Don’t take this wrong, as a staff we enjoy all the project trucks that we get involved with and the best part is seeing the steps along the way towards the finished build. But there is just something about our 2003 LB7 series build that seems to stand out among other projects we’ve done recently. It not only has “the look” that even old grannies crossing the street stop and take notice, but it has the power to back it up.
From day one we dubbed this truck Road Treasure because of the owner’s unusual hobby that sometimes seems to put his life at risk. Dave Friedli has made a second career out of scouring road sides in search of items that have fallen off vehicles. His findings, which he refers to as road treasure, range from ladders and tow ropes, to coolers and motorcycle helmets. There’s just no telling what he might find during his daily commute to work.
But before we get to the final touches that were added to this LB7, let’s recap the entire build to give you an idea just how far it has truly come in a short amount of time.
The first step Dave took towards reaching the goals for his 2003 GMC LB7 Crew Cab Short Bed was to contact SBS Diesel Performance in Salt Lake City, Utah. Any truck owner who has ever been bit by the mod bug will attest, all it takes is that first install and you’re hooked.
Dave was looking to upgrade his exhaust when he called shop owner Gary Connor. The dual exhaust system recommended was the Off-Road Dual 4-inch from Diamond Eye Performance. With a dual setup there are challenges, including getting both tips to evenly match up, which SBS did a great job with. Dave works as a custom fabricator at B & D Welding where he’s the project/shop manager and has a critical eye for quality craftsmanship and can appreciate the effort it took to make it right.
SBS Diesel is a short drive through the canyon from Dave’s house in Hyrum, Utah. Heading over the mountain on his way to the install his EGT’s were around 1100 compared to his return trip where he witnessed a little bit of an improvement with the bigger exhaust with his EGT’s around 970.
Following the dual exhaust install, Dave was officially ready to take his truck to the next level. If there was any hesitation, you couldn’t tell as the Utah-native got busy putting his list of possibilities together. But before he could get to the installs, he first wanted to make sure his truck was up for the challenge.
In northern Utah, Terry Thain is the owner of Moonlight Diesel and has quickly developed a solid reputation for being the best place to take your diesel truck when it comes to repairs and performance upgrades. The truck was throwing codes—which is never good—but it’s particularly bad when you’re dealing with a mostly stock truck. The engine would tend to power surge a little and it was the most noticeable at idle when the truck was in gear, like when at a stoplight. The faulty fuel pressure regulator was surging so it needed to be replaced before Moonlight could move forward with the build.
The fuel pressure regulator sits on top of the motor in the valley, so gaining access wasn’t easy, but not a problem for the techs. And once it was replaced it solved the problem completely and the shop was then ready to move on to other problems it found during its initial inspection.
The dash cluster was also having issues and this was obvious when the shop had it completely out of the truck and lying on the ground, yet it was still registering at nearly 110 miles per hour at 3500 RPMs. Now that’s a good illusion. Using its in-house equipment, Moonlight performed a gauge sweep and was able to diagnose the problem. Three gauges needed to be replaced and for this it needed to be sent to an outside company to repair. Terry recommended DAT (Digital Auto Technology) in California for repair and they were able to get it fixed properly.
With the dual exhaust in place, the next logical step after solving the truck’s other issues was a new cold air intake kit. Dave was looking for one that would be a good fit for his 4-inch Diamond Eye exhaust so he called MKM Customs to see what they would recommend. The guys at MKM Customs suggested the S&B intake and that was good enough for Dave.
When it comes to monitoring your engine using the latest technology, the Edge Insight CTS is hard to beat. It offers many of the same great features and benefits found in other products from Edge, along with a whole host of exciting additional features.
Edge offers products with tuning already included, but in this case Dave wanted to have a custom tune on his truck so that’s why he went with the Insight.
Another great benefit is that you can use the Insight for the gauges, plus it will control the EFILive power levels on the fly. At the time the Insight CTS from Edge was one of his favorite upgrades because of all the features on the comprehensive gauge display.
