We received an invitation from Ford to check out what they have been up to with the venerable F-150. It's been a few years since the automaker has rolled out a ground-up redesign. We felt the competition was catching up quickly to the F-150 during our Of the Year testing for 2007, but that doesn't mean Ford isn't incrementally improving this product. Part of Ford's demonstration attempted to address the claims that Toyota has been making in its advertising regarding the huskiness of the Tundra's components. Ford made a point to show how the F-150 frame is 20-percent stiffer than the Tundra, and the F-150 uses stronger fittings in certain areas, such as the bolts to secure the leaf springs which are wider and longer than the Tundra's. Then they played a video, which showed how stable the vehicle drives and how secure the bed is on a tortuous test trail. (Ford was most stable, followed by the new Chevrolet Silverado, then the Tundra). The conclusion was the F-150 is over-engineered to perform above the published specs, and we gather this gave the F-150 a technical margin--that has helped it stay in the game--that other trucks are steadily chewing into.

Ford also showed off some nifty add-ons for the truck. You've seen the Midbox that Truckin', and other publications, have pictured. It's basically an enclosed cargo box mounted to the front of a shortened bed. It's accessible from both sides and contains some cargo management solutions. Pretty cool. We also like the rearview camera that's going to be included in the tailgate handle this year. It shows a wide-angle view of the hitch and the area immediately behind the truck on a small monitor that is integrated into the rearview mirror. Ford had to walk the line between preserving the reflectivity of the mirror and ensuring the viewability of the monitor. A busy background--such as a brick wall--might make it a tad difficult to decipher between the reflection in the mirror and the video image in the monitor, but this is an elegant solution overall. When asked if the camera would be integrated into an in-dash navigation system, the answer was, "Stay tuned." A pair of electronic lines that appear in the monitor help to measure the distance behind the truck, as well as guide the truck into a narrow space. Once coupled with the usual backup sensor, this system works well for parking. We're guessing it's useful for hitching a trailer when you are traveling solo, too.

The company says the crew cab market is growing, so it has come up with the lower-end XL Crew and the top-end Lariat Limited packages for 2008. (The Lariat is pictured on this page). More on the latter: It will come in one color, White Sand, with matching bumpers, grille, and chrome, as well as White Sand wheels. The headlights and taillights will be smoked. The interior will be textured by medium pebble and will have matching tan leather seats with flint inserts. Those colors will carry throughout the embroidered dash and the steering wheel. -- Words by Mark Halvorsen. Photo by Ford.

Chrysler, Dodge, and Jeep: We're Still Here!
After reading and participating in all the blah-blah-blah concerning Chrysler Group's purchase by Cerberus, it was good to check out what the beleaguered automaker has in store for the upcoming model year. We went to Detroit, where we had the opportunity to drive any and all of the Chrysler Group's vehicles. Granted, we have already spent a significant amount of time behind the wheel of most of the company's trucks and SUVs, but there were a few we had neglected. One was the Dakota, which has been made more interesting with an improved, flex-fuel, 4.7L 290hp and 320lb-ft V-8. We haven't always been a huge fan of the Dodge Dakota's styling in the past, but the sheetmetal on the truck was reworked in time for its debut at the Chicago Auto Show. Now, it looks more angular and assertive. The interior was tweaked, such as the center console, gauges, and materials. The Dakota looks fresher, and it has a little more towing capability--more than 7,000 pounds--but we wonder if it's time for a leaner, more compact, iconic truck.

Something like, say...a Jeep? Jeep's Mopar Underground took a new Wrangler, lopped off part of the roof, bolted on a bed, and called it the JT Concept. It's a notional, off-the-cuff idea that already has visions of grimy adventures dancing through off-roaders' heads. Will we ever see it in production? Hmmmm

The sport version of the Dakota. We drove Rams powered by biodiesel and the ethanol blend E85. What can we say other than we couldn't notice anything different about the powerplants after driving them around the test track. We took the Jeep Patriot through the choppy and muddy terrain of a forest trail. This is the brother to the Compass crossover we tried out last year. Yeah, it still has the high-revving CVT transmission and cramped quarters, but more aggressive styling and the retention of Jeep's coveted trail-rated badging, backed up by entry-level wilderness capabilities, which make this more Jeepy in our eyes.

Other news: In 2009, Dodge and Chrysler will be rolling out the Durango and Aspen powered by a version of the dual-mode hybrid technology that it shares with GM in 2009. We drove a dual-mode hybrid prototype, and it acted just like other full-hybrids we have driven; taking into account the rough spots you would expect to experience in a development vehicle. Mild hybrid trucks might hit the streets, too. Interestingly, the company raised the prospect of stacking fuel-saving technologies, such as a six-cylinder with MDS-plus dual-mode hybrid to a notable effect. Look for the Cummins to show up in light-duty trucks in 2009, the same year that the diesel-powered Jeep Grand Cherokee will be 50-state legal. -- Words and photos by Mark Halvorsen

Happenings
September 1-2
Millington, TN
Relaxed Atmosphere's All-Star Event will be laying out at USA. For more information, contact Chris at (270) 898-8996, or check out the website www.relaxed-atmosphere.com.

