RE-POWER YOUR RIDE!
TEN STEPS TO INSTALLING A DIESEL ENGINE IN VIRTUALLY ANY VEHICLE
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.