Another great feature of this Insight CTS is you can upgrade to a backup camera, which makes hooking up to your trailer a breeze and it wasn’t hard to talk Dave into adding it to his LB7. When you put the truck in reverse, the screen automatically switches over to show you the full view behind your truck including your hitch.
When Dave and Moonlight first started planning this build they had some specific ideas to help with the towing capabilities that included adding Superlift’s 6-inch lift. Superlift’s bracket lift method, first developed in 1999, is still known as the GM system to have. Lowering the factory upper and lower control arms in relation to the frame brings ride height up. And by utilizing the factory control arms and torsion bars, the truck is able to retain stock alignment geometry and ride quality.
“It’s a bracket lift so some of the factory brackets had to be cut off,” said Terry after the install. “It’s similar to a knuckle lift, only you’re dropping the lower arm and extending it out. The bracket keeps it in the same place.”
Moonlight also added front and rear sway bars from Hellwig to complete the lift.
“Sway bars help reduce body roll so you benefit from better vehicle control, which is even more important when you’re towing,” added Terry. “They also greatly improve cornering traction for safer driving and cornering capabilities by distributing weight evenly.”
As far as the install, the front sway bar went in a similar stock position, but the rear was a little harder to install because it had to clear the new dual exhaust so it had to be altered slightly. But this wasn’t a problem for Terry and his crew at Moonlight that includes techs that have been with him since he first started in 1996.
Use The Force
To put the 285 tires back on after giving the truck a 6-inch lift would be nothing short of a crime. But this was never even a consideration as Dave had been eyeing what he referred to as the perfect setup for his GMC for several months. His first call was to American Force Wheels and after a tough decision process he went with the polished Burst SS 20-inch wheels. These were a huge upgrade from stock and they were well received by Dave’s wife Kris who until this point was having some slight hesitation.
“I couldn’t really see my husband’s vision on what he had planned for his truck, but once I saw it with the lift and the new wheels I was almost as excited as he was.”
The wheels were matched with a set of tires from Mickey Thompson. Dave went with the Baja ATZ Radial 35x12.50 tires not only for the look, but for the longevity it will give him with his daily driver. Mickey Thompson is a trusted name in the auto industry and is especially a popular option for diesel truck owners who expect and demand a lot out of their tires.
Before Dave could hook up a trailer for a test run, he added a new hitch since his old one didn’t drop down nearly far enough with the added lift. For this he contacted Andersen Manufacturing in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and they recommended the 6-inch drop combo hitch. The greaseless AlumiBall means there’s no need to lubricate the tow ball or receiver, which is a great feature.
The EFILive tuning was done at Moonlight and since this shop has a dyno, Terry was able to get the stock and tuned numbers so they could be compared. The before numbers on the truck had it at 255hp and 504.3 ft/lbs of torque. On the dyno following the tuning the truck was sitting at 457hp and 948.7 ft/lbs of torque.
After the lift install, Dave was ready to add an air bag system to his truck to keep it from “squatting” when he had a heavy load. He went with the Firestone Ride Rite air bag kit with the compressor and wireless controller and the best part is that he was able to install it himself.
“This is a well-built kit and I would recommend it to anyone,” said Dave
following the driveway install. “And because it really is easy to install, everyone should have a Firestone Ride Rite air bag kit if they do a lot of towing like I do for work.”
One of Dave’s favorite features with the air bag system is the wireless remote control that allows him to adjust as needed.
The transmission held on the Moonlight dyno but was throwing some slip codes, which meant the next step was to rebuild the transmission. When it comes to having your transmission rebuilt, there are plenty of options. But for those within a 300-mile radius of Adrenaline Performance in Shelley, Idaho, there is really only one choice. The full staff of mechanics are constantly modifying diesel trucks, but the way owner Cam Hulse can rebuild a transmission is what this shop is still best known for.
