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Ford comes up with a "super" concept truck

February 10, 2006|by TIM SPELL / Motor Matters

Ford is heading full steam into the 2006 auto show circuit with a bold approach to pickup design and powertrain engineering.

Designers dug into the history books to draw pure-American inspiration for the F-250 Super Chief concept pickup. They borrowed both the truck's powerful styling cues and name from the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway's Super Chief locomotive of the 1930s and 1940s.

"The notion driving the F-250 Super Chief concept was that it would express bold American design and engineering," said Jennifer Flake, a Ford spokeswoman.

Along with incorporating design elements from the locomotive, Ford was inspired by the notion of a great epic journey where all roads go west, she said. The Super Chief trains were about the grandeur of living in America and seeing the country's vast expanses in an elegant way.

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Based on Ford's F-250 Super Duty pickup with an 8-foot bed, the Super Chief grabs the eyes with an enormous snout and bulging hood - conjuring visions of the sleek, powerful front end of the locomotive from the "streamlined" era. Ford tradition is maintained, too, with a macho interpretation of its signature three-bar grille, with each bar looking as if were carved from a block of metal.

A strong, chiseled line wraps from the front of the hood dome, to the high beltline. These tall body sides leave narrow window glass, giving occupants a feel of protection and echoing the styling of the iconic locomotive.

"They put the driver - in that case the engineer - very high up on the locomotive," she said. "So high up, in fact, that you're really not sure who's driving. And if you look at the train passenger cars, you'll see a very small window graphic and a whole lot of body side."

Keeping the body sides clean are running boards that finish off the doors by automatically flipping down 180 degrees when the doors are shut. Adding to the Super Chief's imposing presence are giant 24-inch wheels, shrouded by pronounced fender flares.

Form, however, follows function. Access, for instance, is enhanced by rear-hinged rear doors that open independently of the front doors. Clever hinges also are put to work at the rear, permitting the tailgate to swing open from either the right or left side.

Beneath the cargo box is a drawer, excellent for carrying tools or gear. The scene gets fancy within the cargo box with a wood-planked bed floor, ribbed with raised metal strips.

This wood theme is carried into the minimalist-look interior, accented by American walnut wood, brown leather and brushed aluminum. It's designed for someone who is entrepreneurial and would conduct business in the truck.

The cab features four "club chairs" covered in thick leather. There's an extra 2 feet of space in front of the rear seats where ottomans deploy from the floor.

A movable unit in the rear hosts an entire set of barware. It includes glasses, a decanter and peanut dish. There's also a cigar cutter, used for the cigars stored in the built-in humidor.

Looking up, occupants can see the big sky as they cruise through the wide-open expanses. The Super Chief's roof is a continuous piece of glass, braced inside with a grid of wood. This clear ceiling effect was inspired by observation cars, which provided vista views for passengers aboard high-end trains from the Super Chief's heyday.

Moving the big trains required big power, and the same applies to the pickup. While one might think a diesel-powered engine would be the appropriate choice for the train theme, Ford took a significantly more modern approach to engine design.

The Super Chief's locomotion is provided by a Tri-Flex supercharged 6.8-liter V-10 that produces up to 310 horsepower and 425 lbs.-ft. of torque, yet is environmentally friendly - sipping fuel and producing low emissions.

Ford reports it'll run for 500 miles between fill-ups on hydrogen, E85 ethanol and gasoline - each stored in separate containers.

"Leveraging all of the technologies in that tri-fuel engine, it gets about 12 percent better fuel economy vs. just running on regular gasoline and 99 percent fewer carbon-dioxide emissions in hydrogen mode," Flake said.

While the Super Chief isn't likely to go into production, as-is, anytime soon, Ford hopes its presence at auto shows will garner feedback about its design, and prompt consumers to clamor for its advanced powerplant technologies.

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

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2006

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