Monday, August 23, 2010

Briefly: 1994 Ford F-150 SWB — "Shorty"

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

My truck is trying to kill me.

Like a ruthlessly patient psychopath, he knows he needn’t do anything out of character. He – “Shorty” because of his abbreviated wheelbase – need only wait for me to make a mistake.

At first the too-stiff-by-much overload springs on the rear leaves threatened to break my back. After any journey longer than a mile I would not step out of the truck, but rather, pour out.

It is not (much) exaggeration to say he has an easier ride than I.

Removing the overload springs softened the ride to a point simulating a church pew attached to a jackhammer, much improvement indeed.

Now, however, any little bump leaves the rear axle… unsettled. It was never particularly docile before while unloaded, and now it threatens to step out without judicious throttle modulation. Fortunately, the 300 cid six lacks sufficient power to ever approach exciting. Only the five speed redeems the combination, which sounds as if it is about to begin ejaculating pistons into low-earth-orbit beyond 2,500 rpm.

The short box makes proper loading difficult, too. In theory the truck can pull about 6,000# of trailer, in practice, pray. On the rural Interstates and highways of Wyoming, I wonder if I shouldn’t get out and push while hauling.

The steering column is apparently constructed of the same rubber used in pencil erasers. With a trailer on and less weight over the front tires, the steering wheel becomes more of an implement by which to impart suggestions to the rig than instructions.

Until you let your guard down, then Shorty is ready to commit homicide.

At speed, it is only advisable to turn the wheel an eighth of an inch or so at a time and wait patiently for the till to communicate your intention through what must be a Rube Goldberg series of erasers, rubber bands and grey tape. I feel less like a driver than a helmsman.

At this point I would discuss fuel economy, but economy is incorrect. Therefore, fuel consumption. With the single 18 gal. tank, range is limited to about 250 miles regardless of driving program, or about 15 miles per gallon. (Only the regular cab short box configuration is hobbled by a single tank, all other configurations have a second, 19 gal. tank, which is useful because in trucks of this vintage one of the two is almost always rusted out, stuck with a bad fuel pump, or otherwise unusable.)

Because of the regular cab, seating is limited to the aforementioned style of church pew. The well-worn bench would unlikely provide much in the way of support if you ever tried to turn. But as I’ve said, turning in this truck is ill-advised.

So this truck is a vile pile, then? Not quite. It has plenty of utility for the moderate loads I pull – only eight nuts to reengage the overload springs. The HVAC works better than in most other vehicles given to the small cab. As a proper truck, it has wing windows, a plus for smokers like me, and the rear sliding window. (In Iowa they are known colloquially as the beer drinking window.) While the Mazda-sourced five-speed is a well known source of woe, the rest of the driveline will likely outlast the Rocky Mountains. The interior is simple, Spartan, and durable.

With the front differential fully locked, only the addition of a rear locker would supplement this truck’s off road capability. Its short wheelbase, high ground clearance, and general bulletproof durability make it confident in the mountains. I love this truck – I just wish I had something to tootle around in when there aren’t loads to haul or snow to overcome.

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