Photography and additional driving/towing impressions by Nicole Gagnon.
“What was that?”
I crack a small grin. We’re heading east on I-495 (The D.C. Beltway, for the uninitiated) in Montgomery County. If we weren’t in the middle of midsummer evening downpour, the Washington Mormon Temple would be visible in my driver’s side mirror. Well, that is, if it weren’t raining and the truck were pointed in the proper direction, at least. And my passenger is inquiring as to why that’s not the case.
“I broke the back end loose a little bit there,” I say, checking my mirrors for any alarmed travelers who may have over-reacted to my brief scuffle with the laws of physics. “We’re good.”
“Okay,” he says, as I catch his hand exploring the various hand-holds on the passenger door. “Whatever.”
When the initial rumors of David E. Davis, Jr.’s passing crept up Sunday, I remarked to some colleagues that the inevitable onslaught of Car and Driver nostalgia commentary wouldn’t be far behind. But instead of a long-winded, reflective piece detailing DEDJr.’s career, we’re simply going to take the next few days to revisit some stories that we think Mr. Davis would have appreciated. Godspeed, David. Wherever you are, I’m sure there are no boring cars.
by Byron Hurd. Photos: Byron Hurd with supplemental content from Ford Motor Company.
A cloud, often more physical than metaphorical, seems to hang over S:S:L’s east coast office. Whenever we get a purpose-built machine, the weather turns ugly. Late last fall, we got a spankin’ new 370Z from Nissan and permission to track it, only to wake up to snow the next day. This summer, we had a 2011 Mustang GT Convertible and plans to attend a movie at one of the few remaining drive-in theaters in the Mid-Atlantic area. What better way to do it, right? Naturally, that weekend brought record heat and wicked thunderstorms.
So when we scheduled our camping and horseback riding weekend with the F350, we had every eventuality covered. We had alternate arrangements if we ended up getting swamped out of the campsite. We even lined up dry shelter for the horses in case we really got slammed. Preparation was the name of the game.
But Mother Nature managed to sneak one in the back door.
Hey, club racers! Are you interested in envy? Would you like to be envied by others? Sure you would; you’re only human, after all, and there’s nothing more human than a bit of showing-off. Here’s the problem, though: the world of amateur racing is full of money. Like, chock-full of it. Like, some guy brought a friggin’ Daytona Prototype to Mid-Ohio for a NASA race last month, and he Didn’t. Even. Win. Fast cars, shiny parts, and perfectly polished trophy wives are part and parcel of the club racing scene. Think your Gallardo will wow the crowd? Forget it; there was a Superleggera here two weeks ago. Maybe a Ferrari Scuderia? That’s the second one we’re seen here today.
No, if you want real envy – the kind of envy that causes people to talk about you when you leave the lunch table – you need a serious race rig. We’re in the middle of a tow-vehicle arms race out here. It used to be you could get some attention with an F-250 Crew Cab or a Cayenne S. Not any more. Shiny new one-ton trucks used to pull the eyeballs in your direction, but today they’re thick on the ground. To win this battle – to assert your supremacy over the guy in the next paddock space before you do so much as clip an apex – it’s gonna take a new level of heavy-duty.
Towards that end, Ford has performed some cut-and-paste in their Super Duty Lego Set and created the F-450 Crew Cab 4×4 Dual Rear Wheel King Ranch. To understand the truck, we have to take all those designations in order. First, F-450. That means a commercial-class front axle that is six inches wider than what you’d find in a standard Super Duty, a shorter turning radius courtesy of big steering angle, and a unique suspension design to make twelve-ton towing loads easily controllable. Next, we have Crew Cab. There have been F-450 Crew Cabs in the past, but now we have one with a regular eight-foot pickup bed attached, courtesy of wider rear frame rails. 4×4: electronic shift-on-the-fly to drag those big trailers out of slick situations. Dual Rear Wheel: it’s a necessity for serious fifth-wheel hauling, plus it just plain looks cool. King Ranch: Ford has now made its highest trim level, complete with free-range-look leather and country-club-friendly two-tone paint, available on the F-450. The result is a truck that pushes all the buttons, combining a previously-unavailable 24,000-pound tow rating with an Expedition-style level of interior ambiance.
Among club racers, this big hauler, dipped in Dark Copper Clearcoat Metallic, drew more attention than a stack of free Hoosier DOT-R tires. It was the talk of the paddock wherever it went, even rating an admiring mention from the event director in the driver’s meeting on the first Saturday we took it to the track. We’d come back from yet another frustrating qualifying session to find drivers aimlessly circling the F-450, poking their heads into a window or crawling underneath the front suspension to marvel at the sheer size of the components. There were few questions, because this was an educated crowd and they knew exactly what they were looking at, but there was plenty of admiration and, yes, envy.
