Future: Ford F-350 Super Duty Concept
Ford's 4x4 Answer: A Super Duty Experiment Gets Ready for the Trail
When the Dodge Power Wagon was introduced last year (a purpose-built Ram HD with a two-inch lift, meaty tires, front and rear locking differentials, skidplates, an anti-roll-bar disconnect, and a winch), Ford and Chevy had no response. Nothing else looked like it, and nothing else performed like it on the trail. Now it seems Ford is playing with a similar idea.
We hooked up with some of Ford's 4x4 and towing experts in Moab, Utah, to take one of the company's "experimental" trucks over some of the more famous and scenic trails Utah has to offer. Usually, when a big automotive company tells us about a concept vehicle it'd like us to see, it means we get to look at some far-out speculation vehicle with a futuristic design and little practical function. However, from the moment we saw this Ford trail truck, we knew it could be turned into a production-ready option package very soon.
Harry Rawlins, Ford's resident towing and 4x4 engineering expert (how can we get that job?), discussed the main reasons Ford is seriously considering this package: "We wanted to see, with as few modifications as possible, if the Super Duty chassis could support a hard-core four-wheeling personality.
"We've made a few changes here, but nothing drastic," Harry beams, pointing to the F-350 SuperCab shortbed in the parking lot. In fact, with the exception of the spare tire mounted in the bed, a beefy front bumper, and a cool set of rims, the bleach-white Super Duty is, according to Harry, 98 percent stock. Inside, the Super Duty has rubber floormats, the manual NVG six-speed manual transmission, and floor-mounted lever 4x4 shifter. "We ordered this vehicle the way we'd expect trail enthusiasts would want their truck-with the best gearing ratios and torque numbers possible," says Rawlins. "That's why we never considered anything else other than the Power Stroke diesel for power." The engine controller was modified to allow the turbo to kick in at a slightly lower rpm. This, combined with a low first gear (5.79:1) and 3.73:1 ring- and-pinion gears (4.10:1 gears are available), gives the Super Duty an exceptionally slow crawling speed when in low range. And with the exception of incrementally larger tires (305/70R17 Goodyear Wrangler MT/R), everything underneath the truck is completely stock. "We do have this vehicle optioned with the snowplow package for the stronger front springs and extra cooling-we wanted everything to be completely factory optionable," notes Harry. That said, like any respectable off-road enthusiast, he felt obligated to make a few "improvements" given that he has some of the best engineers, shop guys, and tools at his disposal.
The front bumper is a Warn Industries heavy-duty unit, housing a 16,500-pound-capable Warn winch. Harry cut a few of the brush tubes off because they were blocking his colormatched grille and Blue Oval. Rawlins designed the rear bumper himself as well, needing something that offers better departure angles when navigating rough terrain, yet still provide a solid lift point for those situations when a Hi-Lift becomes necessary to jack the rear end out of trouble. "That's the best part of working in a shop where you have access to just about every tool imaginable-if you can't find a part you need, you make it," Harry says, with a wry smile. "We even designed some rock rails to protect the underbelly, knowing we were coming here to test." Whether these custom parts make it into a future option package is still a question, but it's nice to know Ford has someone who understands there are situations that require them.
On the trail, this concept truck proved ready and able to keep up with shorter-wheelbase trail junkies that often rule the mountaintops. With a 142-inch wheelbase and aggressive treads, the Super Duty easily navigated tight corners as well as the steepest rock faces of Golden Spike, Poison Spider Mesa, and Moab Rim trails. With the Super Duty's 55:1 low-range ratio (first gear x low range gear x axle gears), there were few trail obstacles we couldn't get over. In just a few cases, where the terrain tried to twist and trap the Ford into losing traction, holding one and sometimes two tires into the air, Rawlins reminds us this vehicle is equipped with front and rear electronic locking differentials. Over the course of our all-day (and we mean eight full hours on the trail) ride, we used the locking diffs seven times; however, only once did we use both front and rear lockers to pull ourselves out of a nasty off-camber hillclimb at the edge of a cliff. The only places where we got into trouble, predictably, were on steep trail transitions where big approach and departure angles (easily available with short-wheelbase Jeeps and Broncos) were required. Even there, we only scraped the front bumper nipples a few times. In fact, we were stopped more often by other four-wheelers who wanted to know what we were doing on the tough trails, than by rough terrain. Some said they'd never seen anything that big on the tight trails before.
It's worth noting here the Dodge Power Wagon also has front and rear locking differentials, a nifty disconnecting front anti-roll bar, a front winch, and 285/70R17 all-terrain tires. What it doesn't offer is diesel power. The Hemi is the only available engine for the Power Wagon at this time.
"What we set out to do was make a heavy-duty 4x4 with as little effort and the fewest possible modifications possible, and the Super Duty was our obvious choice," Harry explains. When asked if Ford is going to build this truck and offer this option package, Harry just smiles. "At this point it doesn't have the green light," he says, "but the fact that this package works so well with so few mods is going to make it difficult for the beancounters to ignore."
We can't imagine anyone wanting to ignore this truck.