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High Speed Performance Characteristics of Pickup Trucks

High Speed Performance
Characteristics of Pickup Trucks

by P.J. O'Rourke

I'm an experienced pickup truck driver. I was driving my pickup the other Saturday night after having - as I made very clear to the police - hardly anything to drink and while going - honest, officer - about thirty miles an hour when, I swear, a deer ran into the road, and I was forced to pull of the highway with such abruptness that it took the wrecker crew six hours to get my truck out of the woods.

An experienced pickup truck driver is a person who's wrecked one. An inexperienced pickup truck driver is a person who's about to wreck one. A very inexperienced pickup truck driver doesn't even own a pickup but will probably be mistaken for a wild antelope by people jack-lighting pronghorns in somebody else's pickup truck. The foremost high-speed-handling characteristic of pickup trucks is the remarkably high speed with which they head from wherever you are directly into trouble. This has to do with beer. The minute you get in a pickup you want a beer. I'm not exactly sure why this is, but personally I blame it on Jimmy Carter having been President.

You see, everyone in America has always wanted to be a redneck. That's why all those wig-and-knicker colonial guys moved to Kentucky with Davy Crockett even before he got his TV show. And witness aristocratic young Theodore Roosevelt's attempt to be a "rough rider." Even Henry James used the same last name as his peckerwood cousin Jesse. And as Henry James would tell you, if anyone read him anymore and also if he were still alive, the single most prominent distinguishing feature of the redneck is t hat he drives a pickup truck. This explains why all of us are muscling these things around downtown Minneapolis and Cincinnati.

You may be wondering where Jimmy Carter comes in. Well, Jimmy Carter was a redneck just like we're all trying to be, but he was a sober redneck. Most of us had never seen a sober redneck, and we have the Reagan landslide to testify that none of us ev er want to see on again. It was a horrifying apparition. And ever since Jimmy Carter all of us rednecks have had to be very careful to be drunk rednecks lest we turn into some kind of awful creature with big buck teeth and a State Department fu ll of human-rights yahoos.

Thus the pickup truck has become the world's only beer-guided motor vehicle. Let's examine one unit of this guidance system. Let's examine another. Let's examine the whole six-pack. Now let's drive over and see if any ducks have come in on Hodge Po ng. Whooops! Crash! Forgot the camper back wasn't bolted down.

The Pickup: Design and Engineering

A pickup is basically a back porch with an engine attached. Both a pickup and a back porch are good places to drink beer because you can always take a leak standing up from either. Pickup trucks are generally a little faster downhill than back porche s, with the exception of certain California back porches during mudslide season. But back porches get better gas mileage.

Another important difference between back porches and pickup trucks is the suspension systems. Back porches are most often seated firmly on the ground by means of cement-block foundations. Nothing nearly that sophisticated is used in pickup trucks. The front suspension of a modern pickup truck is fully independent. Each wheel is independently bolted right to the frame. The rear suspension is a live axle usually attached by a rope to someone else's bumper while he tries to pull you out of the woods .

This suspension design is ideal for use in conjunction with the pickup's 100 percent front/0 percent rear weight distribution. This weight distribution is achieved through engine placement. The engine is place just where you'd place it on a back porc h - hanging off one end so you can get under it and take a look at the giant dent in the oil pan you got when you ran over the patio furniture last night.

Theoretically such forward-weight bias should cause gross understeer. But everyone involved with pickup trucks is whooping it up too much to have any grasp of theory, so the forward-weight bias causes oversteer instead. What happens to an unloaded pi ckup truck in a curve is that the rear end has nothing to do - is unemployed, metaphorically speaking - so it comes around to ask you for work, up there in the front of the truck where all the weight is. And the result is exactly like one of those revolv ing restaurants that they have on hotels except it's on four bald snow tires instead of a hotel, and it's in the middle of the highway, and it tips over.

In order to correct this handling problem, the pickup's load bed is filled with leaf mulch, garden loam, hundred-pound bags of dog food, two snowmobiles, half a cord of birch logs, your son's Cub Scout pack, and a used refrigerator to put beer in out o n the back porch. The result is an adjusted weight bias of 0 percent front/100 percent rear that causes a handling problem different from either understeer or oversteer, which is no steering at all because the front wheels aren't touching the ground.

