1978 Ford F-100 Eluminator First Test Review: Business Up Top, Party Underneath06/20/2022
- Mach-E GT acceleration
- Spectacular brakes
- Unspeakably cool
- Slightly busy ride
- Wind noise
- You can’t buy one
Ever since we encountered this Avalanche Gray vintage Ford F-100 pickup last year, we begged the automaker to let us test it. Well, we finally managed to get on the 1978 Ford F-100 Eluminator’s dance card—and with permission to record official acceleration and braking numbers.
What Is the F-100 Eluminator?
Ford is doubling down on electrification. It’s subdividing its business into Model E (electric) and Blue (combustion-powered) divisions. It’s also introducing an electric “crate motor” dubbed Eluminator that’s based on the units that power the Mustang Mach-E GT, and readying a battery electric version of America’s bestselling vehicle—the F-150 (Lightning). So, to help promote all of the foregoing, the Ford Performance Group reckoned they’d drape vintage pickup bodywork over the battery, powertrain, and basic suspension of a Mustang Mach-E GT.
How Did Ford Performance Pull This Off?
Ford Performance sat down with McCue-Lane Electric Race Cars (MLe), which helped build Ford’s Cobra Jet 1400 e-drag racer, to brainstorm project vehicles. When they came up with doing something based on an F-100, MLe recommended the Roadster Shop, which has built several custom pickups on bespoke frames and which had already digitized an F-100. Upon receiving the Mach-E GT front and rear powertrain/chassis modules and battery pack from Ford, the Roadster Shop designed a frame capable of integrating the various mounting locations for these parts with those of the pickup body and box mounts from a donor 1978 Ford F-100 pickup. The result was a custom, CNC laser-cut 10-gauge steel boxed frame that essentially preserves all the Mach-E suspension geometry (and incorporates some fun Roadster Shop logo Easter eggs). It may have helped a little that the original wheelbases of the two vehicles measure within half an inch of one another. MLe then managed the final assembly, as well as the integration and calibration of the powertrain. Lastly, Ford Performance handled the final calibration of the suspension, which employs Mach-E front struts with custom spring perches for ride-height adjustment, as well as Roadster Shop rear coil-over dampers that feature Fox internals. The target ride frequency was comfy cruiser, not autocross assassin.
So, Does It Perform Like a Mach-E GT Pickup?
The result certainly launches like a Mach-E GT pickup. The suspension is tuned to permit substantial squat at launch, and the whole setup generates impressively consistent results. We tried building torque against the brakes, dropping the accelerator without braking, launching on different surfaces, and the results only varied within a couple tenths of a second. (It’d make an awesome bracket racer!) Weighing just 160 pounds more than our last Mach-E4x GT test vehicle with the Performance package, and running identical gearing (the two vehicles’ disparate tires even have essentially the same diameter), it’s no surprise that the two run neck and neck to 40 mph. Beyond that speed the truck’s bluff aerodynamics exact an increasingly significant toll, widening the sleeker ‘Stang’s lead to 0.3 second by 60 mph and to 4.5 seconds by 100 mph.
Bluff aerodynamics can only help with braking, where the vintage truck (running essentially the same brakes) stopped within 3 feet of the Mach-E in an impressive 105 feet with sufficient g-forces to propel my sunglasses forward onto the dashboard. We didn’t have access to a skidpad or figure-eight venue, but our guess is the results would again be reasonably close.
Quickest Ford Pickup
Not surprisingly, these results rank this Mach-E-powered F-100 Eluminator electric pickup as the quickest Ford F-series pickup we’ve ever track-tested—at least to 60 mph (3.9 seconds) and through the quarter mile (13.0). The next best quarter-milers we’ve run are a pair of supercharged Ford SVT Lightnings from the early 2000s trailing by 0.6 and 0.8 second, and the best performer among the current crop of F-150s is the 430-hp/570-lb-ft hybrid PowerBoost variant at 13.8 seconds (yep, the hybrid beats the Raptors). Of course, these fuel-burners all top 100 mph by the quarter mile, while the Eluminator is tapering off at 95.7 mph, so they’ll all overtake it eventually. We have yet to test the all-electric Lightning as of this writing; we expect it to be right in the Eluminator’s neighborhood in terms of 0-60 mph, so we’ll see if this EV/vintage mash-up remains at the top of the Ford truck heap.
What’s It Like to Drive?
Driving the Eluminator electric pickup truck, it feels remarkably production-ready. The ride feels supple, if a tad busy, but even so we’d wager this one-off rattles and squeaks less now than it did in 1978. The smaller-diameter steering wheel and quick ratio electric power steering from the Mach-E swing the wheels from lock to lock in way fewer turns than any period pickup, and this Roadster Shop chassis and fully independent suspension are vastly more responsive and buttoned down than any Twin I-Beam front/live-axle leaf-sprung rear setup could ever hope to be.
Fear not, however: The Eluminator retains plenty of period-correct charm. Like the way both door hinges squawk when you open them, and the poor sealing of the vent-wing windows that results in copious wind whistle, and the struggle required to open the hood and access the frunk. (We used this space a lot, because the shiny-painted bed lacks tie-down points for securing gear.) Nevertheless, the cabin—upgraded with a Mach-E console, instrument cluster, infotainment, and seats—proved quite comfortable over our 200-plus-mile drive. Of course, not all Mach-E systems are functional. Something onboard interfered with incoming GPS signals, rendering both the onboard navigation and the nav apps on two phones completely inoperative. And while the team incorporated every one of the Mach-E’s ADAS sensors, some are in wildly different locations and the team ran out of time to recalibrate them, so there’s no adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, lane-departure warning, etc. At least the calibration wizards managed to stifle the warning messages these systems were surely dying to share.
What Would It Take to Build Another One?
Nobody involved with the project will go on record to share the cost of this build, but Ford Performance engineer Brian Novak assures us that if someone desperately wanted to build a second one, it’s definitely doable. The computer files exist to recreate the chassis, and presuming you can source the right Mach-E (maybe one lightly rolled while departing a cars and coffee?) and F-100, the custom assembly could be done, and for “McLaren money, not Bugatti money.”
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