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Old 07-14-2009, 09:30 AM   #1
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The modern 1/2 versus the vintage 3/4 ton

I have driven pickup trucks manufactured in every era since the 50s. For a number of years, my daily driver was a '52 Chevy half-ton with the elegant five-window cab. My current truck is an '04 Nissan Titan.

While the Titan is perfectly adequate to pull our '67 Overlander, owning a vintage trailer turns one's thoughts to a "matching" vintage truck. My lovely wife likes the idea, though she also likes air conditioning, power windows, power steering, power locks, etc.

Having read and occasionally participated in threads on tow vehicles, I know how sensitive and emotional towing can be. I have also noticed that vintage vehicles seem to get something of a "free pass" on towing capacity. Having a fair amount of experience with old pickups, I have commented on this a time or two. My '52 with the straight six 216 generated less than 100 hp and 200 ft/lbs of torque. The Titan 5.6l V8 pushes over 300 hp and 375 ft/lbs of torque. The '52 had non-power, drum brakes all around. The Titan has power disk brakes with ABS. While I really enjoyed the old Chevy, I wouldn't feel comfortable towing the Overlander with it while I've never had a moment's concern in the Titan.

The reason I start thinking about this recently is our decision to pick up a '66 Dodge D200 "Camper Special" as a potential project tow vehicle for the Overlander. (If we don't use it, my daugter certainly would love to drive it to the horse barn and back.)

While not a perfect match, it's close. Digging around on a vintage Dodge truck forum, I found a bit of history. If the link to the chart works, you can see the D100 (half-ton) is "rated" to pull up to 3500 pounds. The D200 (three-quarter-ton) is rated to pull up to 5000 pounds. This is considerably less than the Titan's capacity of 7400 (or 9000 with a lower-geared rear differential). So, is it safe to tow the Overlander with a D200? Does the 80 percent rule apply?

If we're going to examine this from a purely technical perspective, the Titan is a better tow vehicle for our vintage Airstream. On the other hand, who decides to renovate a vintage Airstream because of "the numbers"? As I told my wife, using a vintage truck to pull a vintage trailer is purely an emotional decision. The Titan is bigger, stronger, safer, more reliable, more comfortable, etc... but it certainly lacks the "coolness" factor.

Here's my larger point. The modern 1/2-ton is generally more "truck" than the vintage 3/4-ton. While I miss having the ability to "turn wrenches" on my current truck due to the electronics I simply don't understand, I pretty much have to admit modern trucks represent the advance of technology. Still, I think there is a place on the open road for vintage vehicles and trailers. And if we can agree that there is a certain "rightness" to pulling a vintage Airstream with a vintage tow vehicle, maybe we could relax a little about the modern 1/2-ton versus the modern 3/4-ton issue... or I guess you can give me the rhubarb over thinking about the D200.

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Old 07-14-2009, 09:52 AM   #2
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Good post. I have and do wonder about how vintage truck specs were arrived at compared to modern trucks. My bet is the process has changed, perhaps even considerably. This fits in with the news I heard today that pant sizes are not what they used to be, ie, a 14 is now a 10, etc. Sigh, oh for truth in advertising!


TV1: Black Sheep, 2001 Dodge 3500, 800,xxx miles, a few non-stock parts here and there...
TV2: Brownie, 1989 Dodge W250, only 256,000 miles!
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Old 07-14-2009, 10:27 AM   #3
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One thing which you left out is the engine size. If the D200 has a slant 6, I wouldn't even try the Overlander. On the other hand, if it had a hemi, no problem. My 1973 W200 has a 360 2V with 4.10 axles. The Lincoln tows better even with the down tuned 460 4V and 2.75 axle.

The W200 has a GVW of 8000 lbs and a tow rating of 75% (approximate language in the owners manual). If I had a 440, it would tow better, but the 360 was the largest engine available on a W200 in 1973 in California.

The older trucks ride like trucks and do not have the powerful engines of today. I think that you could easily upgrade the towing capability with a couple of changes, disc brakes and a large enough engine.

A couple of issues of Airstream Life ago had an article on vintage tow vehicles and there were several trucks which had been upgraded.