The same kind of thinking that went into pickup truck suspension design has also been applied to the pickup engine, which is basically the same device Jim Watt was using to pump water out of coal mines in 1810 except that, in accordance with recent EPA ruling, a hanky soaked in Pinsol has been stuffed into each cylinder to cut down on exhaust emissions. There are three types of pickup truck engines: the six-cylinder engine, which does not have enough cylinders; the eight-cylinder engine, which has to o many; and the four-cylinder engine, which is found in "mini pickups" driven by people who thing John Denver is the right kind of redneck to be and believe they can talk to whales. The less said about four-cylinder engines the better. But all these eng ines have a common fault in that they continue to run after the ignition has been switched off, a phenomenon known as "dieseling." Engines that actually are diesels have been introduced for pickup trucks and they rectify this problem by not starting in t he first place.

It doesn't matter. The real power for pickup trucks is generated inside the gearbox, or at least it seems to be because it's so noisy in there. And if it isn't, it soon will be after you get blotto and start shifting without the clutch.

There are usually five gears in a pickup. One is a mystery gear which is illustrated on the shift knob but cannot be found. Then there is first gear, which is good for getting stuck in the woods. When you aren't stuck in the woods it's good for yank ing your bumper off while trying to help a friend who owns a pickup when he's stuck in the woods. First gear has a top speed of three. Third gear has a slightly higher top speed but you can't climb a speed bump without downshifting and the truc k still only gets eight mpg. It is not known exactly what third gear is for. All normal pickup truck driving is done in second. Pickups also have a reverse gear, which is good for getting more completely stuck in the woods than first gear can do alone.

Because pickup trucks get stuck in the woods so often, four-wheel drive has become a popular option. The four-wheel-drive feature is either operated by a lever which fails to put the truck in 4WD or by a lever which fails to take it out. Four-wheel d rive allows you to mire four wheels axle-deep in the woods instead of just two.

Perhaps the most novel aspect to pickup truck engineering is that pickups have no brakes. True, there's a parking brake which, if you set it, allows you to let your driverless pickup roll downhill into a busy intersection with a clear conscience. And there is a brake pedal, but stepping on it only produces a poignant desire for one more beer before you crash into the woods, but sometimes the spare tire, which hangs down behind the bumper in the back, will fall partly out of its mounting and produce d rag force. And very often a pickup will run out of gas and coast to a stop. And right in front of a bar, too - according to what you told your wife.

That just goes to show how thoroughgoing the relationship is between pickups and drinking. I mean it sure looks like these things were designed by people who'd been drinking. And the level of finish indicates they were built by people who'd been drin king. It only stands to reason they should be driven by people like us who are half in the bag. As a result, the most popular pickup truck performance modification is - you guessed it - having a drink. For instance, at sixty miles an hour take a tight turn and notice that if you hadn't been tight you never would have taken that turn in the first place. Now you call a wrecker and I'll go get some tall ones.

Driving Technique

Driving a pickup at high speed is a difficult skill to master. The first step is to assume the proper driving position: Use one hand to firmly grasp the drip rail on the roof. This takes the place of shoulder harness, lap belt, and air bag and lets you give the finger to people with anti-handgun bumper stickers on their cars. Then place you r other hand on the gearshift knob so you'll always know what gear you're in (which is second, as I pointed out before). Now take your third hand...Perhaps som e picture of the difficulty is beginning to emerge. Anyway, be sure to balance your beer can carefully in your lap.

The second step is to drive over to the 7-Eleven and get more beer. Use your down vest to mop up the one you spilled all over your crotch as you backed out the driveway.

The third step is cornering technique. There are three ways to take a high-speed curve in a pickup. The first way is to use the traditional racecar driver's "late apex": Go deep into the curve at full speed doing all your downshifting and useless br ake-pedal pumping in a straight line. Then, in one smooth motion, turn the wheel to the full extent necessary for the curve. Aim for an apex slightly past the geometrical apex of the inside edge of the curve and slowly bring the steering wheel back to s traight ahead as you reapply the throttle. This will put your truck into the woods. The second way to take a fast curve is to come into the curve slightly slower, dial in a greater amount of steering, and stay on the throttle so as to propel the truck i nto a "power slide." This will put your truck in the woods too. The third method is to come to a full stop before entering the curve and have a beer. While you're doing that someone else will come along in another pickup truck and knock you into the wo ods anyway.

Now that you've wrecked a pickup and are an experienced pickup truck driver, it's important to know what to tell the police. Tell them a deer ran into the road. This happens very frequently in the places where we rednecks live, especially when we've been drinking. For example, below are the five most common explanations made to the North Carolina Highway Patrol by drivers who have put their pickup trucks into the woods:

1. A deer ran into the road.
2. A deer ran into the road.
3. A deer ran into the road.
4. A deer ran into the road.
5. I was stopped at a stop sign but I had to start up again real fast and run my pickup into the woods because otherwise it would have been smashed by this deer that ran into the road.

