August 2006, TruckingInfo.com - Test Drives
What have we here? It's a Ford SuperDuty F-550, a midrange chassis that usually totes some kind of no-nonsense utility or cargo body. Yet this one has a pickup bed – a consummate consumer item.
As any truck nut knows, pickups have grown in size and weight capabilities over the years, but until a few years ago, that didn't go beyond the "1-ton dually" class, which in Ford's case is the F-350. That's as big as they come from the Ford factory, unless you mean one run by Accubuilt Inc., a specialty manufacturer based in Lima, Ohio.
The company obtains SuperDuty F-450 and F-550 cab-chassis vehicles from Ford, plus parts for SuperDuty pickup beds, and assembles them. Of course there's much more to it than that. Ken Earnest, Accubuilt's marketing manager, explained that the beds are not just "take-off" boxes. Engineers have beefed up the basic 8-foot bed with four 19-gauge galvanized steel reinforcers mounted crossways under the floor so it can carry payloads of up to 11,300 pounds.
They also adjusted the fiberglass fenders and wheel wells to match the wheelbase of the chassis. Behind the fenders are identifying decals that Accubuilt had a local supplier make up to resemble Ford's stock labels. A sprayed-in bedliner and a 50-gallon fuel tank mounted ahead of the axle are standard, as is a full-size spare tire mounted under the bed ahead of a hefty steel bumper with a hitch receiver and electrical hookups. A bed-mounted hitch is available for pulling fifth-wheel trailers. Depending on type of cab and truck load, the F-550 will pull up to 24,900 pounds.
Buyers can choose the standard leaf-spring rear suspension or opt for an air-bag setup that Accubuilt also designed. I drove empty trucks with each suspension type and found them stiff but not uncomfortably so. I couldn't tell any difference in ride quality, but Earnest said most folks can. And the air-bag suspension with its electric pump reacts to loads by adjusting a truck's rear-end height. (Do you need replacement leaf springs for your own SuperDuty? Earnest will happily sell you some of those removed to make way for the air suspensions on these trucks.)
Accubuilt offers its pickups with Regular, Super or Crew Cabs in three trim levels, and with gasoline V-10 or diesel V-8 power.
"We did one with the V-10, just to say we did it, but it's still not sold," Earnest said. "Everyone wants the diesel." Most buyers also want the four-door Crew Cab and four-wheel drive, as well, and that's how the two trucks I drove were set up. Both had Lariat trim, complete with leather seat covers and other posh pieces that made them as upscale inside as a Lincoln Town Car.
And they were fast! With the bed empty, a 325-horsepower Power Stroke running through the standard 5-speed TorqShift automatic will spin the rear tires on dry concrete. No, I didn't do that, but I came close. I got on the gas to shoot my way onto a busy street, but had to back my foot away from the accelerator when the wheels began hopping slightly. A full-time all-wheel-drive system would probably eliminate that, but Ford offers no such thing on its F SuperDuties. They are meant to haul, after all.
Haul what? Mostly personal baggage and horse, RV and boat trailers, Earnest said. These big pick-'em-ups tend to be "toys" bought by well-heeled (or booted) enthusiasts who are not deterred by MSRPs reaching well into the $60K range.
Still, a pickup bed is a versatile design that could do a lot of commercial jobs. Construction contractors and tradesmen needing high carrying or towing capacity might well want big pickups like these because they'd enhance a company's image, could be driven to the country club, and would be easy to sell at good prices. That's what you can tell the CEO or comptroller, anyway.
If the F-450 or -550 chassis isn't capable enough, you'll soon be able to get an F-650 pickup from Accubuilt. It distributes the trucks through Tuscany Automotive, a recently acquired upfitter that supplies vehicles to many Ford dealers. Because most parts are from Ford, factory warranties stay intact. How practical can a toy get?