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Variations on a Theme in F-Sharp

In years past, if you wanted to make a statement with your personal transportation, you bought a foreign sports car or customized your car or truck. Sometimes yours wound up looking like everyone else’s. Sometimes you got it right, and came up with a unique look, at least until everyone copied it. But the objective was to have a different look, something you didn’t see in every parking lot in town.

Ford’s new design team, headed by J Mays, one of the most creative industrial designers in the world, seems to have done this creative work for us. He gave us three unique looking pickups with performance to match their appearance, all based on the world’s most popular vehicle, the F-150 pickup.

We have driven Ford F-150 pickups, including the Super Cab extended cab with jump seats and half doors and the Super Crew. Nice, but when a model goes to more than 850,000 buyers each year, there’s not much personality to it. The F-150 is just an efficient, good looking, but frankly ordinary truck. That’s where Mays and his team came in.

They developed three variations of the F-150, two Super Crews and one short-cab. They will knock your eyes out. Driving each one is a rush — each in its own way. They are, going from mild to wild, the Lariat King Ranch edition, the Harley-Davidson F-150, and the Ford SVT Lightning.

The King Ranch name refers to the largest cattle ranch in Texas and probably the most famous ranch in the world. Its interior sets this vehicle apart from all other pickup trucks, although the exterior can be described as tastefully elegant. Our truck had metallic Estate Green paint, highlighted with Arizona Beige. The 17-inch wheels are chromed steel. They carry LT265/70R tires, providing a good balance of off-road bite and on-highway manners. The four-wheel drive is Ford’s tried and true shift-on-the-fly. None of this automatic all-wheel drive for a ranch truck. Perhaps all-wheel drive was created for those who will never go off-road in their lives. This F-150 was designed to run cross-country if it had to. It can work the ranch in the afternoon, get a quick wash and take the family to the finest place in town for dinner.

Each of the four seats is a captain’s chair. Each looks and feels as if it came from a conversion van, with one tremendous exception. The seats are done in two-tone, tooled saddle leather from King Ranch cattle. With its powered moonroof, its lighted cab steps and its heated seats, this work truck is also pure luxury.

The King Ranch power plant, Ford’s 5.4 L, 260-horsepower V-8, produces 350 lbs-ft of torque from its 330 cubic inches. The same engine is in the sleek, black (what else?) Harley-Davidson F-150. Like the King Ranch Edition, the Harley is a Super Crew Cab F-150. They both have four captain’s chairs. They’re both 225.9 inches long with a 138.8-inch wheelbase. And that’s where the similarities end. If you appreciate motorcycles, specifically Harley-Davidson motorcycles, you’ll understand this truck. Its features, style and trim are attractive to the public at large, and absolutely correct for the Harley owner or fan. The black leather bucket seats have horizontal rolls between the side bolsters, reminiscent of Harley motorcycle seats.

The exterior is the real attention getter. Twenty-inch chrome five-spoke wheels give this Ford a look that accents its motorcycle heritage. Its spokes are thin, dual sections, revealing the F-150’s massive four-wheel disc brakes. The tires are super wide and super low 275/45R20. They handle better than they look, and they look great.

The truck’s unique grill design also distinguishes it from other F-150s and makes it appear to ride lower. The sides have small, orange pinstripes, while the front fenders sport a tasteful black and chrome Harley-Davidson logo. Open the bed, and you see a large Harley-Davidson logo molded into the bed liner. When the bed extender, made to protect a load out to the end of the dropped tailgate, is folded inside the bed, it frames the logo. The F-150 Harley-Davidson is available only in a four-by-two version. That’s better for towing. The bikes it hauls may function well off-road, but the truck is not an off-road vehicle. But I can’t think of a better way to get your bikes to the next event, except to ride them there yourself.

The final version of this trio of special F-150 pickups also makes a super tow vehicle to take gear to the track. It is not made to tow a competition vehicle. This truck is the competition vehicle. Ford’s SVT Lightning is as close as most of us will ever get to driving a NASCAR race truck. An SVT truck (Special Vehicle Team) is as special as they get. It has a short cab, cloth seats, and, except for excellent air conditioning and a fine sound system, very little in the way of extra creature comforts. There is no bed liner. Everything has been done to save weight. And anything that can make the truck go faster has been done, too. The 5.4-liter V-8 is supercharged. It produces 380 horsepower. That’s not a typo — 380 horses, 120 more than the other variations. Torque is an unbelievable 450 lbs-ft. To get that power to the ground, the Lightning has absolutely huge 295/45R18 “Z” rated tires. They’re fatter than tires on your 18-wheeler.

The wheels are satin-finished aluminum, again for lightweight. The front fascia — the portion below the grill opening — has been extended down to form a better air dam. The aerodynamics help speed and also cut down wind buffeting.

I clocked consistent zero-to-60 times under six seconds, and zero-to-“oh my gosh” in not too many more. Thankfully, the massive four-wheel disc brakes make this beast stop as well as the engine makes it go.

Three Ford F-150s: three distinct and unique vehicles. One has strength and elegance, one has traffic-stopping style, and one has the look and feel of a pure racing car. The King Ranch edition, the least flashy of the trio, is perhaps the most practical. If you want to surround yourself with luxury, but don’t need to show it off to the outside world, this could be the truck for you. If you’d rather attract a crowd whenever you park, and you want a tow vehicle for any and all of your recreational needs, consider the Harley-Davidson model. And if you want neck-snapping acceleration, flat cornering and fantastic braking, there’s no question about the Lightning. It may not take a new Z-06, but any other C-5 Corvette will be hard pressed to keep up with it.

Isn’t it amazing what engineers can do with just one platform?

Paul Abelson is Land Line’s technical editor and freelances from his office in Lisle, IL.