Hitting the open road conjures up visions of beautiful landscapes blasting by, meeting new people at small towns along the way, and the ever-present control of your own destiny. At horizon's end, a new journey awaits with mystery, intrigue, excitement—the surprises making a road trip such an epic adventure. Needing to tow our 36-foot enclosed trailer from SoCal to Austin, Texas, with Project Novakane safely tucked inside for the 2011 Heatwave show, we reached out to Ford for a suitable dualie. Hearing our towing needs, Ford Public Relations delivered a 2011 F-450 dualie to our office and told us to have fun. Driving 1,373 miles one way while towing 19,500 pounds is a marketing dream come true, and we were about to find out if the F-450 was indeed ready for super-sized duties.
Programming the route into Ford’s navigation netted us an estimated driving time of 21 hou
Walking out of our headquarters in Irvine, California, three of us editors—myself, Associate Editor Max "New Guy" Matthewson, and freelancer Harley Camilleri—made our way towards the F-450 like astronauts walking in slow motion towards the space shuttle. Cue the theme music to Armageddon. Loaded up with our bags, camera gear, cooler, and snacks, we went to hitch up the 36-foot tandem axle trailer with one small glitch in the matrix—we needed a gooseneck ball. Bummer. At 6 p.m. on Tuesday night, no dealerships in the area had the part we needed, and the soonest we could have it in our hands was 9 a.m. the next morning. Two hundred and fifteen dollars and 15 hours later, we installed the ball and loaded up, for real this time. The only problem now was Novakane was having some tuning issues and we made a last-ditch effort to make it run before we left Cali. After going through three ECUs and maxing out a credit card, we headed east without a running race truck in the trailer. Leaving SoCal at 10:36 p.m., we had 21 hours of driving in front of us. Start the timer.
As a road trip connoisseur, I made sure I was the first driver and quickly took control of the radio, thermostat, and seating position. Sometimes being the boss has its advantages. Right out of the gate, we noticed the new 6.7L turbo was impressive, with incredible low-end torque (all 800 lb-ft) and great top-end passing power. Smooth can accurately describe the ride quality of the fully loaded F-450 dualie, and despite the absence of an engine exhaust brake on the Power Stroke diesel, the TorqShift six-speed auto did an excellent job of downshifting to aid in braking. We also immediately noticed a sense of anticipation from the TorqShift tranny that proved perfect for finding the right gear while motoring up and down grades. The factory installed trailer brake controller made dialing in the proper trailer input a breeze. Putting through California at the law-enforced 55 mph when towing, the F-450 was returning an admirable 10.7 mpg. With the Arizona border in sight, it was time to see if the Power Stroke had the cojones to go faster.
Side by side with other truckers, our big F-450 fit right in with our brothers of the long
Answering that question in short, yes, the 6.7L has stones the size of the Arizona desert. Pushing the speed limit to an editor-friendly 75 mph, the landscape was blurring by with a blistering pace. Inside the four doors, our confines looked more like a luxury car than long-haul work truck. Leather seats, that were both heated and cooled, proved to be comfortable yet firm enough for long-term sitting, and thanks to the multipower driver's seat, finding the right seating position was an easy task. Steering wheel controls for the radio and cruise control also proved valuable and allowed the driver to supersede any radio station mutiny by the passengers. For the last time New Guy, there will be no Lady Gaga while we're in the truck. Back to the Ford, with the speedometer reading 70-plus, the engine was no longer in its mileage-friendly rpm and we quickly realized after a $142 fill-up, 8.1 mpg wasn't something Ford PR would want us to report.
Riding Interstate 10 like there was a pot of gold at the end of it, New Mexico blew by and we were greeted with our version of a rainbow's treasure—Cracker Barrel. After a 2,250-calorie breakfast (that's each person, not total), we endured our first food coma, and also switched drivers. New Guy took over the helm while I grabbed some Zs in the back seat. Ford crew cab trucks have always had plenty of rear seat room, and besides using bags of beef jerky and Funyuns for a pillow, I enjoyed my time back there. Waking up to the smell of something horrible and hearing uncontrollable laughter, I thought I was going to get pink eye in Texas. You gotta love road tripping with two other goofy, grown men. Stopping to catch up on their own rest, we slept at a hotel for about 4 hours and hit the road the next morning. A quick stop at Alamo Customs in Alvin, Texas, gave Jake Brown, of Brown Speed, a chance to help get our Project Novakane performance truck up and running. After determining our ECU wasn't getting power, we hot-wired the computer, he did a quick on-the-fly tune, and we were off and running.
Performing a tire stress test at the Heatwave show in Austin, the Super Duty’s 800 lb-ft o
No better sight could be seen than the "Welcome to Austin" road sign at exactly 6:02 p.m. Friday night. As we picked up our Publisher Jeff Dahlin from his hotel there in Austin, he immediately commented on the uniquely horrible smell inside the cab. Windows down and the throttle smashed, we aired out the truck and laughed for a few miles. Arriving at the Heatwave show, we unloaded Project Novakane out of the enclosed trailer and set up our autocross course. For the remainder of the weekend, the big F-450 would serve as our commuter car, albeit one with plenty of space, air-conditioned seats, and 4WD. If you work for Ford PR, now is the time to skip to the next paragraph. At the conclusion of our weekend, we took the F-450 out on our autocross course for a quick exhibition run. Surprisingly, the dualie handled our tight course with admirable skill, and because of the success, we ended the run with an epic donut that had all 800 lb-ft of torque smoking the four rear wheels. Camera phones were in full effect as the smoke covered our course like the thick humid air of Texas in July. The crowd gave Harley a roaring, and much-deserved ovation.
Driving for seven hours, the sunrise in Arizona was a sight to behold.
Loading up the trailer and hitching it to the gooseneck ball, we pointed the truck west and headed out towards the sunset. There was no impending deadline in front of us, but we missed our families horribly, and getting home was priority one. Never a sputter or mishap, the Super Duty pulled like a freight train all the way back to SoCal. Making record time thanks to two heavy feet (sorry New Guy, you drive like an old lady) and because of no sleep stops, we arrived at our Irvine headquarters Tuesday night at 8:42 p.m. Looking back at the F-450 like a soon-to-be ex-girlfriend boarding a flight, we hopped in our much-smaller daily drivers and drove to our respective homes with a little tear in our eyes. That big beast did everything we asked of it, and did it in comfort. For $64,820 it's not cheap, but if towing large trailers is in your future, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better rig.
Total miles traveled: 2,746
Average fuel mileage: 10.1 mpg
Number of Monster energy drinks consumed: 26
Restroom stops due to energy drinks: 14
Heading home with only the horizon in our path.
Notes from the Road
- Driving from California to Texas' border is a breeze, but the trip is only really beginning. From the Texas border to Austin, Texas, 600 more miles has to be driven over some of the most boring and demoralizing land in the country.
- After driving our Super Duty for 5 days in Texas, we're certain the Super Duty line is the official truck of hardworking Texas men everywhere.
- When driving with three grown men, it is nonnegotiable to have a rule when horrible smells are exiting one's body. Windows down, no exceptions.
- With the power sliding rear window, getting drinks from the cooler in the bed were as easy as pushing a button.
- If you had to choose a restaurant for your last meal on earth, a Cracker Barrel along side any interstate would be the best option we can think of. We stopped there 5 times during our trip.
- Darn near everywhere we stopped in Texas with the huge trailer in tow, we didn't have any problems finding parking areas large enough to accommodate us.