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Old 07-14-2009, 10:52 AM   #4
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Three things come to mind here:
1) Older trucks (I have a 55 Chevy 1/2 ton) had their max hp and torque at lower RPM (down in the range where you actually used it) many modern engines get higher hp and torque at higher RPMs up where most of us never run them.

2) Newer disc brakes are leagues above the old drums. When I got my current tow vehicle a couple years ago one of the deciding factors was " For 2006, Explorer's brake system has been redesigned for improved heat dissipation and durability. These changes helped increase the vehicle's maximum capacities. With a 1,520-pound payload and 7,300-pound tow rating."

3) Suspension. The old style leaf springs never had the side to side sway control that modern suspensions have. They just aren't planted on the ground as solidly. (Note: this also helped out Airstreams when they switched from leaf springs to torsion axles.)

I may love my old '55 but even if the engine could do the job I wouldn't be doing the long distance trips towing my '65 Safari.
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Old 07-14-2009, 11:25 AM   #5
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A few thoughts of my own:

1. The epic Airstream caravans like Cairo to Capetown were done using vehicles "of the day." Presumably, the engineers of the '67 Airstream Overlander understand that the trailer was going to be towed by 60s era vehicles. Based on what I have read, some Airstreamers put 60s vehicles through some extraordinary journeys and lived to tell the tale.

2. Without doubt disc brakes are superior to drums. This said, drum brakes do work. If properly set up, trailer brakes can actually help in overall stopping. Disc brake conversion can be challenging depending on the amount of aftermarket support. Some guys swap in entirely new axles.

The biggest issue with drum brakes is fading, and quite often, this occurs because folks ride the brakes on long downhill stretches rather than gearing down. In the olden days (as my daughters might say), we mostly drove manual transmissions and used compression to help "save" the brakes and keep them cool. Nowadays, my daughters don't know how to drive a stick.

3. Upgrading an older V8 engine to increase horsepower and torque is practically a religion in the U.S. It is possible to build a "pre-smog" 318, 340, 360, 383, etc., into an engine with as much "giddyup" as a modern truck.

4. I agree that old trucks ride like trucks. Suspension technology has come a long ways since the 60s. My '52 Chevy had serious "body roll" on a tight corners. Then again, old trucks were generally kept under 60 mph. The 4.88 rear in the D200 matched with a four-speed manual means lots of "pull" but not much top end speed... which is pretty much what the truck was designed to do.

I don't think vintage trucks were made to zip along the Interstate at 70 mph towing a triple-axle Airstream. It was a different era. They are a different piece of machinery. If I can broaden my original point, not all "towing" is created equal. I think a person can use a vintage tow vehicle safely, but it requires a different approach to operating, speed, turning, etc. And again, if we can embrace the vintage truck on the road, maybe we can have little more indulgence of the modern half-ton truck.
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Old 07-14-2009, 11:28 AM   #6
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I would think that your W200 could pull and stop the trailer ok. Back then it was common place for a heavy duty truck to have a 6 cylinder engine but it also had 4.10 or lower gear ratio. You will get to where your going it just won't be very fast. It sounds like a neat combo that your thinking about.
If the brakes are up to par they will stop the trailer ok.
My grandpa and grandpa bought a 1967 Norris 24' travel trailer (heavy) and 1968 Dodge Polara station wagon brand new for traveling. The car had a 3:31 axle ratio, 383 engine and the Chryco 727 transmission. The car also came from the factory with 3" wide x 12" drum brakes. They towed for many years with this combo.

If you go this route I would think about upgrading to disc brakes. There are some nice bolt on kits available in the aftermarket. You could also go to vintage air and have a system made up for the truck. Vintage Air - Inventors of Performance Air Conditioning -

What are the specs on the truck?
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Old 07-14-2009, 11:29 AM   #7
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re " is it safe to tow the Overlander with a D200? Does the 80 percent rule apply?" - safe is a red herring here IMHO. Safety has more to do with how you drive.

When you have a limited vehicle, it is up to the driver to compensate. It used to be that downshifting to get up hills and suffering significant slowdowns were acceptable. Nowadays, folks don't like even the appearance of a loss of power or a need to shift out of overdrive even when at elevation on maximum freeway grades at 70 mph.

It used to be that a LOF service was needed every 1k miles when towing but now it is likely to be 5k or more.

