Okay, Ford Motor Co. might not like the insinuation that its slight '99 facelift of the immensely popular F-Series light-duty truck line (F-150/F-250) is "frenzied," but let's put it this way: before the total remake of the F-Series for '97, it had been 17 years since the last all-new F truck. Now, just a bit more than two years into the new generation, Ford's throwing a facelift at it.

What's the hurry to re-do a best-seller, an acknowledged hit with buyers?

The new Chevy's on the horizon.

Ford's truck gang is keenly aware that General Motors Corp. is ready to launch its all-new Chevy/GMC fullsize pickups this fall, GM's first all-new effort in nigh on two decades. So rather than benignly absorb the blow, Ford's counterstrike is a (nice) freshening of an already good lookin' truck.

You'll have to look rather hard to see the new eggcrate-style grille on the XL and 2-wheel drive XLTs, but at least the Lariat and 4X4 XLTs are more prominent with their honeycomb grilles and non-chrome surrounds. Grilles all are larger, and the chrome bumpers are a bit more smoothly integrated.

Other minor changes include a move to different wheels and standard 4-wheel ABS for XLT and Lariat trims. Ford also plans to take some food from the aftermarket's collective mouth by offering a factory tonneau cover that secures via a very nice, no-snaps rubber lip, sort of like a ziplock baggie.

More important, Ford's manager of 5.4L Engine Programs, Dan Kapp, set his boffins to finding another 25 hp in the 5.4L Triton SOHC engine. Although Dan is too hip to admit it, we have to assume this sudden release of horsepower comes from a crash program to get competitive with the 5.3L OHV V-8 GM will install in their 1999 C/K.

Mr. Kapp's work brings the 5.4L Triton V-8 to a useful 260 hp, not quite matching the 270 horses GM will unleash from its 5.3L V-8. The Triton's a great engine, and even better with 25 more hp, but Ford's power envy is evident.

"No doubt, GM does a great job with their engines," admits F-150/250 chief Program Engineer Susan Pacheco, "but we've got them beat on torque." Indeed, the newly powered-up Triton brings 345 ft.-lbs. (468 Nm) to bear; GM's 5.3L V-8 rings in with 315 ft.-lbs. (427 Nm), also at a much higher rpm: 4,000 versus the Triton's torque peak at just 2,300 revs.

Nice touches, no doubt, but I still think Ford found 25 more horses when they saw a Chevy on the horizon.