Adventures in trucking
Trucks are the new hot rods, none more so than Ford's insane, supersized MegaRaptor. Step in – or rather, climb up – for a ride high above the road
For reasons not clear to those outside of it, truck culture is huge. Big trucks, tall trucks, loud trucks, chrome trucks, trucks that blow black smoke out their chimneys, trucks with nutz – it's all super popular. To call truck culture underground is incorrect. It's right there, out in the open. Trucks rule the road everywhere in Canada, with the exception of a few big cities where everyone drives baby SUVs and compact cars, if they drive at all.
"Diesel trucks became the new hot rod," says Martin Barkey, CEO of MBRP, a custom exhaust company based in Huntsville, Ont. "There's people driving with paint cans in the back and ladders on the roof, going to work in 11-second trucks."
For the uninitiated, that's a truck which blasts down a quarter-mile drag strip in 11 seconds. A new Ferrari 488 will do it in 10.6, but can't carry a ladder.
It doesn't make sense though. Why spend money to make a truck faster, bigger and shinier? It will still drive like a truck, which means bad steering, bad ride and bad handling. I don't get it, but I'm on the outside. It can be easy if you're in a city to forget that pickup trucks are consistently the bestselling vehicles in Canada.
Even to those on the outer fringes of the hot-rodded truck world, where big tires and lift kits are de rigueur, the MegaRaptor is something special.
It gained notoriety after taking the car blogs by storm earlier this year. It is a machine for those who think Ford's fastest, most ridiculous truck – the F-150 Raptor, which looks like it escaped from the Baja 1000 off-road race – is simply not enough. The MegaRaptor looks like a regular Raptor with 'roid rage. It's Dwayne Johnson versus Vin Diesel. Both are huge. One is huger.
Do you even lift, bro?
The MegaRaptor is a kit that transforms the Ford F-250 into a Raptor lookalike with new fibreglass bodywork designed by U.S. company F250R. It includes military-grade MRAP wheels meant to withstand an explosion, 46-inch tires, new suspension and chassis components that raise the truck by 4 1/2 or 5 inches, a 5-inch wide exhaust and a 4.88 gear set for the rear differential, plus many more add-ons that will be meaningless to those not fluent in truck-speak.
The Garage, an off-shoot of MBRP that builds custom trucks and muscle cars, is the only Canadian shop making MegaRaptors and the slightly smaller SuperRaptors (which "only" have 40-inch tires). The quality of the builds are top notch. They look like factory concepts from Ford. The Garage has made five so far in Canada, all the bigger MegaRaptor version. As Barkey and I are talking, he gets a text from a customer, a Ferrari driver, looking for more info on these trucks.
Opening the door to the MegaRaptor, the first problem is obvious. The bottom of the seat is at eye-level. There is no step-stool or ladder that flips down to make getting in look cool and effortless. Climbing up involves some grunting. Once inside you can see clearly over the tops of all SUVs. Nothing directly in front of it is visible, thanks to the huge, wide hood.
A single lane suddenly feels too narrow. The MegaRaptor is about a foot wider than an already-huge F-250. On the highway, the military-spec tires cause some vibration up through the steering wheel and make a dull, droning sound. There's a delay to the steering, too. Make an input, and the truck reacts some time later, at its leisure.
Look out the side window and make eye-contact with a dump truck driver, who nods in approval. Another guy drives past, phone in hand, filming the MegaRaptor for posterity. Nobody scowls at the truck. In fact, everyone reacts calmly considering there's a monster truck driving on public roads.
Doing what feels like some tame off-roading in these trucks, the SuperRaptor comes across as less clunky than the Mega because it isn't rolling on heavy mine-resistant wheels. Huge rocks, steep hills and drops become minor obstacles. The damping is well-tuned to smooth out single impacts, but over faster, more complex terrain you get jostled more than you'd imagine. Despite how they look, these trucks aren't built for the Baja 1000.
These trucks have Ford's older 6.7-litre turbodiesel V-8, which makes an impressive 840 lb-ft of torque from the factory. But the MegaRaptor doesn't feel as fast as the numbers suggest. You're so high off the ground, there's little sense of speed. It's like looking out the window of a 747 during takeoff.
The MegaRaptor kit and installation costs around $40,000, but you have to supply a Ford F-250, which costs anywhere from $40,000 to $80,000. The SuperRaptor kit is $35,000. It's a lot of money for a Ford truck, but still cheaper than some luxury SUVs.
Trucks – not sports or muscle cars – are the most popular vehicle for customization, according to the latest annual report from the Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA). It found the aftermarket industry grew from $39-billion to $41-billion (U.S.) over the past few years. "The majority of accessorizers remain under 40, with younger drivers especially more likely than their older counterparts to buy performance parts," SEMA's survey found.
"Some customers drop off a brand new $80,000 truck and spend $60,000 on upgrades," Barkey says. "Others come in [to The Garage] for brakes, exhausts or new wheels and tires." Unsurprisingly, he gets a lot of calls from Alberta, specifically the oil fields, asking about custom builds.
The diesel truck-tuning scene really took off in the early 2000s, he says. "Most of our customers want dependable, reliable power. … This is your family truck. It's your car. It's your hot rod. It's towing your boat. A lot of these people are going to the drag strips on Sunday with their work trucks. That's why diesel took off, because it was this all-encompassing platform. You can't do that with a Corvette."
After driving the MegaRaptor and getting an all-too brief taste of truck culture, am I a convert? Despite myself, I enjoyed it. It's like driving a small condo. It feels invincible. Sports cars are fun because of their precision – the speed, the grip, the feel – but this offers a simpler sort of joy. Monster trucks are fun in the same way seeing an unusually small dog is fun, or an unusually big dog. Things that are out of scale are a bit goofy, outrageous and therefore lovable.