Was it justified? Is it worth paying more than sixty-one-thousand dollars for a tow vehicle? To find out, we made a cross-country two-weekend journey between track weekends, using the infamously demanding Interstate 68 as our primary thoroughfare. I-68, the so-called “Home Of The Seven Percent Grade”, demands the absolute most from a tow rig. And since we were in a hurry, we wouldn’t be sparing the horses, either. Sure, the F-450 looks like the perfect race rig. Did it deliver? Hell, yes.
Story by Jack Baruth, Photograph by “Neon” Dave Everest
As the sun hit high noon, me and my gang here – er, my race crew and I – rolled into the little town of Johnstown, Ohio to stir up a little trouble. Well, we had some seam-welding to do on our new Plymouth Neon race car, but make no mistake, if trouble showed up, we’d be ready for it. This here town was gonna learn right quick not to mess with us, and they were gonna learn right from the jump, if you know what I mean. In order for the local slobs to understand the kind of dangerous criminals we were, however, it was critical that we immediately show blatant disrespect for the local law enforcement, pronto. As we began to descend the long hill down into Johnstown’s main stoplight, I happened to see a sign on the side of the road.
“NO ENGINE BRAKE” was what that there sign done said. Well, we’d show ’em something. We’d show ’em that we don’t hold with no law whatsoever, least of all some small town law. With the maximum possible amount of calculated disregard, I callously depressed a small button on the center console of our mighty Ram 3500. The pictogram was a little tough to understand – it showed what looked like an ear of corn trapped inside a set of concentric circles – but the effect of the button was plain the moment I let off the throttle on the way down into the central square.
“BRAAAAAAAAAAAP! BRAAAAAAAAP!” That’s right – the newest six-point-seven-liter variant of the legendary Cummins diesel engine has a flippin’ engine brake. We shouldn’t call it a “Jake Brake” – that’s a registered trademark of Jacob Vehicle Systems – but I guarantee you that everyone with whom we spoke during our test of this monster truck used the phrase. As we cheerfully engine-braked our way into the small town, I happened to see a local cop coming the other way. Oh crap. I was about to get seriously busted for engine braking. How was I going to explain it to Johnny Law? We weren’t even towing anything. The bed was empty. I had no reasonable excuse to do it. I was going to do thirty days in a roach-infested jail cell just for pressing a button with a graphic suspiciously resembling an ear of corn! Why, oh why, did I have to show off for my gang? We’re not even really a gang!
In 1958, David Ogilvy created perhaps the most famous advertisement in history. Titled, “At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”, it made his reputation and permanently established Rolls-Royce’s reputation in the American consciousness. It featured nineteen technical points of interest, the last of which is reproduced below:
#19. The Bentley is made by Rolls-Royce. Except for the radiators, they are identical motor cars, manufactured by the same engineers in the same works. The Bentley costs $300 less, because its radiator is simpler to make. People who feel diffident about driving a Rolls-Royce can buy a Bentley.
So now we have before us the Ford Expedition King Ranch. It’s fifty thousand dollars and offers a set of luxury features virtually identical to the flashier, more expensive, urban-hip-hop-video-darling Lincoln Navigator. What’s the point of offering an Expedition with a Navigator’s level of bling? Is it the return of fake luxury? Who would buy a Ford when they could buy a Lincoln? Well, perhaps Mr. Ogilvy hit the nail on the head with his 1958 advertisement. People who feel diffident – that is, hesitant or concerned – about being seen in a Navigator can buy a King Ranch.
As usual, Ford has come up with a powerfully evocative name for this subtly elegant monster. If there is a place on the map which is spiritually farthest away from the bass-thumping downtown Detroit streets where Kwame Kilpatrick famously twirled the wood-rim steering wheel of his tinted-out Navigator, it must be the massive King Ranch, a four-parcel legend which dates back more than a hundred and fifty years and covers more ground than Rhode Island. The flying-W brand of the ranch decorates the Expedition’s characterful dark brown leather seats and center console. It’s a place, and a sentiment, very much in tune with Ford’s heartland image.
We don’t believe in “suspenseful” reviews, so there’s no harm in confessing that we came to admire – even love – this big-hearted truck over the course of our seven-day test. We’re so charmed that we’ve asked to get another one in “EL” specification before the end of the year, and at least one member of our staff has been seen building one for himself on Ford’s website. After a few days spent driving the all-new GMC Yukon earlier this year, we didn’t think that Ford’s revised-and-more-than-full-sized SUV would measure up, but the truth of the matter is that the Ford blows the new GMC and Chevrolet away, from the baroque majesty of its enormous angled grille to the admirable engineering of its independent rear suspension. But enough of this. We came to tow.