2020 Mil-Spec Automotive Ford F-150 First Test: A Better Baja Basher?11/12/2020
Some folks just don’t want one like everybody else has. If your friends all drive a mass-produced Ford F-150 Raptor or 2021 Ram 1500 TRX, a boutique-built Baja-ready Mil-Spec Automotive Ford F-150 might be just the ticket. Mil-Spec Automotive (MSA) is a plucky Michigan startup founded by a trio of twentysomethings to restore and resto-mod Hummer H1s, but as the supply of these military monsters dwindles, the firm is looking to broaden its reach with more attainable offerings.
How Much Power & Torque Does Mil-Spec’s F-150 Make?
MSA’s founders are designers, not engineers, so they haven’t set out to reinvent the Baja-bashing wheel, and its customers feel more comfortable with a factory warranty, so the Mil-Spec Automotive Ford F-150 is based on the 5.0-liter Coyote V-8, which also helps distinguish it from the 3.5-liter twin-turbo V-6 Ford Raptor. The first state of tune as tested here involves a selection of Ford Performance Parts that preserve the factory warranty, including a high-flow, larger-diameter throttle body inhaling through a similarly enlarged and freer flowing AEM Induction Systems cold-air intake and high-performance air filter. The engine exhales through a Borla S-Type exhaust from the catalyst to the rear axle, which terminates in custom MSA pipes that are routed up high, exiting through black powder-coated 4-inch diameter exhaust tips integrated into the tubular steel rear bumper to maximize departure angle. This, plus custom engine tuning optimized for 91-octane fuel, yields 500 hp at 5,750 rpm and 500 lb-ft at 4,500 rpm.
To save you Googling, that’s 50 more horses and 10 fewer lb-ft than the Ford Raptor makes, with no snails to spool up. And for those hell-bent on chasing down Ram TRXs, MSA is hard at work adapting a Ford Performance Supercharger kit co-developed by Roush for the 5.0-liter. This $14,000 Intrepid Performance Package should make 675 hp and 620 lb-ft. Sure, that’s down 27 hp and 30 lb-ft from the Ram TRX, but the Mil-Spec Ford gets two more transmission gears and might just undercut the TRX’s 6,350-lb curb weight.
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So, How Fast is the Mil-Spec Ford F-150?
Despite the added horsepower, this one’s slower than the Raptor. Stand on both pedals in RWD mode, release the brake at the 2,700-rpm stall speed, and with miniscule wheel spin it squats and goes, hitting 60 mph in 6.3 seconds on its way to a 14.8-seconds 96.4-mph quarter mile. The Raptor’s comparable stats are 6.0 and 14.7 at 91.4 mph. The Mil-Spec truck’s trap-speed advantage speaks to its serious power, while the elapsed time points out its two gearing disadvantages. First, its tires are 2.4 inches taller than the Raptor’s, which accounts for some of its ground-clearance advantage but greatly increases the leverage required for the engine to get those tires turning. Second, the starter truck was built early and equipped with the F-150’s second tallest axle ratio (3.31:1). Mil-Spec generally recommends the shortest one available, which is 3.73:1, but this option was not available when Mil-Spec acquired this truck. The overall gearing in our test truck ends up 32 percent taller than a Raptor’s. Switching in a 3.73:1 gear set would almost halve that difference to 17 percent (and if you could match the Raptor’s 4.10:1 ratio, the tire disadvantage would shrink to just 7 percent). Mil-Spec claims that with the 3.73:1 axle, the 0-60 mph time should drop to 5.7 seconds, and this seems reasonable given the math above. But clearly those intent on battling the Ram TRX (performance claims: 4.5 seconds to 60 mph and 12.9 at 108 mph in the quarter) should consider smaller tires, shorter gearing, and aggressive light-weighting.
What Are the Mil-Spec Suspension Upgrades?
Here again, in developing the optional ($6,000) Baja suspension kit featured on our test truck rather than reinventing anything, MSA leans on the expertise of Brenthel Industries, which builds, maintains, and supports Championship Baja race teams and sells parts under the Baja Kits brand. In front, longer new upper and lower control arms (plus the axle half-shafts used on the Raptor) are fitted that increase the track by 13.5 inches and provide 11.0 inches of wheel travel. A Raptor has 13.9 inches of wheel travel. The control arms use uniball spherical bushings with zerk fittings for lubrication. Heavy-duty fully adjustable Fox 3.0 coil-over units feature remote reservoirs, Eibach springs, and adjustable front ride height (up to 2.0 inches). To account for the added travel, longer stainless steel braided brake hoses are fitted. Finally, the anti-roll bar is removed to improve suspension articulation and high-speed desert performance.
