9. Where does this stand compared to the competition? Once again, we are staggered by just how good the Super Duty is. Ford has created a big truck which satisfies virtually every need its customers could have. It’s comfortable, it’s competent, and it looks seriously cool. The heavy-duty Chevrolet and GMC trucks are nice enough, but the Ford is genuinely aspirational, and it gets looks like no other pickup on the market.
#10. What’s the overall picture?This variant of the Super Duty will find a very limited audience. From a modern perspective, the Regular Cab simply won’t meet most peoples’ needs, and many people will prefer the aggressive look of a lifted 4×4 to the modest workaday appeal of the two-wheeler. Still, we wonder what Hemingway would say. He’d say that the combination of the big PowerStroke heart, the impossibly tough six-speeder, and the no-frills Regular Cab makes it the one to have, the “man’s truck” in an era which finds that kind of appellation more than a bit troubling. It’s a great truck to share with your trusty Labrador and a good twenty-five-dollar cigar, a truck which will still be towing a load for somebody twenty years from now, a truck which could be polished up to be the center of attention at a show-and-shine before pulling somebody else’s broken-down classic back home. It has solid, lasting appeal. It’s worth the money, and if we here at Speed:Sport:Life might recommend that you pick a 4×4 Crew Cab, there’s still the question: Who are you gonna listen to: us, or Hemingway?
A ’71 Bavaria relaxes next to our ’95 Porsche, while the “old” F-250 looks enviously at our rig’s grille.
Click for Larger Image