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TOO BIG TO HANDLE

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Published on Mon, Sep 1, 2003

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

TOO BIG TO HANDLE

By Contributing Editor DAVID GARDNER

AS I sit down to write this review I am very aware that apart from the monkey-like hair that engulfed the back of my hands as well as the rest of my body when I turned 40, my fingers are as soft as a girl’s.

They look as though I haven’t done a day’s hard labor in my life, which is hardly surprising because I haven’t. Putting together an IKEA desk is about as tough as it gets. This is all very sad because the most excited I have seen my wife since we took a wrong turning at the Mardi Gras (a story more suited to a whole different kind of Internet magazine) was when I happened to smudge a little grease on my forehead after being forced to change a tire on her car. She reminded me so often how much she was turned on by that grease streak that in the end I simply had to do something about it to get her off my back and let me back to things more befitting a writer in his forties - testing imported lagers and counting Kobe Bryant’s cars. I tried gelling my hair into a quaff, but that wasn’t quite what she meant and seven graying hairspray-hardened hairs was never going to make me look like Elvis Presley. I actually looked more like Pee Wee Herman before his arrest made his hair fall out. Which brings me around to the 2003 Ford F350 "Super Duty" crew cab. I didn’t have to do anything to my hair, I didn’t have to get my hands dirty under the hood, I didn’t have to pretend I liked Metallica (although I did feel duty bound to listen to a country station on the radio) and, most importantly of all, I could throw away the trucker hat which had forced my son to disown me and hide when I left the house.

I figured that all I had to do was sit in that monster of a truck and even my wife would think I was built tough, too. I hassled my colleagues at LaCar to fix me up with biggest damn truck they could find. And, after providing me with a Mini Cooper (everyone’s a comedian!), they hooked me up with this baby, which, at $43,000 is more expensive than most double wides. It sounds like an articulated truck when you start up the 6.0L V-8 diesel engine and it’s so big that every time you pull out of your garage it feels like you are taking the house with you. I am sure that in the middle of Montana it is every cowboy and writer-cum-macho man’s dream vehicle. I can imagine hurtling through Big Sky country to fix them fences and shore up those steers or whatever real, purposeful jobs people do in parts of the country not obsessed with movie stars and running for governor. But I have got to tell you my big truck makeover was not a roaring success. It sat outside the house most of the time taking up two-and-a-half parking spaces. I couldn’t get it in my garage and I was worried about losing my parking space and having to drive all the way to the Staples Center parking lot to find somewhere big enough to leave it. Southern California may have some big roads of its own, but they are all filled with cars scooting about so trickily I wanted to bump them with my truck just to remind them who was boss. To be totally fair, it wasn’t that the truck was too big for me; it was just that I was too small for the truck.

I threw a couple of bags in the flat bed on one drive up to LA, but they would have happily fitted beside me in the roomy four-door cab and I wouldn’t have had to continually worry about them being blown or bounced out. I needed to find a real job paving highways or building high-rises to make it really work. I have to say that while it is a solid, tried and trusted build, the suspension rattles around like Pamela Anderson’s bedpost on a stretch of bumpy road when there is nothing in the back. I know the bed is long enough to give Shaq a nap in the back, but I felt like George Clooney steering into the perfect storm on a section of Route 55 that I hadn’t previously noticed being choppy at all. One other thing that worried me about this particular F350 was that it is a fine looking truck, all shiny "sonic" blue with jewel effect headlamps, chrome bumpers and polished aluminum wheels. I bought a Harley when I first arrived in the States from the UK thinking it would help me assimilate quickly into the cool biker clique only to discover the model I bought because it was the cheapest - the Sportster - is considered a girl’s bike. I wouldn’t want to make the mistake of shelling out all that cash for a heavy duty truck only to still find myself thought of as a yuppie trucker by the scratched and dinged brigade in the California truck heartland of places like Palmdale and El Centro. Then again, I can never be bothered to keep my cars clean, anyway, so there shouldn’t be a problem with an immaculate exterior for more than a couple of days. It picked up a fair coating of dust and grime just parked outside keeping the shade on my porch for a couple of days. Inside was enough room for the entire Walton family, although I am sure they would soon give the medium "flint" leather a more lived-in look.

I was particularly impressed by the clip on the center console for maps and bits of paper that usually fly over to the other side of the passenger seat, making it impossible to reach when you are driving alone on the freeway. I like the little things, as I sure you have already guessed. My model also had "a power slide moonroof", or sunroof depending on the time of day, which was nice but may also be considered a yuppie accessory. The 38-gallon fuel tank is huge, but I was surprised by the diesel consumption, which was pleasantly conservative, more John McCain than Pat Robertson. Forgetting all my image nonsense, the F350 has long proved itself an efficient and functional working truck. It can tow up to 14,300 pounds when properly equipped and the 6.0 L 5-speed automatic transmission, which comes optional, boasts the highest torque and horsepower in its class. If you are happy with the 6.8L EFI V10 6-speed manual transmission, you needn’t pay the extra $4,735 for the 6.0L diesel. In fact, the standard retail on the F350 is a much more reasonable $34,320. My Lariat version was two-wheel drive, but it’s so heavy it drives like a 4X4, anyway. It has all the usual stuff inside: power point, power locks, CD, etc. Likewise with the safety features with air bags, 4-wheel ABS and a very useful extra on this length of truck - a reverse vehicle aid sensor, which will provide a running commentary when you smash out the taillight of the car parked behind you. The Advanced Security Group, which includes the new wireless keypad, auto locks, auto lamps and the remote keyless entry system, comes standard with the Lariat.

The F-Series Super Duty truck lineup is manufactured at Ford's 4.6-million square foot Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville - the largest truck plant in the world. I never really believed my wife when she told me that size wasn’t everything. But having driven the F350 around for a few days I think I have an inkling of what she means - sometimes-smaller things are just that bit easier to handle!

For more Ford information at www.ford.com

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