MPX Update, Part 2: Horsepower for Heavy Hauling

Reader Contribution by Jack Mccornack
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In March I showed you a photo of MPX (MOTHER’s Pickup eXperiment) just as we’d crossed over the Oregon border. I wanted you to see the aerocap in its full glory, so I cropped out the punch line: MPX had been towing an automobile factory, all the way from Maryland.

Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. It wasn’t a complete factory…but it was all the molds and fixtures and tools to make a Lotus 11 replica (called Kokopelli if you’re googling), and it was lashed to a twin axle car trailer and it was right up there at the rated towing capacity of this compact pickup, 3500 pounds. Plus I had plenty of cargo on board the truck itself (likely approaching the rated cargo capacity of 1640 pounds if you include the weight of Yours Truly in the front seat).

I had two reasons for subjecting myself (and MPX) to the ordeal of a coast-to-coast trip with its maximum payload. The first, of course, is I needed to get all that equipment from its home to my home, and there was a continent in the way. The second is I wanted to do some real world testing with the standard hundred-horse engine in a variety of conditions, doing real truck stuff—the sort of work that makes people buy a pickup instead of a car.

Well I’ll tell you, by the time I’d driven crossed the Appalachian Mountains, I’d decided that a hundred horsepower was the practical minimum with a load like this, and I hadn’t even left Maryland yet. Most of my transcontinental trip was in fifth gear, but I saw a lot of fourth while approaching the Continental Divide, and no small amount of third gear in the steep stuff. And at one point, in some extremely steep stuff, I was creeping along in second, in the extreme right lane with the other professional truckers.

So don’t I wish I owned a bigger truck with a bigger engine? Actually, I don’t. I’ve had one comparably laden truck-and-trailer trip before, and that was back in ’85. A long heavy haul every 30 years does not justify owning a specialized heavy hauler. If I hadn’t been doing this MPX project, I might have rented a truck one-way, or found somebody who was driving a big pickup cross country and hired him or her to hook my trailer on the back. Mind you, if you haul loads like this often, it will probably be worth your while to have a big powerful pickup to haul it with, but if it’s annually or less, you’re probably better off renting a bigger truck for those occasional big loads, hiring somebody else to haul them, or accept that a little truck that’s as good as a big truck 99 percent of the time is going to be in the slow lane for the 1 percent of the time that you’re working at its limit.

There is one piece of modern technology that is essential if you’re going to pull big loads with a small vehicle—don’t forget that after you chug up that hill like The Little Engine That Could (“I think I can, I think I can…”) you’re going to come down the other side, and that means the brakes on your trailer need to be up to the job. You need electric brakes (like the trailer in the photo has), or hydraulic brakes (some trailers have brake master cylinders built into the hitch), but don’t expect your mini pickup to stop your maxi trailer by itself, ’cause it won’t.

Photo by Jack McCornack

Check out the 100-mpg Car page; for all MOTHER’s MAX stories, and Kinetic Vehicles.

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