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What Would Hulk Drive? A Ford F-150 by Mil-Spec

Autoweek logo Autoweek 6/3/2020 Jake Lingeman
a car parked on the side of a dirt road: Ford F-150 by Mil-Spec Automotive drive review: MSA steps into the high-volume world of lifted pickups after Hummer H1 business booms. © Jake Lingeman Ford F-150 by Mil-Spec Automotive drive review: MSA steps into the high-volume world of lifted pickups after Hummer H1 business booms.

I’m standing in Auburn Hills, Michigan, at Mil-Spec Automotive’s headquarters with company CIO Ian Broekman (24 years old), president Chris Van Scyoc (25) and CEO Adam Mitchell (25). Looking at the monster-size Ford F-150 by Mil-Spec that makes the Raptor look almost restrained, I ask, “Does it still have the LATCH system in the back? I have to pick up the kids from my cottage.” All three of the young adults in charge look at me. “Ya know, for the child seats?” I say. Another puzzled look. “Well, we didn’t do anything to the back seats, so they should be still be there.”

And that’s what you get with this new young breed of entrepreneurs: a lot of confidence, a lot of cool, but not a ton of grown-up knowledge. But that’s also what you want when you’re building pickups for the off-road/zombie apocalypse/Baja 1000 set: unbridled enthusiasm.

a car parked in a field: The Ford F-150 by Mil-Spec has a standard suspension and a Baja suspension. This one has the Baja setup. © Jake Lingeman The Ford F-150 by Mil-Spec has a standard suspension and a Baja suspension. This one has the Baja setup.

And that’s what this modified F-150 truck gets on the road. Hummer drivers stop to ask questions, regular truck drivers park in front your house to take pictures and old-school truck guys show interest in this lifted behemoth with 20-inch wheels and 37-inch Nitto Ridge Grappler tires.

In that sense, Mil-Spec has succeeded, but its vision for the company started long before today.

Broekman grew up in metro Detroit surrounded by the auto industry. It led him to Lawrence Tech University where he studied transportation design. He’s the one responsible for the military-style aesthetic of the Hummer H1s and F-150s that the company produces. Broekman and CEO Mitchell became friends in high school over their shared love of cars. Mitchell also grew up near the Motor City and his passion began the business, centered around the original Hummer. Mitchell met Van Scyoc at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the three founders’ bromance took off at the Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Michigan in 2015. Mitchell had a concept for Mil-Spec, and Broekman and Van Scyoc joined in.

a truck is parked on the side of a dirt field: The Ford F-150 by Mil-Spec is big, but surprisingly easy to handle. © Jake Lingeman The Ford F-150 by Mil-Spec is big, but surprisingly easy to handle.

Mil-Spec has delivered more than 60 Hummer H1s to date, in varying trim levels, and has now decided to take on the high-volume world of full-size pickup trucks in their 45,000-square-foot factory with space to produce a claimed 100 F-150 units per year alongside its H1 program.

The Mil-Spec Automotive F-150 starts at $85,000, including the price of a V8-equipped F-150 XLT with four-wheel drive. The company boosts output from 395 hp and 400 lb-ft to 500 hp and 500 lb-ft by way of a new cold-air intake, throttle body, exhaust and ECU tuning. It’s emissions-legal in all 50 states. Those upgrades are good for a 5.7-second sprint to 60 mph and a limited top speed of 110 mph.

It’s a big truck, standing 79.3 inches tall without the roof rack (84.8 inches with), 96.8 inches wide with mirrors and 231.9 inches long. That’s just a smidge taller than the F-150 Raptor, but it’s more than a foot wider. It’s also a good bit more expensive, with the Raptor coming in at $53,445 in its cheapest iteration. I let Broekman pilot the vehicle out of the shop as the truck barely fit through the big garage door leading to the showroom.

a close up of a car: The low-profile Baja roof rack comes with the Baja exterior package. © Jake Lingeman The low-profile Baja roof rack comes with the Baja exterior package.

