Ultimate Diesel Builder's Guide - - Suburban Denali Hd -

nine-pas­sen­ger seat­ing, but was in run­ning and driv­able con­di­tion even if it was a lit­tle rough around the edges. The orig­i­nal plan was to sim­ply swap in the Duramax and Al­li­son driv­e­train then paint the Burb GM Ar­rival Blue and en­joy the new shop SUV. They drove the Burb for about a month while or­der­ing and wait­ing on parts to come in for the swap. Vir­tu­ally all of the driv­e­train com­po­nents came from the team at Hicksville Auto Re­cy­clers in Hicksville, Ohio, where their team spe­cial­izes in Duramax trucks and parts with ev­ery­thing from com­plete trucks to small com­po­nents. To make the swap pos­si­ble, the team pur­chased the engine, trans­mis­sion, trans­fer case, var­i­ous mounts and a com­plete LTZ in­te­rior in­clud­ing the dash, seats, door pan­els and cen­ter con­sole.

Phys­i­cally get­ting the Duramax engine and Al­li­son trans­mis­sion into the Sub­ur­ban 3/4-ton chas­sis was ac­tu­ally pretty sim­ple. It dropped right into place af­ter they swapped out the gasser engine brack­ets for a set of diesel engine mount brack­ets and moved the trans­mis­sion cross­mem­ber about an inch. But to use the core sup­port, ra­di­a­tor and in­ter­cooler from a diesel truck and to clear the turbo on the top of the Duramax the Sub­ur­ban body need-

ed to be raised by 2 inches with a body lift. Rather than buy an off-the-shelf lift, the team at Mer­chant Au­to­mo­tive fab­ri­cated new brack­ets in house to raise the body and still use fac­tory body mount bush­ings. While they were work­ing on the rusty chas­sis com­po­nents, the project took a turn that would com­pletely change the scope of the build. Mer­chant de­cided he wanted to build the Sub­ur­ban to be “like new,” as he felt GM should have orig­i­nally built it.

With that new de­sign di­rec­tion in mind, the team com­pletely stripped the chas­sis down, in­clud­ing ev­ery com­po­nent of the run­ning gear, and sent ev­ery­thing over to the team at ND Col­li­sion in Hamil­ton, Mich., where ev­ery­thing was blasted down to bare me­tal then coated with Dupont In­dus­trial Coat­ings gloss black fin­ish to not only look great but also han­dle the harsh Michi­gan weather. While putting ev­ery­thing back to­gether they in­stalled new polyurethane bush­ings from En­ergy Sus­pen­sion and ul­tra­son­i­cally cleaned all the hard­ware, then had it zinc plated, be­fore re­in­stalling it.

In ad­di­tion to fully re­stored orig­i­nal chas­sis com­po­nents, the team in­stalled up­graded Bil­stein 5100 se­ries shocks at all four cor­ners for a smooth ride. To ad­dress the weak

points in the GM IFS they in­stalled Cog­nito up­per con­trol arms and steer­ing braces, as well as their own MA stain­less steel tie rod sleeves to keep the SUV pointed in the right di­rec­tion. To im­prove the brak­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the big Duramax-pow­ered SUV, Mer­chant opted to go with a set of Wil­wood Tac­ti­cal Se­ries brake kits for the front and rear of the truck. The brake up­grade is a se­ri­ous one, with enor­mous 16-inch di­am­e­ter brake ro­tors at all four cor­ners and equally sub­stan­tial six-pis­ton brake calipers and per­for­mance brake pads to stop the rig with author­ity.

While the chas­sis work was be­ing com­pleted the MA team turned its at­ten­tion to the Duramax engine and Al­li­son trans­mis­sion, since putting bone stock units in the truck wouldn’t give the truck the oomph it de­served. The LMM from the Hicksville Auto Re­cy­clers donor truck was torn down and Mahle Mo­tor­sports pis­tons with gap­less rings were in­stalled on stock rods that are swung by the stock crank. The fac­tory camshaft was re­placed with a SoCal Diesel 3388 camshaft for a lit­tle more per­for­mance. The heads were bolted back down with a set of ARP head studs to keep them se­curely on the block and keep the com­bus­tion charge in­side the engine. The crankshaft re­ceived a Socal damp­ner on the front side and a BD Diesel flex­plate on the back side to link to the Al­li­son trans­mis­sion.

