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Ford Super Chief concept

By Paul Bailey
Auto Express

Over in the US, pick-ups are what Ford does best, and in the land where bigger is better, the blue oval has come up with the incredible Super Chief. The aluminium and grey-finished giant is more than 6.7 metres long and 2.3 metres wide, and Auto Express has climbed into the cab to take it for a drive.

One of the stars of January's Detroit Motor Show, the Super Chief borrows its name and styling from the famous Train of the Stars. This streamlined loco-motive ran across America on a 39-hour journey between Chicago, Illinois, and Los Angeles back in the Thirties.

Weighing in at a hefty 4,808kg, the truck is nearly as heavy as a loco, but it is no gas-guzzling monster. At the flick of a switch, its 310bhp 6.8-litre V10 engine can run on one of three fuels; petrol, bio-ethanol mix or hydrogen.

In the latter mode, a huge supercharger forces the low-density gas into the combustion chambers, and power output drops to a much more civilised 280bhp. However, in this case, the big Ford produces nearly 90 per cent less carbon dioxide than when using petrol - and this is no show car stunt. Bosses at the company are preparing to sign off the clever engine for use in a fleet of ultra-low-emissions minibuses set to operate at Florida airports.

Striking

Despite the trick motor, the most striking features of the newcomer are its huge scale and bold styling. And when you consider the Super Chief is longer than a Rolls-Royce Phantom, it's surprising how sober and elegant it is.

The bodywork is beautifully finished in metallic grey, with hand-polished aluminium and stainless steel embellishers. And it is absolutely enormous. The bonnet is shoulder height to a six-footer, while those alloy bars in the radiator grille look as though they could bite off your hand.

Ford's designers haven't ignored the inside, either, especially with the choice of materials - there's real wood and untrimmed 10mm-thick leather! Effectively, the Super Chief is only a four-seater, but there's plenty of space -especially in the back. The rear cabin features a pair of reclining seats and footrests which swivel out of the floor, creating an interior that wouldn't look out of place in a Range Rover.

At the front, there's a high-output stereo and fold-down plasma screens. However, the highlight is the roof, with its series of glass panels similar to those in a locomotive's observation car. They ensure a light, airy interior.

Turn the chunky key and the engine starts with a mighty roar before settling into a booming idle. The huge gear selector is confusing at first, but once the five-speed auto is in Drive, the Super Chief surges forward eagerly. However, its concept car underpinnings mean there's an undamped live rear axle which gives a crashy ride. The truck is ideal for trips across a Texas ranch, but maybe needs a little more refinement for public roads - although there is nothing wrong with the commanding view out from behind the wheel.

Ford says the Super Chief points the way to a fresh generation of F-Series pick-ups, a range which racks up nearly one million sales a year, making it the world's most popular vehicle. With the newcomer's clever engine and striking styling, it's great to see that the blue oval still has the courage to make such a standout vehicle - even if it won't fit in your garage at home.

First Opinion
There's nothing to rival the Super Chief - and at this size, that's just as well. Under the skin, the Ford has used many production parts, and those that aren't at present soon will be. The firm is committed to building 250,000 bio-fuel/petrol vehicles this year, and a hydrogen-burning V10 will soon go on sale. No-nonsense styling is also important, and points to the future for the brand's full-sized pick-ups.

At a Glance
* You wouldn't think that a gigantic pick-up could be eco-friendly - but you'd be wrong. The Ford Super Chief's clever engine can use petrol, with which it returns 14.5mpg, bio-ethanol (10.3mpg) or hydrogen, and will soon hit the roads in a fleet of minibuses.
* Engine: 6.8-litre Trifuel V10
* Power: 310bhp
* Price: £70,000 (est)






Dramatic looks continue inside, and the interior is trimmed in real wood


Distinctive styling even carried through to speedo
 
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