Luxury trucks have received a lot of attention of late, but their roots extend back into the 1990s and even before. The vehicle format has been slowly moving away from its humble, utilitarian origins for a generation now. More creature comforts are added yearly and trucks are attracting a wealthier demographic, many of which will rarely carry cargo in the bed.
The trend towards luxury has produced a number of interesting truck concepts over the years. One of the largest and most interesting was the Ford Super Chief concept of 2006, which was, despite appearances, more of a personal limousine than a pick-up truck.
The Super Chief was named after the luxury train of the same name that ran on the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe line from Chicago to Los Angeles from 1937 to 1970.
Before air travel it was considered the most luxurious (and fastest) way to travel the US.
When introduced at the 2006 NAIAS in Detroit, the Super Chief looked like a standard Ford truck on steroids. The truck was built on the wheelbase of an F-150, but was the width of its larger brother the F-250. The overall dimensions of the truck were 6705mm long, 2430mm wide and 1980mm high.
A huge hood and mask dominated the front, while at the rear, a long and wide bed could hold a sheet of plywood (1220 x 2440mm), the gold standard of larger pick-up beds. All this was covered by a tonneau, and there was an additional sliding drawer underneath the bed for extra storage. In between the front and rear was monstrous crew cab that seemed larger than some compact cars.
All this mass was offset by the 24-inch wheels and bespoke Goodyear tires. The ground clearance was about 350mm. That created quite a step up to the cab, so a running board descended to aid in accessing the interior.
The engine was accessed by tilting forward the single-piece front end (like a semi-truck). There lay one of the signature technological advances of the Super Chief, a ‘tri-flex’ supercharged V10 engine. This advanced engine could run on traditional gasoline, ethanol, or hydrogen, all of which had their own separate fuel tanks under the bed, and could be selected using buttons on the giant shifter in the centre console.
The power output was also appropriately massive – some 550 horsepower with 400lb/ft of torque. Ford thought at the time that flex-fuel engines could jump-start the hydrogen fuel vehicle market, which would eventually transition to totally hydrogen, leaving petrol behind. History has thus far proven otherwise.
Open the massive doors and you realized that for all its brute force exterior theatrics, this was an interiors concept. Executive class appointments await the driver and passengers – no hidden toolboxes or clever storage bins here. Aluminium, walnut and leather are prominently on display.
The ceiling is a panoramic glass sunroof with a walnut coffered panel below to modulate the light and give the interior an executive office feel.
The seating shows that the interior seemed to be more limousine than truck. The Super Chief veers away from the traditional truck brief and focuses on the passengers, especially those in the rear seats. There one could find two wide captain’s chairs with 610mm of legroom and retractable ottomans, broad armrests and a bar that slid out from the centre console.
Large television screens swung down from the ceiling to face the rear passengers.
The usual technical goodies – Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and USB ports are on board as well.
The driver had not been neglected either. The IP is as much a credenza as a dashboard, with aluminium-trimmed instruments. Like the rear passengers, the driver got his or her own captain’s chair. The instruments were styled like mid-century modern timepieces, and plenty of controls were within easy arm’s reach. A massive shifter controlled the gears, number of wheels in drive and the selection of fuel.
Looking back from a decade on, the Super Chief might have seemed outrageous at the time, but now looks like it could be next year’s F-250 or Lincoln’s return to the pickup truck market. Certainly Lincoln’s Navigator SUV, itself a pioneer in the luxury SUV space (and sitting on a truck frame), has picked up some of the spirit of the Super Chief design. The top-of-the line F-250 trucks (introduced, appropriately, at the Texas State Fair) definitely show some influence from the Super Chief, as well.
Where all this goes is matter for considerable discussion. It is mostly an American phenomenon, although luxury offerings can be found in some mid-sized trucks in European markets and beyond. But will these trucks replace the traditional luxury sedan? Luxury SUVs have already made huge inroads into the luxury space. Trucks may certainly be next.
Time will tell.