ATS Diesel Per­for­mance ex­haust man­i­folds and up-pipes chan­nel spent gasses out of the engine up to a Stealth 64 VGT turbo from Duramax Tuner. A mod­i­fied MBRP down­pipe chan­nels the ex­haust gasses out of the turbo through a 4-inch MBRP ex­haust sys­tem and Walker heavy duty truck muf­fler to keep the ex­haust note down to a min­i­mum in the plush SUV. Fuel is de­liv­ered from the fac­tory tank through a FASS fuel pump and fil­ter sys­tem up to an Engi­neered Diesel 10 mm CP3 high pres­sure pump. From there, a set of 45% over in­jec­tors from S&S Diesel Mo­tor­sport de­liver the fuel into each cylin­der.

On the in­take side, the LMM draws in fresh air through an S&B Fil­ters cold-air in­take. Clean air is then com­pressed

by the Stealth 64 VGT and sent to a fac­tory GM in­ter­cooler through a set of fab­ri­cated and pow­der­coated Mer­chant Au­to­mo­tive boost tubes. As the in­take charge re­turns from the in­ter­cooler it is chan­neled into a stain­less Y-bridge from Adren­a­line Per­for­mance and sent down into the engine. With Duramax Tuner cy­cling the 1s and 0s in the ECU via EFILIVE tun­ing, the truck is very driv­able and has de­liv­ered 665 horse­power and 1,275 lb-ft of torque to the rear wheels on the chas­sis dyno.

The pow­er­ful LMM Duramax is linked to the Al­li­son trans­mis­sion through an ATS Diesel Per­for­mance Five Star torque con­verter to han­dle the power with­out slip­ping. Of course, a stock Al­li­son would not han­dle the power ei­ther, and since Mer­chant Au­to­mo­tive spe­cial­izes in build­ing per­for­mance Al­li­son trans­mis­sions they re­built the donor trans­mis­sion to their Max­i­mum Pro Se­ries stan­dards. It uses im­proved clutches and steels as well as hy­draulic up­grades to han­dle ad­di­tional power. The donor truck’s orig­i­nal MP1626 trans­fer case is used to split the power to the front and rear axles through cus­tom drive­shafts built by D&R Driv­e­line.

Paint and body­work was left to the pros at ND Col­li­sion, who did much more than just re­spray the body. The Sub­ur­ban’s shell was com­pletely stripped and gut­ted, then mas­saged to per­fec­tion. Even the com­plete roof panel was re­placed for sheet me­tal with a fac­tory sun­roof open­ing so Mer­chant could have a sun­roof in the SUV like other fully-loaded mod­els. Ad­di­tion­ally, they re­placed all four doors with new me­tal and per­fectly aligned ev­ery­thing. A Cadil­lac Es­calade hatch was used In the rear, along with a Chevy rear bumper with park­ing sen­sors, while the front end was treated to GMC Yukon Denali body pan­els in­clud­ing the grille, bumper, hood and fend­ers. Once ev­ery­thing was com­pletely straight and smooth, they sprayed it in Mer­chant’s fa­vorite color, GM Ar­rival Blue, and buffed and pol­ished it to per­fec­tion. In­side, they sprayed a coat­ing of Line-x spray-in bed­liner through­out the body shell to fur­ther re­duce out­side noise.

