From the June 2023 issue of Car and Driver.
There’s a 7.3-liter V-8 hidden under the doghouse, and at full whack, its snare-drum-tumbling-in-a-cement-mixer soundtrack calls up memories of school buses. I’m climbing a mild grade through Arizona, not in a Blue Bird or a Thomas, but in a Ford E-350 chassis-cab dually, and the engine trying out for the drum line is Ford’s heavy-duty truck V-8. And the doghouse? That’s what people in the van world call the protruding engine cover that doubles as part of the dashboard.
Another cross-country drive, my third in nine months, this time at the wheel of a rented 16-foot box truck ﬁlled with my Los Angeles life. Hanging off the back is a car carrier with my soon-to-be wife’s 2015 Ford Escape. At 65 mph, the E-series pack mule needs constant minding to keep it from wandering off to the right, yet I’m forming a bond with this crude thing. Five days with a vehicle carrying on its back nearly every valuable you own fosters appreciation and affection. That admiration leads to overlooking the ancient E-series-based design’s many, many shortcomings. Complaints seem trite and inappropriate. Conestoga wagon riders didn’t whine about the ride quality, wind noise, cushion softness, brake-pedal feel, dim headlights, and nonexistent sense of straight ahead, and neither will I.
The current E-series dates to 1992. Though its life as a van ended in 2014, it continues on as a chassis cab. What’s a chassis cab? Imagine what’s left behind after you ﬁllet a ﬁsh—in this case, a coelacanth. Instead of a ﬁsh head, there’s the cab of a van, and in place of the spine is a long ladder frame. It’s the Lego of the automotive world. Build an ambulance, a box truck, a camper, or even a small bus. And while the chassis may be a living fossil, the 7.3-liter V-8 debuted just a few years ago. Dubbed Godzilla, it’s a pushrod design with an iron block and aluminum heads. It makes as much as 430 horsepower in the F-series Super Duty and will take an F-350 to 60 mph in 7.5 seconds, but in the E-series, it’s a low-stress 325-hp tune to meet federal emission rules for heavy-duty trucks. As a result, horsepower and torque peak together at 3750 rpm. Loaded up, it burned a gallon of 87 octane every 10 miles.
Engine tuners are embracing the Godzilla V-8 since it doesn’t take much to wake it up. Promises of 600 and 700 or more horsepower are common. Granted, those are tuner claims, but let a big engine rev, and it’ll make big power. The pushrod setup is relatively compact compared to overhead-cam engines, allowing crate versions to slip easily into Fox-body Mustangs.
Viewed through a modern lens, this is a simple machine. Call the engine back-to-basics, but you can’t say that about the chassis because it didn’t go back; it simply never left. The front and rear suspensions could be on display at the Henry Ford museum, yet it gets the job done: a safe arrival and no valuables harmed. Any vehicle that can do that deserves some love.
Tony Quiroga is an 18-year-veteran Car and Driver editor, writer, and car reviewer and the 19th editor-in-chief for the magazine since its founding in 1955. He has subscribed to Car and Driver since age six. “Growing up, I read every issue of Car and Driver cover to cover, sometimes three or more times. It’s the place I wanted to work since I could read,” Quiroga says. He moved from Automobile Magazine to an associate editor position at Car and Driver in 2004. Over the years, he has held nearly every editorial position in print and digital, edited several special issues, and also helped produce C/D’s early YouTube efforts. He is also the longest-tenured test driver for Lightning Lap, having lapped Virginia International Raceway’s Grand Course more than 2000 times over 12 years.