Eibach leaf springs are fitted at the rear, but the bigger news is the revised geometry for the Fox remote-reservoir shocks: They are relocated ahead of the rear axle, with stock mounts removed and rewelded to the frame and axle. Total rear suspension travel is 12.0 inches. The whole setup is capped off with a set of five 9.5 x 20-inch Black Rhino Arsenal aluminum wheels with a Hummer H1 look, wrapped in 37×13.50R20LT Nitto Ridge Grappler tires. As equipped, ground clearance is 13.0 inches, up from 11.5 on the Raptor.
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Around Town, It Feels Military Spec
Two things jump out right off the bat: That Borla exhaust will draw attention on vehicle startup and whenever you stand on the (now literally) “loud” pedal, though it recedes behind a reasonable stereo volume when cruising. And permanently removing the front anti-roll bar results in truly nautical body roll on freeway cloverleafs. Were it my truck, I might opt to manually disconnect or remove the stock bar for desert racing/rock climbing, and then bolt it back up for road driving. (The greatly widened track keeps the truck from ever feeling like it might actually tip over.) The ride seems a bit flintier than the Raptors I’ve been exposed to. The big 20-inch Nittos are probably firmer than the Raptor’s 315/70 R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2s, and the adjustable Fox Shox were set full-firm. These corners must weigh more than a Raptor’s, which would explain the sense I got of unsprung weight amplifying road impacts.
The suspension just felt awfully busy on small amplitude stuff jiggling my gut a lot on the small-amplitude road imperfections. This may be one of those conditions that large-scale OEMs manage to engineer out but small specialty shops struggle to master. Oh, and bring your gas-card: This Mil-Spec F-150 was self-reporting around 12 mpg during my days in it. The Raptor’s EPA combined rating is 16 mpg; then again, a Mil-Spec Hummer H1 is almost certainly even thirstier.
Raptor-Goes-Tactical Styling Upgrades
Design is the MSA founders’ passion, and to deliver the authentic Mil-Spec appearance, the truck gets unique flared fenders and rear quarter panels to clear the monster tires and widened track, extending the stock body width by 7.0 inches. The front fenders incorporate Raptor-esque vents, but they’re not stock Ford parts. Then there are powder coated heavy duty side steps by Addictive Desert Designs and the aforementioned tubular front and rear bumpers with skid plates. These bumpers help deliver 35.0 degrees of approach angle and 27.0 degrees of departure angle (the breakover-angle is 23.0 degrees). Those are up from 30.2/ 23.0/21.8 on the Raptor SuperCrew. A new Mil-Spec grille incorporates clearance lights (required by the expanded width) and is flanked by high-intensity LED headlights to improve visibility on the road. Naturally, the look is completed by a comprehensive graphics package and Mil-Spec badging in a choice of brushed metal or black anodized finishes. Not Baja enough for you? Then tick the $8,600 Baja Exterior Appearance Package box to get a “chase rack” bed-mounted spare tire, a low-profile roof rack with storage and eight road lights, plus a front bumper light pod.
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Inner Strength—What Changes Inside?
Mil-Spec replaced our XLT-grade test vehicle’s stock cloth seat upholstery with tan Katzkin leather (black and grey are available) and added brushed metal badges including a number plate with our specific VIN. And perhaps best of all, there are real machine-knurled knobs to replace the plastic originals for audio, climate controls, four-wheel-drive selecting, etc. Mil-Spec Ford F-150s can be built from nearly any grade of F-150, but starting with an XL or XLT heightens the military feel—genuine wood, a sewn leather dash covering, and ventilated massaging seats would seem out of place.
What Does a Mil-Spec Ford F-150 Cost?
The basic Mil-Spec package adds $34,950 to the price of a 5.0-liter 4×4 F-150 SuperCrew short-box pickup, which in XL trim currently starts at $42,485. The Baja suspension package is $6,000. The test vehicle here rings in at $93,750. Tick every box, and add it to a loaded Platinum F-150 (the fanciest grade available with the 5.0) and you can top $130,000. That sounds pretty rich by comparison with a Raptor, which starts at $58,135 and tops out just under $80K, or a 2021 Ram TRX ($71,690-$90,445). Or you could look at it as getting some of the cachet of a $269,500 Mil-Spec Hummer H1 for a third or half the price. And you certainly won’t see yourself coming and going.
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