Monster Pickups Are More Than Toys

Sept. 28, 2010


Accubuilt assembles strengthened pickup beds and mounts them on medium-duty F-450 and -550 chassis in its plant in Lima, Ohio. F-650 pickups are planned.
International's latest big pickup is the RXT 4x2 (right), set up for enthusiasts who tow heavy trailers. It's more low slung than the high and heavy CXT 4x4, which made a big splash with the mainstream news media.
Optional air-bag rear suspension was designed by Accubuilt and replaces stock leaf springs.
A GMC C4500 pickup with bed by Monroe Truck Equipment ably pulled this long, heavy horse trailer during a recent General Motors expo. But it would've struggled with horses and tack aboard.

Ford's SuperDuty F-550 is a midrange chassis that usually totes some kind of no-nonsense utility or dump body, yet this one has a pickup bed. Does that make it a toy for well-heeled consumers? Yes and no. It is aimed primarily at people who like to spend a lot of dough on their hobbies, like boats, horses and RV travel. But as set up by Accubuilt Inc., a specialty manufacturer based in Lima, Ohio, it can haul and tow some serious loads and therefore might be useful to commercial users.

As any truck nut knows, pickups have grown in size and weight capabilities, but until a couple of years ago didn't go beyond the "1-ton dually" class, which in Ford's case is the F-350. Then General Motors and International Truck kicked off what I call the "really-big-pickup" thing with special versions of their midrange models.

International's CXT, based on a 7300 Class 6 chassis with four-wheel drive and a modified bed, somehow garnered gobs of publicity from the mainstream media. Their writers gushed over the CXT's sheer height and size, but said little about its hauling and towing capacity. I drove the CXT when it was a preproduction truck called Big Yellow and did a suitably oh-wow report for this magazine. But CXT has remained more a curiosity than a seller. International has since introduced two other versions, the RXT 4x2 for personal-use towing and MXT 4x4 for possible military markets.

The GMC TopKick and Chevrolet Kodiak C4500 pickup with a bed from Monroe Truck Equipment hasn't gotten as much notice, but I've seem 'em on the road. Recently I drove one at a GM all-brands event in Nashville, Tenn., when it was hooked to a 38-foot horse trailer that, at 18,500 pounds empty, pushed the limits of its tow capacity. Yet the bulky truck gamely yanked the bulkier trailer down a couple of interstate highways and over city streets. Last year I spotted a C4500 pickup in California towing an equipment trailer with a backhoe aboard — an actual working truck.

Accubuilt possibilities

So it is, or could be, with Accubuilt's conversions. In its literature, the company notes that a pickup bed is a versatile design that can do a lot of hauling jobs. Construction contractors and tradesmen needing high carrying or towing capacity could use big pickups like these because they'd enhance a company's image, could be driven to the proverbial country club, and their resale value would almost certainly be higher than for a bare-bones truck.

The company obtains SuperDuty F-450 and -550 cab-chassis vehicles from Ford, plus parts for SuperDuty pickup beds, and assembles them. Of course, there's much more to it; Ken Earnest, Accubuilt's marketing manager, explained that the beds are not just "take-off" boxes. Engineers have beefed up the basic 8-foot bed with four 19-gauge galvanized steel reinforcers mounted cross-ways under the floor so it can carry payloads of up to 11,300 pounds.

They also adjusted the fiberglass fenders and wheel wells to match the wheelbase of the chassis. A sprayed-in bed liner and a 50-gallon fuel tank mounted ahead of the axle are standard, as is a full-size spare tire mounted under the bed ahead of a hefty steel bumper with a hitch receiver and electrical hookups. A bed-mounted hitch is available for pulling fifth-wheel trailers. Depending on type of cab and truck load, the F-550 will pull up to 24,900 pounds.

Buyers can choose the standard leaf-spring rear suspension or opt for an air-bag setup that Accubuilt also designed. I drove empty F-550s with each suspension type and found them stiff but not uncomfortably so. I couldn't tell any difference in ride quality, but Earnest said most folks can. And the air-bag suspension with its electric pump reacts to loads by adjusting a truck's rear-end height. Incidentally, do you need replacement leaf springs for your own midrange SuperDuty? He will happily sell you some of those removed to make way for the air suspensions on these trucks.

Pickup options

Accubuilt offers its pickups with Regular, Super or Crew Cabs in three trim levels, and with gasoline V-10 or diesel V-8 power. "We did one with the V-10, just to say we did it, but it's still not sold," Earnest said. "Everyone wants the diesel." Most buyers also want the four-door Crew Cab and four-wheel drive, as well, and that's how the two trucks I drove were set up. Both had Lariat trim, complete with leather seat covers and other plush pieces that made them as upscale inside as a Lincoln Town Car.

And they were quick! With the bed empty, a 325-hp Power Stroke running through the standard 5-speed TorqShift automatic will spin the rear tires on dry concrete. I almost did that, but let up on the accelerator when the wheels began hopping as I shot my way onto a busy street. The engine's guts would be put to more righteous work if the bed were loaded or a heavy trailer were tagged on behind.

To be sure, this style and capability don't come cheap. The stickers I saw ventured well into the $60K range. If the F-450 or -550 chassis isn't capable enough, you'll soon be able to get an F-650 pickup from Accubuilt. It distributes the trucks through Tuscany Automotive, a recently acquired upfitter that supplies vehicles to many Ford dealers. Because most parts are from Ford, factory warranties stay intact. How practical can a toy get?

Ford's SuperDuty F-550 pickup truck
Spray-in liner is standard and fifth-wheel hitch is available. There's no Ford-factory F-550 4x4 pickup, so decals on the fenders were designed and printed by a local supplier.



Spray-in liner is standard and fifth-wheel hitch is available. There's no Ford-factory F-550 4x4 pickup, so decals on the fenders were designed and printed by a local supplier.
This Completed Crew Cab has fancy Lariat trim. The box looks stock, with correct gap between bed and cab, but it's reinforced to take high payloads allowed by the midrange chassis.
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