Editor's note: This story kicks off a special series we're calling My Pickup in which we give certain readers, industry associates, friends and colleagues a chance to tell us about their pickup trucks. We start the series off with longtime automotive journalist Greg Whale, who tells us about the first full-size pickup project he did for Four Wheeler magazine many years ago. He tells his story in four parts; here's the first part.
By G.R. Whale
Back when one bought music on vinyl or compact disc and most big pickup trucks came with vent windows, my first assignment at Four Wheeler magazine was to develop a library. In the late 1980s the magazine was more than 25 years old and had one room that held thousands of unorganized photos, manuscripts, press kits and old magazines; fearing idiot proof wasn't good enough, my boss (the editor) said to make it "editor proof."
I failed miserably at making the library editor proof, but I learned a lot about the magazine's project vehicles, and that not one of them had been set up to tow a fifth wheel.
A couple of years later I had completed one project that another editor started and one of my own that was more successful — driving 70,000 miles in two years, including Panama to Alaska off pavement. During that project the only parts that broke on the new-at-the-time 1990 Nissan Pathfinder I used were a rear door lock button and a front anti-roll bar bracket. So the editor had me develop another project, which he approved mid-1991.
The idea was to build a full-size pickup that could carry substantial parts and people, tow almost anything and serve as chase truck for multiday road tests. The project was called Operation Tugboat. Unashamedly it might also be handy for pulling my neighbor's Chevrolet Chevelle to the track, a buddy's boat to the lake or a Jeep to a trailhead. It would need a diesel engine for torque and mileage, and single-rear wheels because training wheels are inconvenient on the rock-strewn Western trails.
As a base, a Ford F-350 crew cab seemed to be a logical choice: four real doors, six seatbelts, easily modified, solid axles and a good selection of parts and upgrades. The 7.3-liter IDI diesel wasn't yet factory turbocharged but aftermarket diesel outfitters had long since placed a turbine atop International's V-8. We knew a 7.3-liter turbo was coming but it added just 5 horsepower and 50 pounds-feet of torque; you could gain more by fixing the quashed down pipe.
Sadly, Ford turned down the proposal I wrote for a four-wheel-drive well-optioned Ford F-350 XLT crew cab, saying the F-350 crew was "not a personal-use vehicle."
That left us with Dodge and GM. With Dodge we'd have to give up the crew cab; Dodge wasn't selling military or border patrol crew cabs to automotive journalists. At GM we'd have to forgo the solid front axle, which was out of production.
Eventually a solid front axle and Cummins diesel engine won out over independent front suspension and a backseat. So I pitched Dodge on a W250 diesel with the once-again-available Club Cab. The W350 Club was a dualie only, and the only differences we could find between a three-quarter-ton SRW and a one-ton SRW in W Series regular cabs were that the one-ton had one size larger wheel studs, a larger front spring front mounting bolt and a slightly higher load rating based on spring rates.
Dodge liked the idea, and folks there liked it even more after I told them Ford had declined. To this day I can wrinkle the brow of some former Ford staffers by merely reminding them how many places that Dodge has shown up in print, picture or post.
The only thing Dodge couldn't do was the special order yellow paint — it would take about four months to get through the system — but 10 weeks later the truck was in transit and ready for delivery to Four Wheeler. What happened next surprised even us.
Stay tuned for Part 2.