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Giant GM trucks sport a pickup bed

July 08, 2005|by TIM SPELL/Motor Matters

Pulling up to a stoplight and sitting at the same height as the driver of a city bus in the next lane accentuates the feel of power one gets while driving a 4500/5500 General Motors pickup. Yes, this giant - available as a Chevy Kodiak and GMC Topkick - is a pickup.

In the world of enormous commercial work trucks, 4500/5500 series models are classified as "medium-duty." Compare them to most other trucks with pickup boxes and they loom - like a "Star Wars" AT-AT Walker compared to a real-life camel. Upfitted by Monroe Truck Equipment of Monroe, Wis., these super-sizers have a normal-looking 8-foot dually bed.

Building the gargantuan pickups started about a decade ago as a whim, according to Jeff Kulawinski, Monroe's national fleet marketing manager. "Some people came up to us and asked if we could put a pickup bed on the back, and we said, 'sure.'"

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While the 4500/5500 series trucks mainly get the pickup-box treatment, Kulawinski said Monroe has even outfitted 7500 and 8500 versions.

The pickup box comes standard with a spray-on Rhino polyurethane surface. Interior box pieces, as well as the tailgate and bumper, are standard GM, but custom sizing has to be done to accommodate the vehicle's 60-inch vs. the normal 56-inch cab-to-axle ratio.

It sits on a patented subframe, because a regular medium-duty frame moves. The subframe is rubber-mounted to limit the amount of movement transferred to the pickup box. This system increases the life of the box.

Monroe's creation is popular for ranch and racing applications, but it's also just right for those in need of a macho injection beyond what a typical truck buyer demands. Fittingly, it's the pickup of choice for the U.S. Navy Seals, and 7-foot-plus basketball great Shaquille O'Neal owns one. The 4x4's height even dwarfs the NBA star. Rolling on 245/70R-19.5G tires, it towers almost 8 feet and has a near 8-foot width to match. Step-in height is just short of 2 feet. Thankfully, wide steps with grippy surfaces and hand assists help launch occupants into the cab. The 2WD version, with a formidable 19-inch step-in height, is available with polished stainless-steel tubular step bars. For me, the trip down from the steps is a bit trickier than the trip up.

Once the driver has ascended into the monster's bowels, life is cool. The much-used term "command seating" takes on a new meaning - akin to a lifeguard sitting atop a tower.

It's a power trip watching sedans bowing to the giant's presence by backing off to clear it a path. Even while politely waiting for pedestrians to clear a crosswalk, for some reason, they feel the need to double-time their steps.

Making the pickup more imposing is the rumbling of the turbocharged, intercooled Duramax 6600 diesel V-8. This engine of choice for 95 percent of the buyers moves the Kodiak/Topkick with 300 horses and 520 lbs.-ft. of torque. Its transmission partner is an Allison 1000 five-speed automatic transmission.

The test truck pushed big-rig appeal with an optional (crew cab only) pair of vertical exhaust pipes sprouting above its cab.

Big torque and a heavy-duty transmission are needed to move the massive vehicle, which has a Gross Vehicle Weight Rating up to 19,500 pounds. Unweighted, the truck's ride is bumpy. An UltraRide chassis air suspension by Link is available to improve ride quality and allow the truck to "kneel" about 3 inches, making it easier to unhook a gooseneck trailer. Monroe also is introducing an air cab. The whole cab is mounted on air bags, which dramatically increases ride comfort, Kulawinski said.

Fortunately, most all of the vehicles are ordered with bump-absorbing air seats. The shape of the well-cushioned front captain's chairs is aggressive, with the backrest divided into two segments. It offers separate support for the back and shoulders.

Interior treatments are offered at several levels. The test truck was fitted with the top-line "Ultra" interior that includes the captain's chairs up front and an electrically operated rear seat that folds into a bed.

Customization and the list of optional accessories ordered are "all over the map." Pricing on the upfitted Kodiaks and Topkicks varies greatly, Kulawinski said. Base pricing is about $53,000, but price tags generally start at about $60,000.

Tim Spell is the writer for the Houston Chronicle Cars & Trucks section.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2005

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