With the transmission slipping and at least one injector needing to be replaced, Cam first ran the LB7 on his dyno before getting started so he could measure the gains. It had been about six months since the last dyno run for this truck and the added wear on the transmission was reflected this time around in the numbers. The run had the lifted truck sitting at 423.8 hp and 857.9 ft/lbs of torque.
Cam has some special parts machined that allow him to increase the number of clutch plates when rebuilding a transmission. A deeper tranny pad from ATS Diesel Performance was added, which only helped with the clean look.
The number one reason the deeper pan upgrade is necessary is to increase the oil capacity in your transmission. The ATS Deep Pan adds more fluid capacity to your transmission to help keep it cool and because heat is the number one enemy of a transmission, the cooler it runs, the longer it lasts. Dave wanted to go with ATS for function and style and particularly liked the finned design, magnetic drain plug and the black powder-coated pan. This now gives him a 5-quart capacity and when compared to the stock one you’d think it would be even more. The stock one is tiny by comparison.
When Dave first contacted ATS for the deeper tranny pan he also ordered the rear diff cover. One of the hardest working parts on a diesel truck is the rear differential. It takes the brunt of hours of grueling stop-and-go driving, towing and racing. The new cover adds 2.5 quarts of fluid capacity over stock and comes with all necessary hardware and gaskets to install. The cover has a magnetic drain plug to prevent fluid contamination, as well as a weep hole for easy service.
With the deep pan, 12 quarts of Royal Purple Max ATF (Automatic Transmission Fluid) was added. For the rear diff, Royal Purple Max Gear—High Performance Gear Oil was used.
Let’s Add Some Horses
Rebuilding the transmission was only the first step for what was planned to be done at the Adrenaline Performance shop. With the rebuilt transmission capable of up to 1000 horsepower, it was time to upgrade the stock turbo and add bigger injectors.
The old stock injectors with around 125,000 miles on them were sent to Dynomite Diesel Performance to be tested. At its facility, Dynomite is able to test the injectors and found that two of them needed to be replaced with the others soon to follow if not replaced soon.
With a goal of 500hp in mind, Dave was more interested in a dependable daily driver than winning any dyno events, so he went with the 50hp injectors from Dynomite Diesel Performance. Each injector comes individually packaged and well protected.
ATS Turbo Upgrade
Installing an aftermarket intake was one of the first things Dave did to his 6.6L Duramax after adding the dual Diamond Eye exhaust. But he quickly learned why the ATS 3000 Aurora Turbo kit includes a new one. The design of the ATS Diesel system requires that it arch over the engine so the old one couldn’t be used. This proven system is all about sucking it up, spinning it up and blowing it out, so Dave had no problem making the switch.
ATS Aurora turbo kits are designed to lower EGTs, provide more power across the rpm range and exceed your specific needs. The Aurora 3000 turbo system for the 2001-2010 GM Duramax that was installed by Adrenaline Performance is designed for daily driving as well as towing applications and that’s exactly what Dave was looking for.
The focus of this turbo is to provide quick spool, low-end pulling power and EGT control on stock or tuned trucks. The result is a system that will provide a wide powerband, while being responsive at sea level or higher elevations. And the best part is that aftermarket fueling upgrades are not required for this turbo.
The 58mm inducer on the turbo is a very nimble and highly responsive unit and included in the Aurora 3000 turbo kit is a 4-inch downpipe, pedestal, turbo, air intake system (that is from aFe Power) and all necessary hardware, electronics and oil supply/return fittings and tubes. The 3000 is equipped with journal bearings, a ported compressor housing to reduce turbo “bark”, as well as heavy-duty silicone boots.
The last step before putting the truck back on the dyno was to install the FASS fuel system. The old stock injectors had failed, but having the FASS system should keep the new ones from Dynomite Diesel working properly.
The FASS Fuel System has its own pump and this pump carries the fuel from the tank into the FASS System through a spin-on water separator. The fuel is then pumped into the main fuel filter where the dirt and air/vapor are removed. At that point, the fuel is under pressure to the engine. The small portion of air and vapor that remains is sent back to the fuel tank through the return line.