When as­sem­bling the in­te­rior, Mer­chant and the MA team used a com­bi­na­tion of new and good used parts to give the SUV an LTZ ap­pear­ance with leather seats, the slick LTZ dash and con­sole, and of course a fac­tory sun­roof. They also in­te­grated ad­di­tional fac­tory op­tions in­clud­ing power-ad­justable ped­als, power rear lift­gate, in­te­grated trailer brake con­trol, dual zone auto cli­mate con­trol, steer­ing wheel con­trols with heat, and heated me­mory front bucket seats to re­place the orig­i­nal front bench. They even went as far as in­stalling fac­tory re­mote-start­ing ca­pa­bil­ity and rear col­li­sion avoid­ance park­ing sen­sors to wrap up the pack­age.

But again, Mer­chant wanted his Sub­ur­ban to be as good as or bet­ter than the fac­tory high-level mod­els, so he also in­stalled a high-end af­ter­mar­ket au­dio sys­tem. It starts with an 8-inch touch­screen Alpine X008U nav­i­ga­tion re­ceiver that fits per­fectly in the fac­tory LTZ dash panel. Au­dio sig­nals route to a pair of JL Au­dio am­pli­fiers with a JX500 pow­er­ing the 10-inch JL Au­dio Stealth­box sub­woofer in­stalled in the fac­tory cen­ter con­sole lo­ca­tion, and a JX360 4-chan­nel amp in­stalled be­hind the rear driver-side in­te­rior panel to power front and rear JL Au­dio CS650 com­po­nent speak­ers in­stalled in each door.

To wrap the swap project up, the team in­stalled a set of highly pol­ished 22x10-inch Amer­i­can Force Hero wheels wrapped in Hankook 305/45R22 Dy­napro ATM tires. The huge wheels were needed to clear the mas­sive Wil­wood brake up­grade, while, of course, they also give the truck a great look and stance. Slight clear­ance at the cor­ner of the front bumper was nec­es­sary to keep the tires from rub­bing while turn­ing sharply. Since the SUV sits rather high, they also in­stalled a set of Amp Re­search power side steps to make it eas­ier to get in and out of the rig. The only ex­te­rior badg­ing that the truck re­tains is the GMC logo in the grille and a cus­tom MA logo that was machined to fit in the void left by re­mov­ing the Cadil­lac em­blem in the rear.

Start­ing with a run-down, plain white 2008 Chevy Sub­ur­ban, Eric Mer­chant and his team at Mer­chant Au­to­mo­tive com­pleted a stun­ning and com­plete trans­for­ma­tion into the Sub­ur­ban Denali HD you see here in a two-year process that re­sulted in a bet­ter-than-new SUV, and one of the best Sub­ur­ban’s we’ve ever seen. We’re sure they could have com­pleted a ba­sic Duramax swap in much less time, but the re­sults wouldn’t be as stun­ning or as sat­is­fy­ing. Mer­chant and team wanted some­thing that GM wouldn’t build—so he and his team built it them­selves! UDBG

The rear of the chas­sis is just as clean as the front, with the re­fin­ished AAM 10.5 rear axle and fac­tory 3/4-ton leaf springs get­ting help from Su­las­tic shack­les and Air Lift airbags to help the rig tow any­thing that Mer­chant needs. He also in­stalled Bil­stein 5100 se­ries shocks on all four cor­ners, and you can see the MBRP ex­haust sys­tem and pol­ished stain­less steel tip here as well.

While Mer­chant had the Sub­ur­ban on the hoist to pol­ish the wheels be­fore our photo shoot, we crawled un­der the truck to take a few shots of the un­be­liev­ably clean chas­sis. The old chas­sis com­po­nents were stripped and painted gloss black and/or re­placed with new com­po­nents that were also painted gloss black. The re­sults are a chas­sis that looks bet­ter than any that rolls off the GM assem­bly line.

A Wil­wood Tac­ti­cal Se­ries brake kit is in­stalled up front com­plete with gar­gan­tuan 16-inch ro­tors that are clam­ped down on by six-pis­ton Wil­wood calipers to bring the big SUV to a stop in a hurry.

As one of the premier Al­li­son trans­mis­sion builders in the coun­try, Mer­chant and his team gave the trans­mis­sion their Max­i­mum Pro Se­ries treat­ment, with up­grades through­out to han­dle the stout Duramax that now re­sides un­der the hood.