Changes to the Ford F-150 (this donor cost $53K) start with the molded fiberglass front fenders that look as complicated to build as they are to judge (I can’t tell if I like them or not). They widen the nose of the truck considerably and act as bookends to the new grille, logo, pushbar and lights. Mil-Spec adds its own graphics too, along with a new powder-coated rear bumper, textured side steps and dual exhaust tips. The truck I tested started at $85K, but then was accessorized with the $8,600 Baja Appearance Package including a bed-mounted chase rack that holds your spare tire, a low-profile roof rack with integrated storage that holds eight high-intensity light pods and another group of lights in the front bumper. You want to get a tan at midnight? Turn them on and stand in front of the bumper.

It also had the Baja Performance Suspension Package ($6,000) with Fox Shocks, (11 inches of wheel travel in front, 12 in back), new Eibach springs, long-travel control arms and extended front axle half shafts and brake lines. If you want the full Mil-Spec effect, you’re going to need both packages. As tested, this truck is about $99,000.

Climbing inside—get your ladder, you’ll also need one for washing it—the F-150 by Mil-Spec has the steering wheel and paddle shifters from the Raptor, Mil-Spec badges, tinted windows and leather seats. Like most new trucks, it’s all as refined and as comfortable as a workaday sedan. As for the stock electronics, everything works as expected including the Sync 3 infotainment, Apple CarPlay and your different drive modes.

Once you start it up, you’ll hear all 500 of those ponies jumping to life out of the Borla exhaust. Grab the Ford-spec column shifter, pop it into drive and you’re on your way.

The Mil-Spec uses the same 10-speed transmission as the basic F-150 and squirts off the line with a little jump from the wide nose before leveling out (like a boat) after a shift or two. It sounds fantastic on the throttle and Borla also did a good job calming the noise at freeway cruising speeds around 80 mph. In any situation, jam on the throttle, the trans will crack off two or three downshifts and you’ll be off, quickly heading toward illegal speeds.

Looking at those tires, you’d guess that at those nearly illegal speeds the Ford would roar deafeningly with road noise. But it doesn’t. I’m not going to tell you that it’s quiet, but even with the radio down and the windows up, you can easily hear your passenger whisper. I’ve heard factory Jeep Wranglers that were louder. Broekman credits the Nitto tires, which are mud terrain/all-terrain hybrids.

With a truck this big, you expect a little bounce, and this Mil-Spec does exhibit that with the Fox suspension, but again, I’ve felt stock trucks with more jiggle. The one thing that did concern me was the squeaking from the front suspension, though Broekman says that might be because of the shocks at their highest setting hitting the rubber spring cups.

a car parked in front of a truck: The Ford F-150 by Mil-Spec in repose at the shop in Auburn Hills. © Jake Lingeman The Ford F-150 by Mil-Spec in repose at the shop in Auburn Hills.

I didn’t go full muddin’ and crawlin’ with the Mil-Spec—it is the company’s first customer car after all—but I can say that driving through light sand, mud, puddles, crappy dirt roads and around my cottage property didn’t faze it in the least. Once Mil-Spec has built a few more, we’ll go full Baja on the thing. I can also say that living with the truck for a week wasn’t as inconvenient as you might expect.

Sure, you need a ladder to wash and dry it. It’s tough to park in a crowded Kroger parking lot. You and your significant other have to be disciplined about the lines on your driveway. Its wheels will fit on a standard, 8-foot-wide cement pad, but just barely. However, most of that stuff applies to any of today’s full-size pickups.

And if you DO have kids—kids are smaller family members you have to drag around, day in, day out, Mil-Spec founders—you will have to put them on the floor of the back seat, then climb on the step boards, then buckle them in. It is a hassle, but boy do they love seeing the world from 7 feet in the air. And you will too, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Check out MilSpecAuto.com for more information.

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