It used to be you'd turn the AC off to avoid overheating when crossing the desert and target desert crossing for the wee hours. Nowadays you expect to not even notice the desert even in mid afternoon.

The issue with weight and ratings is not a safety issue except in gross extremes. It is more a matter of drivability, passenger comfort, maintenance, and being able to 'go with the flow'.
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Old 07-14-2009, 11:44 AM   #8
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Disc brakes can be retro-fitted to most trucks.
I'm more of a GM guy, and there are kits back to the 30's for these.

And there is always the body swap.
Look around the street rod groups, many such trucks already done for you.
This way you get all new tech, with the style you want.
Your opinion is valued, please not your opinion of someones else's opinion.
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Old 07-14-2009, 11:57 AM   #9
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Ok, hampstead38... here's a little different take on the issue...

My first 'car' was a twenty-one year old 1950 half-ton Ford with a granny gear first, flathead V8 complete with oil bath air cleaner and single-barrel carburetor, and a very utilitarian single wiper arm, driver's side sun visor, and a door key lock on the passenger side door.

I loved that truck. That truck represented freedom to me. I drove that truck everywhere. Did I mention that I loved that truck? I've mourned for that truck terribly over the years. So... a couple of years ago, there was a '51 Dodge five-window with the "automatic stick-shift" of the era for sale in good driving condition and it was pretty cheap. Unable to contain my nostalgia, I went over and took it for a test drive. After about five miles, I remembered why I too now have an '07 Titan. I left the little Dodge with its owner and never looked back.

My suggestion would be to 'borrow' the truck you're interested in and go for a several hundred mile round-trip in it. The '66 Dodge (as I recall) isn't much better appointed than my '50 Ford was. After you've survived your round trip (NOT hauling a trailer), then decide if towing with a vintage truck is something you're really still interested in. If you still think it's a cool idea, you can upgrade any system you think needs it... all it takes is time and money.

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Old 07-14-2009, 12:36 PM   #10
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I'm sympathetic. That likely would make a cool back roads towing combo.

A little while back, I nearly bought a early 50s pickup that had been modded with: a big block Buick engine, power steering, power disc brakes, Hydramatic 4 speed trans., etc. But it still lacked: "real" windshield wipers and headlights, collapsing steering column, seat belts, airbags, crash-resistant fuel system, etc. It looked really cool and was fully "restored" but I gave up the cool factor idea and bought a new GMC diesel pickup. (Sigh) It has no cool factor, but it does pull like a locomotive and those big disc brakes stop like someone dropped anchor. I feel a lot safer, but a lot more dowdy. (Sigh)
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Old 07-14-2009, 01:09 PM   #11
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Hi, Ken. I think the cool factor is very important. For years I have thirsted over a mid '30's Auburn coupe or convertible. A driver would be fine. Then I think of the constant repairs, looking for parts, paying for expensive and rare parts, uncomfortable ride, lack of AC, disk brakes and safety features, and all the other things I don't have to worry about with a relatively new truck. Like Airsdream I have become something else over the years. I don't buy sports cars anymore, but new trucks are cool too, at least to old guys.

Some people restore vintage trucks and some people change everything under the hood. My preference is restoration (easy to say since I don't have one), but it seems to me a restored one is for driving into town and showing off, parades, and showing off some more.

It's too late for this, but towing that vintage truck behind an Airstream MoHo would be cool too.

So, when you fulltime, will you be traveling more than 150 miles a day? What will it be like towing 200, 300, or more miles in a vintage truck? Between the maintenance necessary on a vintage trailer and on a vintage truck, how much time will you be spending on that? Will the vintage truck carry all the tools and spare parts you'll need for both of them? All that is certainly doable (well, the weight of tools may not be) and it would be supremely cool to go that route if you both accept all the drawbacks and emphasize the good stuff. The larger question is what is your purpose in fulltiming for a couple of years?

And most of all, how will your wife feel after 1,000 miles? Will she go get the Titan, tow the trailer with it and you'll follow in the vintage truck, arriving 2 hours later at the destination??

I think this is a tough decision and I know it's been on your mind for a long time. Seems like it's food for long discussions at home.

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Old 07-14-2009, 01:11 PM   #12
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"Borrowing" the truck isn't an option, but I have a daughter willing to take any old truck "mistake" immediately off my hands. And given what we're likely to pay, it's not like I would lose any money on the deal.