Purchase, Repair, and Maintenance of the High-Performance Pickup Truck

If, however, you still haven't wrecked a pickup truck and are weighing the obvious delights of having an opportunity to do so against such considerations as wanting to be a redneck but only having enough money to be middle-class or having a wife who th ought she was marrying a college-educated account executive, here are some points for you to consider. First, how much will a pickup truck cost?

Pickup: $9360.00
Beer: $2.89
Another pickup to replace first one that you wreck: $9360.00
Rabbit for wife, who won't drive truck: $8750.00
TOTAL: $27,472.89

That's a fair piece of change. But on the other hand, pickup trucks are virtually maintenance-free. In fact, all pickup repairs can be done with a long chain. Attach one end of the chain to the pickup truck, drop the other end of the chain on the gr ound, and go buy a real car.

You may also want to know if a pickup truck is truly useful. I'm afraid the answer is yes -- all to much so. But, when all is said and done, it really would have looked silly at the end of Easy Rider if Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper had been shot by a couple of guys in a Fiat Brava. And what's life for if you never get a chance to shoot the likes of Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper? Besides, you'll never really appreciate the profound and astonishing beauties of nature if you don't get stuck in the woods now and then. And you won't appreciate them half as much if you don't have a lot of beer along.

Visit the P.J. Homepage

You know you have enough horsepower when:


HAMMER: Originally employed as a weapon of war, today the hammer is used as a kind of divining rod to locate tender body parts not far from the object you are trying to hit.

MECHANIC'S KNIFE: Used to open cardboard cartons. It works particularly well on boxes containing convertible tops or tonneau covers.

PLIERS: Used to round off bolt heads.

HACKSAW: One of a family of cutting tools built on the Ouija board principle. It transforms human energy into crooked, unpredictable motion, and the more you attempt to influence its course, the more dismal your future becomes.

VISE GRIPS: Used to round off bolt heads. If nothing else is available, they can transfer intense welding heat to the palm of your hand.

OXYACETYLENE TORCH: Used to remove rounded off bolts and free any stuck part.

DRILL PRESS: A tall upright machine useful to suddenly snatching flat metal stock out of your hands so that it smacks you in the chest and throws your work across the room.

WIRE WHEEL: Cleans rust off old bolts and then throws them somewhere under the workbench at the speed of light. Also removes fingerprints, warts and calluses.

HYDRAULIC FLOOR JACK: Used for lowering drop spindle trucks to the ground, trapping the jack handle firmly under the front air dam.

EIGHT FOOT LONG 2X4: Used to pry truck upward off a hydraulic jack

TWEEZERS: A tool used for removing wood splinters.

PHONE: Tool for calling around to find another hydraulic floor jack.

E-Z OUT BOLT AND STUD EXTRACTOR: A tool that snaps off in bolt holes and is ten times harder than any known drill bit.

TIMING LIGHT: A stroboscopic instrument for illuminating grease buildup on crankshaft pulleys.

TWO-TON HYDRAULIC ENGINE HOIST: A handy tool for testing the tensile strength of ground straps and hydraulic clutch lines you may have forgotten to disconnect.

CRAFTSMAN 1/2 X 16" SCREWDRIVER: A large motor mount prying tool that inexplicably has an accurately machined screwdriver tip on one end.

BATTERY ELECTROLYTE TESTER: A handy tool for transferring sulfuric acid from a battery to the inside of your toolbox after determining that your battery is dead as a doornail, just as you thought.


TROUBLE LIGHT: Sometimes called a drop light. Its main purpose is to consume 40-watt light bulbs. More often dark than light, its name is somewhat misleading.

PHILLIPS SCREWDRIVER: Normally used to stab the lids of old-style paper-and-tin oil cans and splash oil on your shirt. It can also be used, as the name implies, to round off Phillips screw heads.

AIR COMPRESSOR: A machine that takes energy produced in a coal-burning power plant 200 miles away and transforms it into compressed air that travels by hose to a Chicago Pneumatic impact wrench that grips rusty suspension bolts last tightened 40 years ago by someone in Detroit and rounds them off.

Thanks to The Classic Truck Shop for "Tools"

On the Lighter Side is just that, so enjoy. Check back to this page often as I will be adding new "funnies" as I find them. If you have any suggestions for O.T.L.S., please e-mail me. Thank you for helping to build this page. Jack.

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