Remember when the words Harley-Davidson conjured up images of big, burley men covered in tattoos, spitting epithets at old ladies and drinking beer from the keg? Talk about a change of image. The Harley-Davidson of today means accountants, doctors, salesmen and moms out for a Sunday ride on their Softails, Sportsters and Dynas. The general population has discovered that these bikes, which produce one of the most distinctive sounds in the world, are actually fun to ride. And it doesn't hurt that they enjoy the tough, wild, and free image they think comes standard with these bikes. Not wanting to be left out of this moneymaking and popular image, Ford has joined the gang with its 2000 Ford F-150 Limited Edition Harley-Davidson pickup.
The basics are a 4x2 SuperCab model with the FlareSide box on a 139-inch chassis. The truck is painted black with a Harley-Davidson orange accent tape stripe along the sides and on the tailgate. Added to that are two fairly large badges with a combined Harley-Davidson/F-150 stamp that reside on the front fenders. The front and rear bumpers are painted black and feature integrated foglights up front, and the grille and lower air intake area are chrome billet for a customized look. Chrome pipes run alongside the doors, but are for show, not blow, and are no help when climbing in and out of the cabin. The truck was originally intended to feature a black hard tonneau cover, but, according to Ford, quality problems at the supplier level have delayed that part. The good news is you'll get a $500 credit for the cover, plus you'll receive a voucher for a jacket that sports the logo found on the front fender. Ford was still working out the details of this bonus; see your Ford dealer for more information. Because we didn't get a tonneau cover, Ford included a rubber box floormat that also sported the H-D logo.
Inside the bike theme carries over, with Ebony black Nudo leather captain's chairs with the Tyca Harley-Davidson logo stamped into the seatbacks. There's a stitched black leather accessory pouch with logo on the center console, chrome steering column stalks and door release handles, a black leather steering wheel, black instrument panel with Ford/H-D dash ornament, unique Harley-Davidson "spun metal" instrument cluster to match that found on the bikes, and black floor mats that, surprisingly, are missing the logo imprint. If you wanted to see bright orange anywhere, the floormats would have been a logical choice. The F-150 comes with the usual items most owners desire: air conditioning, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, keyless remote entry, and privacy glass, which help reinforce the image of black as "bad."
Under the hood sits the 5.4-liter Triton V-8 engine, producing 260 horsepower and 350 pound-feet of torque. The truck receives a 3.55 limited slip rear axle for better off-the-line performance, and the suspension has been lowered one inch, with revised springs and a larger front stabilizer bar added for improved lateral stability. The only transmission choice is the 5-speed automatic with overdrive. Disc brakes front and rear with 4-wheel ABS are included with this model.
If you think Ford and Harley make strange bedfellows, you must not be a racing fan, as Ford is a big provider of technical support and sponsorship to Harley's Superbike racing program. In addition, both companies began in 1903, with Ford selling the Model A, and the William Harley/Davidson brothers producing three motorcycles at the same time. And both will be celebrating centennials in 2003. The partnership formed between the two companies is slated for a five-year run, and Ford is hinting that there may be other jointly developed products appearing within that period. For now, first-year production for the truck is set at 7,000 units, and depending on demand, the numbers can be raised or lowered. Our test truck started at $32,305, and added $125 for the sliding rear window and another $210 for the center-console-integrated 6-disc CD changer. With destination, the grand total was $33,330.
On the twisties of Mulholland, where at least one rider a day dumps his bike trying to maneuver the tight corners, we drove the H-D-F around with impressively little body roll. The large tires did a good job of providing grip-much better than the captain's chairs, which could have used more lateral support to make the driving experience more fun. On the highway it's another story. If you intend to drive the truck only on flat, fresh asphalt, you'll have no complaints. In the real world, where there are potholes, expansion joints, uneven pavement, and cement road grooves, we discover the ride is bouncy, floaty, and rougher than expected. In defense of the truck, we drove around with the bed unloaded. Throw some weight in the back, and the ride is bound to improve. The tires created some road noise, but there are trade-offs. You can have a quiet ride, but look like a pinhead with rubber that won't help create the impact for which Ford and Harley were aiming.
On the plus side, steering was direct and linear, and the Triton engine produced gobs of torque for hill climbing and impromptu green-light drag races (up to the speed limit, of course). Third gear felt tall, and we kept punching the throttle to downshift. Half of the time we drove around with the overdrive gear off.
What we really wanted to do was load a Harley in the bed, but it wouldn't fit, and there are no plans to put the extended bed on this truck. This means the truck is for driving around when the bike is in the shop or it's raining, not for bike hauling. You can, however, take a fair amount of equipment with you, as the truck has a 4,000-pound tow rating with a 1,300-pound payload capacity. But it's okay. Trucks don't always have to be everything to everybody. There are plenty of other trucks that you can bang up and get dirty. This is a show vehicle created to make a statement, not be a pack mule.