Folks familiar with modern diesel engines will tell you that they’re infinitely more complicated than the heavy-hauling workhorses of the ’70s and ’80s. Most of this boils down to ramped-up efficiency measures that keep the compression-ignition units legal, though that means there’s plenty to go wrong. Some power plants are more likely than others to break down, so what do you do when your new-age truck has major issues? If you’ve got the know-how, why not swap in something more…rudimentary?
So goes the origin story for this two-stroke, 4-53T Detroit Diesel-powered Ford F-350. Rather than spending thousands upon thousands of dollars to repair a problem that could very well pop up again, the owner decided to ditch the 6.4-liter Power Stroke altogether for a four-cylinder engine that was manufactured in 1979.
Why? It just works. There are no check engine lights on the dash and the truck’s stock mechanical components function as they should, including the factory five-speed transmission. Keep it simple, stupid.
As the truck’s owner Harling Park told The Drive, the original 6.4-liter started acting up and was on its way to big trouble before he pulled it. He found himself three hours from home when the Power Stroke started blowing black smoke uncharacteristically and, as it turned out, the injectors for cylinders one and two were stuck partially open. This is one of the many problems common with the Power Stroke in question, so Park knew it was time to figure out something else.
It’s somewhat typical for folks to replace that troublesome 6.4-liter with a straight-six Cummins, but it’s admittedly a tight fight since the Ford came from the factory with a V8 crammed in there. You might think that’s where the four-cylinder Detroit comes into play.
Except, it’s no shrimp. Although the engine sizes up at just 212 cubic inches, or a hair under 3.5 liters, it weighs around 1,300 pounds on its own thanks to its cast iron construction.
“The truck weighs 9,200 pounds with the Detroit in it,” Park said. “It added 1,000 pounds [over the 6.4-liter]. I went overboard on the soundproofing … I used lead on the firewall, 16-gauge sheet lead, and that really helped.”
Two-stroke Detroits are known for their insane volume, so it’s hard to blame him there, especially since it’s his daily driver…yup.
Park has actually owned the engine for 10 years or so, and he had plans of dropping it into an F-550 chassis to make a mini Peterbilt of sorts. But when his Power Stroke started giving up the ghost, he called an audible.
He estimates power figures hover around the 200-horsepower mark given the handful of modifications he’s made to the compound turbocharged Silver series engine. The all-important torque output is also respectable at north of 450 pound-feet. For comparison’s sake, a stock 6.4-liter Power Stroke makes 350 hp and 650 pound-feet. Likewise, Park calculated his fuel mileage and it’s returning 11-13 mpg in the city and 16-18 mpg on the highway.
The build required loads of custom fabrication, well beyond fit and finish features like engine mounts. A custom crankshaft had to be made and, luckily, Mr. Park had the skills to do it himself—chalk that up to spending countless hours in his father’s mechanic shop as a kid. In our phone call, though, he noted the transmission was his biggest concern.
“I bought another transmission at auction—I bought two, actually—because I was afraid I wouldn’t be up to the standards required for those transmissions in terms of machining. The transmission was the most critical part of this build because the tolerances are so tight,” Park explained. “I’m using one of my $300 transmissions right now and it’s working perfectly fine.”
Given that the truck has retained its stock five-speed automatic, it also utilizes the same 3.73 rear end. That means it can run at highway speeds without deafening passersby.
The truck has racked up more than 4,000 miles with its “new” engine, and that’s involved several rounds of towing 6,500 pounds through Western Canada. At elevations exceeding 8,000 feet above sea level, the little 4-53T performs admirably, even with a load on.
Park keeps a close eye on his truck, though it should come as no surprise after seeing how meticulous he’s been throughout the build process. He mentioned that the cab has been off the F-350 hundreds of times, and it only takes him an hour and a half to do the job with a two-post lift. At first, it was at least a three-hour job.
Finally, after roughly two years, the Ford seems to be about complete. Park still fettles with the specifics like retarding injector timing to gain an extra mpg or two, but for the most part, it’s in tip-top shape. He plans to keep driving it every day as he looks for another project, which might involve an old-school International truck. I like the way this guy thinks…
Caleb Jacobs is Deputy News Editor at The Drive. He buys weird things, like a ’66 Ford dump truck, a ’65 Chevy school bus and a ’63 International Loadstar. We can’t seem to stop him from writing about them. Send him a note: email@example.com
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