Making It Just Right

Power Stroke Perfection

Published in the June 2011 Issue June 2011 Ask The Expert

They say if you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself. As a certified Union Pipe Welder with pretty strong background in mechanics, Robert Williams of Santaquin, Utah, took it upon himself to make his 1996 Ford F250 just `right' for him. The 7.3L Power Stroke is a well-known reliable power plant, but they definitely leave something to be desired in today's light-duty diesel standards. While they had enough power to get the job done eventually, the lack of an intercooler system and their somewhat small injectors left Williams looking for more. After buying the truck back in 2005, Williams knew if the truck was going to do what he wanted it to, some major changes were in the truck's immediate future.

Getting A Lift

The first big round of modifications for the Ford was getting the stance and overall look of the truck just right. He started off with a 4-inch suspension lift from Tuff Country to bring the nose and the attitude of the truck up where it needed to be. The new height left just the right amount of room in the fender wells for a set of 325/60R20 Nitto Terra Grappler tires that Williams had mounted on some 20-inch Incubus wheels. Soon after a rear-end collision on the freeway left the truck in need of some serious body work, a new replacement bed, front and rear bumpers, grille, a headlight and even a new hood had to be found. Being the kind that likes to do all of his own work, Williams had the truck tore apart in the garage for over a month while he bolted on all new body parts, removed factory moldings, sanded and primed the big Ford. After countless hours in the garage every night after work he finally got the bodywork looking better than ever and drove the truck to Robarge Collision of Spanish Fork, Utah, where they put down the Inferno Red base coat color and finished it off with a deep clear. After getting the truck back to the house, Williams bolted on a custom billet grille, some smoked cab lights for a late model Dodge, and some new clear headlight and corner markers, which replaced the stock pieces that had been left in a pile of shrapnel left on the highway a few months before.

Wish List

With the truck finally looking the part, Williams moved on to making the truck perform like he wanted it to. Just like any other diesel addict across the country, the list of performance upgrades in constantly changing and it seems no diesel truck can ever really be finished. With hopes of 500 plus horsepower Williams knew his best place to start was by installing some aftermarket injectors and a new turbocharger system. At the time, the Stage II single shot injectors and drop-in replacement Turbonetics ball bearing turbo just weren't going to be enough. He started out by pulling those injectors and rebuilding them himself to a 238cc hybrid status using parts he'd purchased from a local injection shop. To go along with the added fuel, he also called upon himself to build a complete turbo mount kit from scratch that would allow him to run a much larger GT4294 journal bearing turbo. Next came fabbing up an intercooler system for the truck, using a large polished aluminum air-to-air unit from City Diesel. Williams built the piping from scratch using 304 stainless pipe he'd collected from the scrap piles at work. The intercooler really helped bring exhaust temperatures down and really helped bring a much needed efficiency back into the 7.3L engine.

To ensure the proper fuel was being fed to those larger hybrid injectors, Williams needed to upgrade the factory mechanical fuel pump and improve the rest of the fuel system, which included a regulated return system he designed and built himself. With the stock fuel pump and filter housing removed from the valley of the motor, he built a unique bracket to house not one, but two, stock `99-`03 Ford Super Duty electric fuel pumps along the frame rail. This pump bracket also housed two filter bases and filters he'd purchased from the local parts house. The new system pulls fuel from a much larger in-tank pickup tube that was installed in the front fuel tank of the truck. While this did lose the ability of using the rear-mounted fuel tank, it does ensure large amounts of fuel can be pulled and fed to those big injectors without worry of fuel pressure dropping and potentially harming them.

Extending The Life

The motor had well over 280,000 miles on it by this time and pushing the truck like he did, he knew it wasn't going to be long before an overhaul would be needed. After a Saturday afternoon in the garage installing his new Terminator Dual High Pressure oil system, those hard miles of driving had finally gotten the best of the old 7.3L. Williams had troubles getting the truck to start and after some testing, a loss of compression in one of the cylinders left him in need of that engine build he'd been contemplating for some time. He once again pulled the truck back into the garage and started dismantling it. Once the engine was out and torn down, a cracked piston was found to be the culprit of his hard start-and-miss issues.

The engine block was completely torn down and stripped then sent off to C&T Machine of Orem, Utah, where they honed the cylinders to fit a .020+ piston set. They also quarter-filled the water jackets with Hardblok to sturdy up the bottom end and balanced the rotating assembly. The beefed-up Crower billet rods Williams had supplied were also going to make this engine much stronger than stock. After decking the block surface and overhauling the cylinder heads, the parts were all loaded back up and taken back to the garage where he could spend the next few nights assembling his new performance long block. The motor also received new ARP main and head studs, Melling low pressure oil pump, and all-new bearing and gaskets. The motor was going to be in better shape than it was when it left the Ford plant way back in 1996. The heads were worked over with all new valves and seals, a mile port job on the intake runners, and a set of Comp 910 valve springs with stock pushrods were installed. While the motor was out, Williams decided the GT42 he had been running needed more injector so a set of Dynomite Diesel 530 B-code injectors were installed; their .0085lpm nozzles would be plenty to reach the 550 plus horsepower mark, now that the motor was built to handle it of course.

With that kind of power potential, Williams knew something was going to be needed to improve the drive train. The E4OD automatic transmission was then overhauled and improved by the local transmission shop with an all-new billet triple disc torque converter, stronger replacement clutches and a fine tuned valve body with their own custom shift kit. The transmission was built strong enough to support around 600hp and would be just what he needed to ensure great drivability on the street with plenty of strength to live up to the power level and towing needs the truck was used for.


Fine Tuning

With the new power plant now residing under the Reflexxion cowl induction hood, Williams knew some tuning changes would be needed. A build of this sort can really benefit from custom programming, so making the drive north to Wide Open Performance of Sandy, Utah, where a live tuning event was being held with Jody Tipton of DP Tuner, was just what the truck needed. Being able to live tune a truck of this caliber on the street can really help bring all those aftermarket products to their full potential. After a couple hours in the passenger seat, Tipton was able to get that engine and transmission working together and transferring every bit of available horsepower to the factory 4.10 rear-end and those big 35-inch tires. The DP Tuner F5 chip gave Williams the ability to select from six different tunes-all while driving-making daily driving, towing and all-out performance just a push of a button away. Inside the cab of the truck Williams had upgraded his gauge monitoring with a set of Auto Meter Z-series gauges that included a pyrometer, boost, transmission temperature, oil pressure, and water temperature. There was also a Terminator Scan Gauge installed that allows him to watch things like ICP pressure, IPR duty cycle, battery voltage, and even allows him to read and clear diagnostic trouble codes while driving.


Final Touch

To overcome the sound coming from the custom 5-inch dual exhaust system, Williams also installed an aftermarket stereo system that includes an Alpine head unit feeding sound to two 10-inch JLW-3 subwoofers that receive power from a JL-Audio Phoenix 900w amplifier. The factory speakers were also replaced with JBL units to improve low and mid sound levels.

To date the truck has put down a best of 567 rear-wheel horsepower and over 1100ft/lbs. of torque on a Superflow Dyno and has even seen some quarter-mile track time on occasion. While the truck isn't used for his daily driver, it still sees quite a bit of street time on the weekends when it comes time to remind the locals that a 7.3L Power Stroke can still compete with today's latest aftermarket diesel technology. Williams says the truck is never quite complete, but he's very happy with how the truck turned out. We'd have to agree with him on that statement, definitely one of the cleanest old Fords we've ever had the pleasure of putting on the cover.

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