I spent years driving older trucks and know well the comforts of the modern pickup. I love air conditioning, particularly in the brutally hot Maryland summers. I enjoy a modern stereo system. I like the roomy cab of the Titan, the ease of the automatic transmission and the ample power. Of course, saying all of this, I realize it would have made much more sense to buy a modern travel trailer than a vintage Airstream. We could have had a more comfortable coach with less money, but where's the fun in that?

While I appreciate the suggestion about street rod groups, what I'm looking for is something quite different than a rat rod. I'm far more concerned about cooling and reliability than horsepower and torque. That's not to say the guys who build "rod" trucks don't have a wealth of knowledge, some of which might be very useful for an upgraded vintage truck. It's just a question of the overall "goal" of the vehicle.

Yes, yes, and yes... it would be much easier (and some would argue much smarter) to pull the Overlander with the Titan. There's no question a modern truck is far more comfortable. Part of me thinks the perfect "set up" would be a truck with a utility body to provide more usable storage. There's also a part of me that thinks a vintage Airstream deserves a vintage tow vehicle. Utterly impractical... but then again, so is a '67 Overlander.

Again, returning to the issue, I understand the practical challenges of older trucks. I readily concede that any strong modern 1/2 truck is arguably superior in every aspect (except in factor) than almost any vintage 3/4-ton truck... but if it is possible to safely tow with a solid vintage truck, it would seem equally possibly to do so in modern 1/2 ton.


Gene... Temptation, my friend, never takes a holiday.

Towing a vintage Airstream while sitting in the lap of modern luxury leaves me feeling a bit like a poseur. It's like saying, "Yeah, I'm a rebel, but I need to get home early because work starts at 8 a.m." Do we want to roll into Burning Man with a '04 Titan or a '66 D200? Not to go totally mood ring on you, Gene, but I occasionally ask myself, "What is the spirit of the journey"? Are we content to watch America from a well-appointed modern cab, or would something more visceral, more gritty, make the experience different? Any deeper, Gene, and I'm going to need a beer and that is not an option with a late meeting tonight.
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Old 07-14-2009, 01:43 PM   #13
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I remember being on the road in the early sixties. We passed a lot of folks towing their trailers. We were on Route 66 and doing 60 mph, when the highway permitted. Most of the car-trailer people were doing 50-55 mph. My brother had an old early sixties pickup that would tow a trailer just fine. Top speed was 58 mph.
You might want to get an early sixties body and refit it with a more modern engine and automatic transmission. Keep the look but upgrade the power. Disc brakes and a good suspension would be nice too.
I think on that Ciaro run they averaged about 25 mph.
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Old 07-14-2009, 01:45 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by wkerfoot View Post

One thing which you left out is the engine size. If the D200 has a slant 6, I wouldn't even try the Overlander. On the other hand, if it had a hemi, no problem. My 1973 W200 has a 360 2V with 4.10 axles. The Lincoln tows better even with the down tuned 460 4V and 2.75 axle.

The W200 has a GVW of 8000 lbs and a tow rating of 75% (approximate language in the owners manual). If I had a 440, it would tow better, but the 360 was the largest engine available on a W200 in 1973 in California.

The older trucks ride like trucks and do not have the powerful engines of today. I think that you could easily upgrade the towing capability with a couple of changes, disc brakes and a large enough engine.

A couple of issues of Airstream Life ago had an article on vintage tow vehicles and there were several trucks which had been upgraded.

I have a 75 with the 440 in it, and to be honest the brakes on my Sequoia 1/2 ton are far better at stopping my tractor and trailer than the truck.
Now I do have air bags in the springs and have hauled 4300lbs of rock in the back of the pickup. not more than 50mph.

I'm sure the frame is beefier than what you find on most trucks theses days, just wish the brakes were up to par.. it has a 4:10 rear end, but a 3 speed auto transmission. No burning the tires of the line....

With this said. It's a great farm truck, but I would not want to pull the air Steam with it. Those old motors tend to heat up and so does the tranny.

Plus the Sequoia is sooooo much more comfortable to ride in.

But I do like driving around in the old truck, even if it does get 8mpg city 11 mpg highway, loaded or not...


May you have at least one sunny day, and a soft chair to sit in..

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