I don’t know what was more horrifying, the fact that I got suckered into buying a $500 Rolls Royce, or that I had to tow the damn thing home using a full size truck with an engine the size of a pea.
For the first terrifying part of that sentence, I blame my friend Bill. He called me up on a Thursday asking “hey, you wanna buy a Rolls?” I was at my desk, buried in work, and so my response was a dismissive “uh, no.”
But then he rephrased. “Hey, you wanna buy a Rolls… and turn it into a LeMons race car?” That’s a different story entirely, as evidenced by the fact that I was sitting in front of Bill’s house at 4:00 the next morning with a truck and a trailer.
Timing is everything, and in this case, the timing just plain sucked. I was supposed to be at Thunderhill Raceway for my first-ever LeMons race that day, and Bill was driving up to East Bumblethunk to meet up with some rally organizers for some other vehicular craziness… So we loaded Bill’s BMW 3-series onto the back of the F-150 and towed it from San Francisco to Sacramento, where we dumped it in a Home Depot parking lot.
We continued with an empty trailer to Reno, where we picked up our (ahem) gorgeous maroon ’68 Rolls, estimated curb weight 4.7 million tons. If I told you how we managed to heave the thing onto the trailer, you’d brand me a lunatic and never again trust anything I wrote. Suffice it to say there was a small fire involved and we’re all lucky to be alive. And by “we” I mean anyone within a four-mile radius.
Anyway, the plan was simple: schlep the Rolls back to Sacramento, kick Bill out at Home Depot so he could retrieve his car and be on his merry way. Then, I’d continue on to Thunderhill, go drive the wheels off my team’s Alfa Romeo for a couple of days, and then tow the Rolls home on Sunday.
Easy, right? Well, aside from the fact that the lumbering mass of compressed rust formerly known as a Rolls Royce weighed so much it caused a trailer tire to explode. And it snapped three (of the four) nylon tie-downs that were trying to hold it on the trailer. I’ll fast-forward to the end: the Rolls is now safely rusting in a corner of Bill’s shop.
The impressive thing—other than the lack of casualties—is that the towing was the easiest part. Joking aside, we estimated the Rolls’ weight at just over 5000 lb (including the spare Hydramatic in the trunk and the hundred or so pounds of E. coli bacteria in the interior), which meant the F-150’s little 3.5-liter V-6 was saddled with about 8000 lb of additional mass. On top of the F-150′s big mass.
In case you hadn’t noticed, California is hilly. And the road from San Francisco to Reno is bisected by the dreaded Donner Pass – a 7329-foot vertical climb above the Bay Area. That’s a hell of a hill for any vehicle—but given the F-150’s small V-6, the summer heat, and the Rolls out back, there was cause for concern.
My anxiety was misplaced. If anyone tells you that you need a V-8 to tow, they would be wrong. At least now that there’s an EcoBoost V-6. Look, I’m no truck and towing expert, but I’ve logged over 5000 miles in the last five years with car carriers on the back of vehicles from a GMC Acadia to a Ford F-350 Super Duty King Ranch—and everything between—and the EcoBoost V-6 is, by far and away, my favorite powertrain for towing.
First of all, I expected to be deafened by the 6000-rpm scream of a V-6 the entire time I was towing. In reality, the F-150 almost never needed to downshift out of top gear on the highway. That meant that the engine was all but inaudible, turning some 1800 rpm at my (highly illegal) 70-mph cruising speed. The turbos spooled up audibly up grades—but even for accelerating back to 70 mph after slowing down for slower traffic, downshifts were mostly unnecessary.
Secondly, when lots of revs were called for – say, a full-throttle top-speed run up the Donner Pass (just to see what would happen), the Ecoboost sounded nothing like a V-6. It’s obvious that Ford put lots of effort into tuning the shriek out of the engine. A nice V-6 shriek is a good thing in a sports car, but it would be maddening for hours-on-end highway cruising. To be honest, even the Dodge Ram’s burbly V-8 wail gets old when climbing serious grades with a big load in tow. Instead, the Ecoboost sounds like a three-cylinder… or better, a distant Bugatti Veyron. Seriously – it makes the same muted, dull roar and turbo whoosh noises. It’s certainly not going to stir your soul, but as the soundtrack of a workhorse, it’s perfect.
(Oh, and that top speed run up the steep Donner Pass? We never hit VMax thanks to the other cars around us. We once easily attained 85 mph, and the F-150 had plenty more to go, but traffic kept us under 80. For the better, we suspect. But clearly, power is not a problem here, nor was engine cooling, as none of the gauges seemed to budge.) Braking on the downhill side of the Pass was also a no-worry game, since this F-150 (equipped with the Max Trailer Tow package) had the best integrated brake controller I’ve ever seen. Even with the heavy Rolls, we were nowhere near the Ford’s 11,300-lb maximum towing capacity.)
The EcoBoost makes 365 hp (five more than the F-150’s optional 5.0-liter V-8) but more importantly, 420 lb-ft of torque, which is 40 more than the small V-8, and over a far broader RPM range. In fact, the EcoBoost’s numbers compare better to the biggest available gas V-8, the 6.2-liter monster that pushes out 411 hp and 434 lb-ft of torque. The turbos give the V-6 the low-end torque of a diesel for relaxed towing, but with the operating band of a gas engine for more gear selection. It’s really a no-lose proposition.
And then we come to the fuel economy. In total, I spent 16 hours behind the wheel of the F-150, racking up 729.6 miles, all but 80 of it towing. Average indicated fuel consumption was 12.8 mpg, and my gas receipts confirmed it. This is the kind of fuel economy I’d expect from one of the gasoline V-8s, and not too far off of what I’ve gotten in an F-250 Super Duty diesel (13.7 mpg with only 5000 lb in tow).
The difference is that when I pulled the trailer off the F-150 EcoBoost, I saw fuel economy that I’ve never seen in a full-size gas truck – over 16 mpg on the city streets of San Francisco. My conclusion is that under extreme use, the EcoBoost probably doesn’t save much in the way of fuel—but in everyday use, the fuel savings are significant. (And the EPA agrees with the latter: the EcoBoost is rated at 15/21 city/highway versus 12/16 for a similarly outfitted 6.2-liter V-8.)
Oh, and about that Alfa Romeo in LeMons? It was awesome – and I did, literally, drive the wheels off of it. Well, one of them, in the middle of an 80-mph corner. But we still managed to finish the race, which is all that counts. And as per usual, the truck-and-trailer rig I climbed into for the drive home was faster than the damn race car. And, thankfully, it didn’t lose a wheel.