The rear brakes also re­ceived a Wil­wood Tac­ti­cal Se­ries up­grade, with an­other set of gar­gan­tuan 16-inch di­am­e­ter ro­tors and mas­sive six-pis­ton calipers to join the fronts to make sure this rig can slow down any load it’s haul­ing.

The Duramax in­hales fresh air through an S&B Fil­ters cold-air in­take sys­tem be­fore hand­ing it off to a Stealth 64 VGT turbo from Duramax Tuner to build some boost. Match­ing pow­der­coated boost tubes that the MA team fab­ri­cated chan­nel the high pres­sure charge from the turbo through the in­ter­cooler and back into the engine.

The fac­tory in­take muf­fler has no place on a per­for­mance engine. For­tu­nately, Mer­chant Au­to­mo­tive makes the proper block-off caps, so the team in­stalled their own off-the-shelf prod­ucts on the Sub­ur­ban.

Lift­ing the Denali hood re­veals a 6.6L LMM Duramax engine that should have been an op­tion on the 3/4-ton SUV di­rect from GM.

Mer­chant prefers the look of the GMC trucks and SUVS over their Chevro­let sib­lings, so he swapped the front grille, bumper, head­lights and sheet me­tal, in­clud­ing the hood and fend­ers, for Yukon Denali parts be­fore they were slathered in bright GM Ar­rival Blue paint by the team at ND Col­li­sion.

Look­ing at the fin­ished Sub­ur­ban, you can see the amaz­ingly clean fin­ish with no body mold­ings or em­blems to mess up the smooth lines. It’s hard to see, as the glass blends into the paint, but the fac­tory sun­roof is barely vis­i­ble in the roof, which has also been stripped of the tra­di­tional roof rack and as­so­ci­ated hard­ware.

The same 22-inch Amer­i­can Force and Hankook wheel and tire com­bi­na­tion is also car­ried to the rear of the Sub­ur­ban. Also no­tice the 5-inch pol­ished stain­less steel MBRP ex­haust tip that ex­its in the fac­tory lo­ca­tion.

Large wheels are re­quired to fit the big Wil­wood Tac­ti­cal Se­ries brakes, so Mer­chant opted for a set of highly pol­ished, forged alu­minum, 22x10-inch Amer­i­can Force Hero wheels wrapped with 305/45R22 Hankook Dy­napro ATM tires for sure grip in any con­di­tions.

To keep an eye on the Duramax engine’s vi­tals, Mer­chant re­lies on an Edge CTS2 dis­play that de­liv­ers pre­cise mea­sure­ments through ad­di­tional sen­sors to di­rectly mon­i­tor EGT, boost, in­take tem­per­a­ture and lift pump pres­sure, in ad­di­tion to the stan­dard OBD data it can dis­play.

Mer­chant even in­te­grated the power lift gate mech­a­nism for push but­ton con­trol of the rear hatch to open up the Sub­ur­ban for stor­age, or the 3rd row seat­ing if more space is needed. The four-chan­nel JL Au­dio JX360 am­pli­fier is in­stalled be­hind the driver-side rear panel, out of sight but not out of mind when the tunes are cranked.

The heart of the au­dio up­grade looks nearly fac­tory, with the large 8-inch dis­play of the Alpine X008U multi-me­dia re­ceiver per­fectly fit­ting in the con­fines of the fac­tory LTZ dash panel.

Sub­ur­ban tail­lights and bumper cover with in­te­grated park­ing sen­sors are used to round out the rear of the MABURBN.

He used a Cadil­lac Es­calade hatch, along with the full-width LED third brake light, to give the Sub­ur­ban a real touch of class.

Rather than stick­ing with the Cadil­lac em­blem, the Mer­chant Au­to­mo­tive team machined a bil­let alu­minum MA logo to fit in the same lo­ca­tion, along with painted ac­cents.

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