F350 BLACK OPS – BRING ON THE YANK-TANK INVASION
From Kentucky to Tuscany, this Black Ops behemoth arrived Down Under with one purpose in mind – tackle the tracks with the holiday house in tow!
Words and Images by Harry Temple
High school sweethearts, Joel and Belinda have been together since they were 17 and are equally infatuated with the outdoors. After school, Joel did everything from ski instruction on the slopes of Mt Buller, to managing a rock climbing gym and gun range in inner-city Melbourne. Fast forward to 2019 and he is a registered builder and working alongside his wife as a property developer and raising two outdoor-loving children. Growing up around Lake Eildon, the family shared numerous 4WD trips. Eventually he drew inspiration from his brother’s FJ40 build and finally pulled the plug on street cars to hop into a Triton.
After the second rig pulled the pin (ZD30) he ended up in a Y62 towing (being pushed around) by a holiday-house-on-wheels, all the while stopping at nearly every service station. While it was comfortable and spacious, the VK56 V8 was working overtime doubling as a hunting hauler, towing large trailers carrying five or more quads across outback NSW. Needless to say, weight was becoming a factor: “We got a big shock last year with the Patrol when we took it over the weighbridge – you don’t realise how quickly it all adds up”. The logical step was to go with something that was endlessly customisable and a better long-term decision for both the family trips and weekend shooting excursions.
The yank-tanks are coming, whether you like them or not. I was a tad skeptical myself, but after spending half a day with the proud owners of 3-FITTY (brilliant plates by the way), I can see the attraction of the larger, land yacht styling we are drifting towards. This particular truck (yes, it’s a truck – you need an LR license) was ordered through Kentucky Ford and shipped to Tuscany, the vehicle outfitters in Indiana, to receive their Black Ops treatment.
Tuscany are part of Ford’s quality vehicle modifier program and are also the largest outfitter to operate in the US private sector. The 6.7-litre V8 Powerstroke puts out a stonking 335kW and nearly 1000Nm from the factory. They have no plans to start bolting things onto the oiler just yet as it pulls the 4.5-tonne van like it isn’t even there, all the while getting a respectable 19L/100km on the freeway. Not bad for something that comes close to idling up hills on the freeway with the van in tow at about 1500rpm and the motor is still shaking like it wants to be set free.
When it landed on our shores half-done, they were a tad over $210K deep. It was dropped down to Boss Aluminium for everything else, from the tray/canopy right up to the kitchen sink. After writing Boss a cheque for $120K, Joel made the point that the number plate has two meanings. So what did they get for the best part of $350K? Perhaps a better way to look at it is what didn’t they get?
Critically, Tuscany offers second stage of manufacture (SSM) alongside the F350’s recently acquired ADR approval, which will help Joel and Belinda avoid a potentially endless merry-go-round of canary stickers. Everything Tuscany did to the vehicle overrode the factory specs – we’re talking six-inch lift, shocks, heavy-duty custom control arms and a grouse set of matte finish 20-inch Tuscany rims, wrapped with a set of 37×13.5 Mickey Thompson MTZs.
In keeping with the model designation, the badges and grille were blacked out and a vented fibreglass bonnet gives the 5.2-tonne monster an even angrier look. The additional kick panels and flares add some protection and some extra width, complemented by a pair of AMP Research automatic power-steps that ensure that anyone can step up into what feels like a rolling second-storey building. Inside, the dash had a thorough makeover, with carbon fibre and new stitching evident throughout the interior.
‘Up-fitter’ switches have been installed for other companies to utilise for accessory installations, negating any drilling or cutting into the dash. 360° cameras and excellent factory tow brakes make navigating a breeze, even fully loaded or towing. The gargantuan leather interior must have been courtesy of a full herd of cattle and honestly, you could probably fit another herd comfortably in alongside you. “We don’t get that awkward elbow touch anymore,” Belinda chuckled. Inbuilt heating and cooling make the front seats friendly in any climate. The front infotainment system is superb, and the kids are essentially engrossed in a movie theatre in the back row thanks to dual headrest DVD players with HDMI inputs for game consoles and a plethora of USB charging points, even a factory inverter.
Just in case you thought that was all, there’s a lockable under-seat storage box for weapons and the truck can direct you when backing into any campsite … what more could you want? After seeing Dave’s work at Boss Aluminium, they knew the two-month build time would be worth it. He completed everything else on the vehicle, starting with the Kelderman Alpha Series front bar that surrounds a Warn 16,000lb winch and sports two 10-tonne rated folding Monster Hook recovery points. Inbuilt Rigid LED lights keep the top of the bar clean; only the GME whip protrudes above the bar. Up high, the Rhino-Rack backbone system is actually custom-made, as one hasn’t hit the market yet.
Ample recovery tracks are mounted securely, as are the two 80W Redarc solar panels that call the top of the boat-loader home. Joel was the mastermind behind the design and Dave made the rack a reality, with an electric winch and lowering straps making the whole process as ergonomic as possible. Belinda wanted the F350 wrapped and it’s proved a wise decision already, pushing its above average width through some scratchy tracks on Fraser Island.
The entirely alloy tray and canopy form a seamless work of art. Once the central locked doors are popped and the ample LED lighting switched on, the epicentre of the vehicle becomes apparent. The driver’s side houses all camp chairs, tables and even a port-a-loo as well as two drawers jam-packed with tools and equipment. The passenger side (under the Darche 180 awning) is where the magic happens. A custom drop-down kitchen and 110-litre upright Dometic fridge keep all four mouths fed and watered while away.
Supplying the juice is a 200Ah Everdrive lithium battery, hooked to Redarc’s new RedVision system and BMS-130 charging unit, complete with a 2000W Redarc inverter. Tucked underneath the tray, the stainless steel water tank and trundle tray leave just enough room for a handy air tank. Two air valves are positioned at the rear for easy adjustment of the airbags. A rear winch and upgraded tow bar lift the towing capacity to 4.5-tonne, a marked difference over traditional dual-cab utilities saturating our market.
Only 6000km into their F-truck journey, they are still figuring things out. The 180-litre tank is soon to be accompanied by a custom-made Brown Davis tank for backup and utilising the now empty spare wheel well. A couple of extra leafs wouldn’t go astray and some further fine tuning of the airbag system will have this F350 riding like a luxury limousine. The next big test is a trip straight up the guts of Australia, taking in everything the centre has to offer. One thing is for sure, you won’t be able to miss them as they overtake you – with the van in tow!