By Tim Barton
Photography by Paul Hartley and the author
The universe of vehicles is huge. There's a car or truck for every imaginable demographic and every possible application. Some industry pundits may conclude that new demographic segments are an invention of manufacturers on the lookout for just one more chance to create the perfect hybrid. You may recall the advent of the crew cab decades ago, which seemed to stretch the definition of pickup to its limits. An obliging public quickly made the crew cab a staple of the truck market.
And while the crew cab grew into itself and evolved into super crews and crews with dualies, development took it up and out from the typical pickup. International's hulking new pickup, affably described by some as a "pickup on steroids," cuts through the clutter. We recently had a chance to drive International's Big Red in the Arizona desert. Just as automakers define their markets to suit their customers, commercial-truck manufacturers define their vehicles to suit their utility-minded operators by offering different gross- vehicle-weight classes.
In this case, with a gross-axle-weight rating of 10,000 pounds in front and 17,000 in back, this truck is a Class 7 vehicle by GVWR standards. (One caveat: Its GVWR means the driver must have a Class B commercial driver's license, a requirement that kicks in at 26,001 pounds.) By federal standards, Class 8 vehicles have GVWRs of at least 33,001.
Nevertheless, this truck is set apart from other Class 7 vehicles by its looks. Its beastliness lies in the fact that it's styled as a pickup that has, like the Amazing Hulk, become enraged. The typical Class 7 looks like a smallish work truck or a Baby 8, a diminutive truck styled to have the appearance of its beefier big brother.
This fact alone sets the truck apart from its contemporaries, even those whose attributes cut across class lines. Unlike many vehicles, this truck doesn't compromise. It's an amalgam of pickup styling and big-rig capability. Its stance is that of a full-size truck pumped and buffed to Olympian proportions. It's designed to carry big loads on big roads or on rough terrain.
Class 7 and 8 drivers know better than most the weight ratings of their vehicles. Class 7 vehicles can carry 33,000 pounds on two axles and up to 70,000 with a trailer, a mere 10,000 pounds less than a Class 8 tractor and trailer. Big Red can roll with its two axles well within Class 7 limits. A steering axle rated at 10,000 pounds and a rear axle with 17,000 pounds capacity means Big Red can roll well within Class 7 limits and pull a trailer, allowing it nearly as much capacity as a Class 8. Larry Bull, sales applications engineer for International, says Red can also be bought with a 16,000-pound front axle and 30,000-pound rear, giving it full Class 8 capability. In addition, and making this truck even more unique, it comes standard with full-time four-wheel drive.
Unlike many 3/4- and 1-ton factory pickups, the carrying capacity of this vehicle is not only limited to its overall weight rating. The bed is a full 10 feet long and will accommodate a fifth-wheel for pulling construction trailers or livestock wagons. Civilians not used to thinking like commercial truckers will need to understand, however, that this truck's capabilities are limited by the same standards applied to all Class 7 and Class 8 vehicles--a vehicle is scrutinized not only according to its GVWR, but also by weight distribution. Dense loads in a 10-foot bed might put more than 10,000 pounds on your steering axle or more than 17,000 pounds on your rear-drive axle. It's possible you may be under GVW but over on an axle--and then the piper will have to be paid, usually in the form of a large fine at scale.
But fear not; this vehicle can morph down as well as it has morphed up, according to Larry Bull: "This truck can be de-rated to 25,999 pounds if the customer desires. We use an 80,000psi rail that permits smaller weight-rated axles. If Mother wants to take it to the grocery store, she can go right ahead," Bull says. Turning this pickup into a Class 5 vehicle that can be legally driven with a standard driver's license gives it flexibility customers in many markets will find attractive.
Certainly, there are buyers who see this truck in its stripped version as one capable of being useful in any number of applications. Its off-road capability makes it ideal for use in heavy construction or as a fire pumper, for example, that can go where no pumper has gone before. That it can accommodate six large men in the cab is another strong selling feature for construction applications. Bull says that customers gave International the idea to turn the naked crew cab into a pickup. He says its $68,000 pricetag appealed to those who saw the Class 4 1-ton dualies priced at $48,000 to $50,000 as less of a bargain after seeing this truck. Many of those same customers looked at the crew cab and saw the opportunity for a bunk or a family passenger area on long-haul excursions or when pulling fifth-wheels. At 96 inches, the cab is 44 inches longer than the standard cab in International's 4000, 7000, and 8000 series tractors and provides for a 40.2-inch crew-cab space. That means plenty of legroom.
At some point, in the best-conceived vehicles, style and utility come together. In this vehicle, both are unique. Bigness is validated by capacity and flexibility. It can even be set up for daily driving. Equipped properly, it could have the same standard of luxury one might expect to find in high-end pickups. Keyless entry, power windows, excellent sound system, and the added gadget value of air-brake buttons on the dash bring even more machismo to an interior that's top-notch.
Behind the driver's seat, the truck rides the way it looks. In the Sonoran desert, it felt entirely in command of a twisting, demanding track. It controlled roof-high dips and took the dirt straightaways without any complaints. Steering was also solid and responsive. It has the feel of a full-size pickup, but sitting as high as one does and looking out over that big hood, visibility is just about its greatest strength.
As a four-wheel-drive vehicle with a heavy-duty suspension, there's plenty of ground clearance. Standing outside, one notices the wheel wells are high, making the bigness of the truck look lighter than it drives. The 11R x 22.5 tires add enough visual weight to provide confidence in the truck's ability to cruise or gear down as necessary. The chrome stacks and other brightwork are reminiscent of bigger rigs. The 215-horsepower DT 466 diesel cranks out 540 lb-ft of torque between 1400 to 2100 rpm. True to its diesel heritage, the torque is constant throughout this band, providing excellent power at low rpm and a constant rather than peaky punch right to the top. An Allison five-speed automatic puts power to the wheels, although some may want to spec the optional manual transmission.
According to Larry Bull, this engine will provide great longevity to go with its performance. Like some other diesels, the sleeves can be replaced in frame, saving considerable expense and providing a second life when its lengthy first existence finally ends. The appeal of a pickup with Class 7 and 8 capacity makes International's 7300 4x4 a unique product. And its chassis flexibility gives it many lives beyond its engine's longevity. This truck can make money, get a crew to Baghdad, take a family to the racetrack or getaway in style, or allow a lone explorer to set off into the desert with a full 70 gallons of fuel and a bunk behind him.