It's been affectionately referred to as Larry, the Jelly Bean, the Beater, and many other monikers since it became part of our staff more than 17 years ago. Call it what you want, but this 1997 Ford F-150 Lariat has served the Motor Trend and Truck Trend staffs well. It has survived company mergers, layoffs, and vehicle sell-offs, and is in fact the longest standing employee of either magazine!
It all started in the fall of 1996 when Motor Trend (Truck Trend did not yet exist) began its annual Truck of the Year testing. The competition was not that fierce, but the new F-150, with its extreme carlike styling (something Ford had never been accused of), new engine family, and A-arm suspension was the obvious standout. Once the Ford was declared the winner, the truck began a yearlong residency with the magazine for long-term testing, a tradition that continues today.
A year later, a funny thing happened: The staff was so enamored of the new Ford that they struck a deal to make it a permanent fixture. It became the go-to for long drives, camping trips, and employee relocations, and was the camera car for many a photo and video shoot. There are stories that have become legend around the office involving mishaps with the truck. There are bumps and bruises on the Dark Toreador Metallic body that no one will cop to creating. But the truck has never broken down on anyone. As we said, this truck has served us well, but we had a strong feeling this could change soon if someone didn't jump in and give the tired F-150 some love. The regular service it had become accustomed to had dwindled, the 5.4-liter engine and A-arm suspension were now far from new, and the cabin emitted the distinct aroma of melted crayons. It was often left parked in dark corners of our headquarters garage for months. When we went to grab the truck, we were greeted with a dead battery and a crankcase that was extremely low on oil.
A plan was formulated. Truck Trend decided that our longest-term tester is now officially a project vehicle. With the help of great partners such as Summit Racing Equipment, we'll resurrect the ol' dog to its former glory -- and then some. Instead of simply throwing parts at the vehicle the way magazines often do, we'll start extremely small.
For this first installment, we're going to do a basic tune-up and fluid change with the help of Summit along with Lucas Oil Products. This will provide a good base for the modifications we plan to make.
Speaking of bases, we really wanted to see where we stand in the horsepower department. We were sure that after 17 years of use and abuse, the truck would no longer produce the 235 hp at the flywheel rating it once boasted. Our first stop was K&N Engineering in Riverside, California, where we strapped the F-150 to the dyno and, amazingly, the truck made 180 hp at the wheels. Using a 20-percent parasitic loss rule, that is less than 10 hp from stock.
Since we were at K&N and our factory air intake system was beyond filthy, we jumped ahead of our tune-up and installed K&N's FIPK Performance Intake System. About 20 minutes later, we were back on the dyno, and, sure enough, the K&N kit made all 10 hp of its advertised gain for this particular truck, which was now making 190 hp at the wheels and closely matching the original output.
Soon we were in our Tech Center to complete the initial tune-up. We ordered several products from Lucas Oil, then contacted Summit Racing Equipment for the rest of this installment, which includes Accel coil packs, Motocraft Platinum spark plugs, remanufactured injectors, a Fram transmission filter kit and fuel filter, Loctite RTV Black and dielectric grease, and an oil filter from K&N.
01. After giving Larry a battery charge, some test tires, a few quarts of oil, and a wash after our only SoCal rainstorm this year, we trekked out to K&N to see what the truck had left in the power department. To our surprise, it made 180 hp at the wheels.
02. While at K&N, we installed its FIPK air intake kit #57-2541. We were jumping the gun, but this was in the plans all along.
03. The truck was a tired, dirty mess, but since it had never had any work done besides regular maintenance, everything was right where it was supposed to be.
04. After removal of the throttle body cover, idle air control and crankcase vent hoses, and the air temperature sensor connector, a hose clamp at each end released the air intake tube. Once the mass air sensor connector was removed, the air filter box could be
05. Nut inserts replaced the stock mounting grommets, and then the edge trim was installed on the heat shield before being bolted down with the supplied hardware.
06. The intake tube saddle was bolted to the bracket before the whole assembly was mounted using the protruding stud located on the cylinder head.
07. We then connected the air temperature sensor to the intake tube with the provided grommet, then secured the tube to the throttle body.
08. After the stock plumbing was removed from the mass air sensor, the K&N adapter was installed.
09. The mass air sensor was slid through the heat shield and secured to the intake tube with a silicone connector. The K&N filter was then attached to the adapter. Finally, the sensor connector was reattached.