2006 Ford F-250 Super Chief

In this ongoing series, we critique some of the industry's more significant or controversial designs. Ford's new truck concept, Super Chief, gives us lots to talk about.

  • Choosing a car at dealership. Thoughtful grey hair man in formalwear leaning at the car and looking away

In this ongoing series, we critique some of the industry's more significant or controversial designs. Ford's new truck concept, Super Chief, gives us lots to talk about.

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When I spoke with Peter Horbury, head of Ford Design North America, he taunted, "You want a truck? We've got a TRUCK!" He wasn't kidding.

At this year's Detroit auto show, where small cars were the hot topic, Ford's F-250 Super Chief truck concept couldn't have stood out more. Of course, naming a truck after a locomotive is the first indication that Ford was out to make a no-holds-barred statement.

In the truck image game, size does matter. At over 22 feet long, and almost 8 feet wide, with 24-inch wheels, the Super Chief is HUGE.

Looking beyond its brawn, the Super Chief is actually a nervy piece of design work. The front end is monolithic and intimidating — like a locomotive — and when its huge one-piece hood is pivoted forward, it exposes the stunning Tri-Flex V10. The silver bodywork beautifully complements the engine's alloy components.

The greenhouse has a chopped, lowered look that radiates attitude, and emphasizes the lower body and flared wheel arches.

Inspired by "classic railway viewing cars" (there's the train theme again), the interior comes off looking more lavish than rugged. Every bit as bold as the exterior, the interior is finished in three materials: American Walnut, brushed aluminum, and rich brown leather (courtesy of the well-known Spinneybeck Leather company). In some cases the use of Walnut goes beyond just trim — the entire dashboard and ceiling lattice are made of the stuff. More wood is found on the steering wheel, floor, door panels, truck bed, and gauge surrounds.

Then there is the rich brown leather of the seats; in single direction, rather than compound curvature. The resulting surfaces are less comfortable than their more sculpted counterparts. (Who needs lateral seat support, anyway?) The situation is somewhat diffused by the ottomans, which deploy from the floor and the mini-bar console for the rear passengers.

No, the Super Chief will never appear in Ford showrooms, but I'm sure some of its design elements will.


  • The interior is a lavish place to be just as long as there is no hard cornering — seats offer no lateral support


  • Roof's marker lights, obligatory on a vehicle of this width, are nicely integrated into the roof.


  • Clean bodylines extend onto the rear tailgate where the taillights are two simple strips of LEDs.


  • Wood and aluminum floor and truck bed are much too nice to get dirty.


  • Suicide doors always add drama to show cars.


  • Rectangular gauges and console shift have a 1960's feel.


  • Wooden bed continues the theme of the interiors and confers hand-crafted exclusivity.


  • The front of the Super Chief is monolithic and menacing but maintains a "Ford" look.


  • Outrageous dimensions — 22 feet long, almost 8 feet wide, and 24-inch wheels!

    Paul Deutschman of Deutschman Design Inc. is a Montreal-based automotive designer (

    * * *


    Despite its apparent larger-than-life proportions, the Ford F-250 Super Chief concept is no bigger than the current production Dodge Ram Mega Cab; in fact, its overall dimensions are only slighter larger than the current F-250.

    But Peter Horbury, chief designer for Ford's North American products, obviously wanted to make a statement — something to the effect that, if we're going to do a pickup truck, then let's do a pickup truck for all it's worth.

    Inspired by the formidable Super Chief American locomotives of the 1930s, '40s and '50s, it seems to be a take on the American Dream — we are big, powerful, and moving down the tracks. And at this point, it is just a dream — or a concept at least, that is only for show, and/or to provoke discussion.

    There are two key elements to consider when approaching this latest work by Horbury: the visual, and the cultural context.

    Visually, the concept emphasizes American design elements — largeness, clean and vast surfaces, generous wood trim, an unmistakably massive American front end, and a glass/metal ratio directly derived from early industrial machines. The entire exercise is exclusively directed to the North American market; only local design signatures were considered.

    This is Ford's new direction — moving product imagine up on the ladder; from somewhere around 'blue collar' to somewhere around high-end 'blue jeans'.

    Culturally, the concept draws from an American pop culture legend, Hollywood's Train of Stars. The original Super Chief trains ran between Chicago and Los Angeles, and the passenger lists were studded with such names as Bing Crosby, Judy Garland, Richard Burton, Liz Taylor and Dean Martin, to name only a few. Add also some heavy-duty presidents, like Truman, Eisenhower and Regan, and the Super Chief name takes on an additional meaning.

    This concept was created to generate buzz and attract attention — goals it achieved. Even though it won't see the production line, expect elements of it to define the new identity of the F-250 Super Duty, due in 2007.


  • Panoramic vista glass roof is reminiscent of the original Super Chief observation dome.


  • The absence of traditional tail lamps aids distinctiveness of rear look. Use of LEDs successfully echoes front look.


  • Cabin wood floor matches the bed — a nautical Chris Craft signature.


  • Overkill steering wheel and extra-overkill 'gear' shifter seriously at odds with the refinements of the rest of the cabin. Great color scheme though…


  • Illuminated door handles, positioned in tandem, are beautiful — for door handles at least.


  • Polished metal and three bar grille are core elements of Ford's new facial identity. LED headlights and integrated LED turn lamps further the new look.


  • A surprising thin bumper adds to the tallness of the grille.


  • Front fender ornament and vents are strictly attention-grabbing elements. Too many and too much.

    Michael Pistol, of Michael Pistol Automobile Studio, is an art concept automobile designer/ builder and automotive journalist specialized in design and marketing (

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