September 1-3
Costa Mesa, CA
The Great Labor Day Car Cruise happens at the Orange Country Fairgrounds. Admission to the event costs $12. For more information, call (951) 928-4550.

September 8-9
Lake Charles, LA
Midnight Fantasies Show will be dreaming at the Civic Center. Preregistration costs $35, show day registration is $40. An inside spot will cost you $50. Motorcycle and bicycle registration costs $30. For details, go to www.midnightfantasiesshow.com.

September 14-15
Wisconsin Dells, WI
Dash to the Dells will start with a cruise at the Copa Cabana Resort and proceed with a show `n' shine at Tommy Bartlett Show Grounds. This show is for trucks from the 1948-72 model years and panels. Registration costs $25 per family (or $30 after August 15). Admission includes lunch and Sunday morning doughnuts and coffee, in addition to the event's attractions. For information, contact Mike Conner at (608) 274-6257 after 6 p.m., or e-mail mikeconner@charter.net.

September 14-15
Meridian, MS
Rock `n' Roll Revival will be rockin' at Downtown Meridian at Singing Brakeman Park. This event is open to cars, trucks, motorcycles, and race cars. Preregistration is $15, or pay $20 at the gate. For information, contact Ed Barnhardt at (601) 934-0945, Adrian Page at (601) 482-6895, or Buddy Massey at (601) 482-7345.

September 20-23
Summit Station, PA
Keystone Madness custom van show happens at the Skuykill County Fairgrounds. Preregistration costs $35 for a van and two people, or $75 for a motorhome; $40 for a van at the gate, or $80 for a motorhome; extra people cost $10 each, or a trailer $15. For more information, contact Chas at (610) 469-0604, or email info@performanceinc.org, or visit www.performanceinc.org.

September 21-23
Indianapolis, IN
The O'Reilly Auto Parts Fall 4-Wheel Jamboree Nationals Presented by Toyo Tires will mud up the Indianapolis Fairgrounds. Advance tickets cost $15 for an adult, $5 for a kid, and $65 per vehicle. At the gate, pay $18, $10, and $80, respectively. For more details, go to www.familyevents.com.

September 21-23
Concord, NC
Sr8pfest will be scraping along at the Concord Motorsports Park. Preregistration costs $25, or pay $30 at the gate, spectators pay $5. For additional information, contact Kenneth at (980) 722-3900, or go to www.pebblepushers.com.

September 22
San Dimas, CA
Trucks, hot rods, motorcycles, and more arriving for the Custom Truck Show Off will take over the premises of L&G Enterprises Auto Body & Paint and the Custom Truck Shop Car & Truck Accessories. Preregistration costs $15, or pay $20 at the gate. For more information, call (909) 599-2203, or (909) 599-2228, or go to the website www.lge-paint.com, or www.customtruckshop.com.

September 29-30
San Angelo, TX
West Texas Shakedown whoops it up at the San Angelo Fairgrounds. Prices vary, depending on what you are bringing to the show; preregistration costs as much as $30, or it is $35 at the door.For details, contact Raymond Garcia at (325) 212-8465, or log onto www.westtexasshakedown.com.

October 5-7
Ft. Worth, TX
Classic car and truck enthusiasts will be riding to the Goodguys Lone Star Nationals at the Texas Motor Speedway. Model years of 1972 and back are welcome. General admission costs $15, $6 for kids age 7-12, younger ones can get in for free. Show `n' Shine preregistration costs $40, membership may be required. For more information, call (925) 838-9876, or go to www.good-guys.com

October 6-7Tampa, FLSlamfest sprawls across the Florida State Fairgrounds. For information, call (941) 366-9123, or e-mail minimadnessinc@hotmail.com, or go to www.minimadess.com.

October 14
Torrance, CA
Show-in-Cruize California happens at the Cruise-in Diner at 1301 W. Sepulveda Blvd. from 4-9 p.m. This is a monthly event that lasts through December.

October 30-november 2
Las vegas, nv
Sema Show has become the preeminent automotive aftermarket showcase. Those who don't qualify for the credentials to get inside the Las Vegas Convention Center can still see some cool custom cars and trucks displayed outside of the venue. For further details, go to www.semashow.com.

Promoters:
Do you want us to post your upcoming events in Happenings? Then send the name, date, venue, city, state, contact information, and details about your events to mark.halvorsen@primedia.com. Make sure that you send us this information at least three months ahead of the event's scheduled date.

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