Monday, August 23, 2010

Briefly: 1986 Ford F-150 – “Rusty”

(H/T: The idea for a capsule review is stolen… er, appropriated… from The Truth About Cars.)

I needn’t explain why this truck was known as Rusty.

While my new truck is a dispassionate lump that is always trying to kill me, Rusty was like an old dog: usually trustworthy, loyal, full of character. (I would posit that it is possible to have an excess of character.)

The 302 V8 and four speed box were more than sufficient to pull Rusty’s diminished (by body cancer) weight around. When I moved from Iowa to Wyoming in January 2008 – naturally the middle of winter – the uHaul trailer behind me went unnoticed. With the farm-installed weight distribution hitch I didn’t know it was there until it was time to reverse.

Do not feed the animals.
Chugging into a 70 mph headwind on I-80 heading to Thermopolis, Wyo., the truck plowed on and on. Only the warning whine of the high pressure fuel pump indicated potential trouble on the horizon. With its dual front shocks, the front end was impossible to keep in alignment; consequently, the front tires were perpetually bald. (When I completed the 1,100 mile move I noted rust developing on the visible steel belts in the tires. I had them remounted, whitewalls in, to double their useful lives.)

The bench felt more like a nice couch than anything. While the back cushion was shot (pillows shoved behind helped to a degree), the seat still was much more comfortable than in the ’94 even with what I imagine to be nearly identical interior dimensions.

Creature comforts ended there, sadly. There stereo had long since given up the ghost when I rescued Rusty from a muddy cornfield in Iowa. There was a position on the dash HVAC for air conditioning, but that was as much a joke as anything. The XLT Lariat package must have been a posh truck before he was retired (or so they thought!) to farm duty.

The passenger-side electric window no longer worked and while it never failed me, the driver-side window always sounded precarious. The door locks were inoperative. The windshield leaked so badly I considered hanging a shower curtain. The frame was gone from the rear sliding window, so grey tape kept out the cold air.

A hole in the vacuum booster for the power brakes caused a funny thing: the lightest tap on the pedal would result in the booster sucking it to the floor. Since the ’86 predated rear wheel ABS (known affectionately to all Ford truck forum followers as RABS), one rarely wanted to fully depress the pedal. A bungee cord around the steering column solved that, although Rusty boasted the most exotic brake pedal feel I’ve encountered before or since.

Speaking of the steering column, it was busted, too. The ignition lock cylinder stripped the soft metal housing in the column, so even a new cylinder failed to help. Stripping off the plastic shroud on the column, breaking the attenuator rod to the ignition switch and then just shoving the rod fore and aft solved that. Had any idiot ever wanted to steal this truck, he would’ve given up before he could start it.

The ride was surprisingly compliant, likely given to the condition of the rear suspension. I once overloaded the box with sand and bent the passenger side leaves – badly. (This is what happens when you put 4,100# of sand in a box rated for about a quarter of that.) I remain surprised I didn’t just break the spring, or something else.

I miss the 302 greatly. It returned 17 mpg (versus 15 in the 300-six I have in my current truck). The four speed wound the motor up to about 2,200 rpm at 65 and about 2,500 rpm at 75 or 80, which sounded much (better and) less stressful than the same rev range in the six. When I finally decided to put the old boy down, he had just turned over 300,000 miles and the drivetrain likely had that again left in it.

If I had it to do all over again, I would have saved him. Shorty is more reliable, has a working stereo and air conditioner, but lacks the excessive character of Rusty. With his light weight due to the rust and pneumatic locking rear diff due to farm duty, I was afraid for myself long before I was afraid for the truck in the backcountry. Perhaps sometime I’ll tell the story of an early spring trip beyond Grass Creek, Wyo., toward points higher, snowier and lonelier. Four wheel drive is every bit as useful for getting yourself into trouble as it is for getting yourself out.


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