Diesel World - - Feature 2004 Ford F-250 -

Diesels are no longer the pokey-slow pow­er­plants that clog up the left lane of the free­way. We’re start­ing to see diesel swaps ev­ery­where, and they’re in ev­ery­thing from show ve­hi­cles to rat rods to race cars and trucks. Fre­quently the diesel en­gine’s power and torque are high­lighted, as diesels are of­ten able to com­pete with or sur­pass their gaspow­ered coun­ter­parts of sim­i­lar dis­place­ment. Re-pow­er­ing your ve­hi­cle with a diesel en­gine isn’t al­ways easy, as there are weight and size con­straints to con­tend with, as well as dif­fi­cult elec­tron­ics and trans­mis­sion de­ci­sions. In this piece we’ll be look­ing at a num­ber of ve­hi­cles that have made the tran­si­tion and some of the hur­dles they’ve stum­bled into along the way. Once it’s run­ning, how­ever, there’s noth­ing quite like a diesel-swapped ride.

STEP ONE: Se­lect­ing Your Ride & Fit­ting the En­gine

With enough work, a diesel en­gine can fit into just about any­thing, and the Cummins-swapped RX-8 sports car that’s round­ing the In­ter­net seems to prove our point. There are some swaps that are eas­ier than oth­ers how­ever, with pick­ups and SUVS be­ing a pop­u­lar choice thanks to their parts avail­abil­ity and en­gine bay space. The most com­mon truck swaps usu­ally in­volve Cummins en­gines, as kits and parts are avail­able to swap the Cummins in­line six into


Chevy and Ford trucks, both old and new, two-wheel and four­wheel-drive. Swapping Duramax and Power Stroke en­gines can be slightly more dif­fi­cult, as they’re both large en­gines that place the turbo in the val­ley, which can lead to hood clear­ance and fire­wall is­sues. There also aren’t many ready-made kits for these en­gines, although swap-spe­cific items like dry sump oil sys­tems, en­gine mounts, flex plates and en­gine-to-trans­mis­sion adapters are all still avail­able. Also, be hon­est with your­self and your skill level be­fore you be­gin your swap, and de­cide if you’re more of a Cum­minsin-a-pickup kind of guy or if you can re­ally tackle that Du­ra­max­pow­ered Mini Cooper project.

STEP TWO: Se­lect­ing a Trans­mis­sion

Another ma­jor de­ci­sion in start­ing a diesel swap is the se­lec­tion of a trans­mis­sion. There are lit­er­ally dozens of choices out there, both man­ual and au­to­matic, over­drive and non-over­drive. Per­haps the most com­mon swap (and the first thing one should con­sider) is “what­ever trans­mis­sion came with the en­gine.” If you’re swapping in a Cummins, pick a Ge­trag 5-speed, NV4500, NV5600 or G56 (man­ual), or a 727, 47RH, 47RE, 48RE or 68RFE (au­to­matic). Duramax en­gines have 4L-based trans­mis­sions at their dis­posal (4L85ES came in vans) as well as five- and six-speed Al­li­son 1000s. If you’re a man­ual guy, the stout ZF-6 could be a choice. Fi­nally, if you’re into Fords, there are ZF-5S and ZF-6S (man­ual) and E4OD, 4R100, 5R110 and 6R140 (au­to­matic) trans­mis­sions to choose from. There are also units like TH400S and Pow­er­glides for rac­ing ap­pli­ca­tions that will work for al­most any en­gine and can han­dle quite a bit of power.

STEP THREE: How Good Are You at Elec­tri­cal Work?

Af­ter se­lect­ing an en­gine and trans­mis­sion it’s hon­esty time again, and this time it’s about elec­tron­ics. Most newer diesel en­gines are con­trolled via com­plex com­puter sys­tems, as are their trans­mis­sions. Ear­lier me­chan­i­cal en­gines on the other hand are al­most com­pletely free of elec­tron­ics, which is why there has been

 Man­ual trans­mis­sions are a rar­ity on diesel swaps, but they can be done. Keep in mind that most are rated for far less torque than a diesel en­gine can pro­duce, which means a car trans­mis­sion like a T-56 will have to be kept high in rpm and low on torque (like less than 700 lb-ft). If you’re re­ally look­ing to make power, a much stronger truck trans­mis­sion like an NV4500 or ZF-6 is a great choice.

 Not ev­ery en­gine will fit eas­ily in ev­ery ve­hi­cle. The guys at Brown’s Diesel found out that a 4bt four-cylin­der Cummins is di­men­sion­ally al­most a dead ringer for a small-block Chevy, so that’s what got the call for their space-lim­ited ’32 Ford.

 Trans­mis­sions like the Al­li­son 1000 are avail­able for both Ford and Cummins ap­pli­ca­tions, and with stand-alone con­trollers. They’re also heavy (365 pounds) but can eas­ily han­dle the torque and power of a diesel en­gine.

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