When all was finished, the LB7 was once again strapped to the Powerlabs dyno so the gains could be measured. Using EFILive with the truck on the dyno, Cam was able to dial in the right amount of performance as he custom-tuned the GMC. Dave wasn’t interested in pushing the limits, but rather just looking for a tune that would make his truck dependable, yet still powerful.
With the rebuilt transmission, 50hp injectors from Dynomite Diesel Performance and the ATS 3000 Turbo kit, the LB7 now sits at 534.9hp and 1127.8 ft/lbs of torque. For you non-math majors, that’s a 111 horsepower gain and nearly 270 ft/lbs of torque improvement! Not bad for a truck where 500hp was the goal.
It’s always nice to get dyno numbers, but the real test is how the truck performs. With the bigger injectors and the Aurora 3000 that is a quick-spooling turbo charger, the power is amazing.
After the turbo and injector installs, Dave was extremely satisfied with where the truck was sitting. He now had the power he needed, plus the look, but like most diesel enthusiasts a truck is never really ever truly complete. The Utah-native spotted a Road Armor bumper on a similar-looking lifted truck and that’s when he had to break the news to his wife Kris that he wasn’t quite done.
Road Armor manufacturers a wide range of solid bumpers, but there is one particular one that just seems to really flow well on lifted trucks. With the image of the bumper burned into his mind, Dave quickly went online to figure out which one he needed. When he found the Front Stealth Winch Bumper with Pre-Runner Guard, he couldn’t stop smiling. This was exactly what he needed to finish off his truck.
“I didn’t want a big ‘cow killer’ front bumper on my truck, so when I first saw the Road Armor one I knew it was exactly what I was looking for,” says Dave. “It’s a solid heavy-duty bumper, yet it doesn’t dominate the look of your truck.”
Of course it wouldn’t be right to just get the front bumper; Dave needed the matching rear one as well. For this he went with the rear Stealth Winch Bumper from Road Armor, both powder coated black.
Dave started the install by pulling his truck into the B&D Fab Shop where he works. He enlisted Loren Stokes, Jeremy Wartel and Drew Nielsen in the shop to help him as the owner of B&D Welding, Brandon Evans, was nice enough to let him use the shop and the guys to get this done as quickly as possible.
Within a matter of minutes the crew had the rear bumper off and ready for the brackets that were provided in the kit.
“I don’t think we even looked at the instructions that much for the rear bumper, it was pretty straight forward,” said Dave. “Now moving on to the front bumper things were a little different. We had to remove the headlights, cover of the radiators and grille just to get down to where we needed to start.”
After removing some bolts, the shop had the front bumper off and then it was time to cut the parts that were welded to the frame that would be in the way of installing the new bumper.
“This is where having good fabricators on the job was vital,” said Dave. “In no time we had the front brackets on loose and ready to fit the front bumper. It was nice to have a forklift to lift and hold the bumper exactly where it was needed to align the bolts.”
With some minor adjustments, the shop had the bumper where Dave wanted it to sit and all that was left was to reinstall the front end of the truck and fit the lights to the front and rear of the bumpers.
The bumper comes with cutouts for lights, so it wasn’t hard to justify the need to improve the lighting while he was at it. AnzoUSA has been a popular choice for truck owners so Dave wanted to go with them. He started by installing the lights that are a combination of flood and spot lights. But since Anzo is known for its light bars, Dave wanted to figure out a way to incorporate one on his truck. He went with the 24-inch one, which he was able to mount perfectly to the top of the bumper.
“Jeremy was all over the rear lights and while he was on that, Drew was on the plasma table cutting out a custom stainless plate to cover the big hole where the winch would be if I ever decide to add one,” says Dave. “In its place went a massive light bar from AnzoUSA. This light fits perfect in the spot I wanted to mount it.”
The other lights were placed in different spots on the bumper where Dave felt they will function and look the best.
“Whoa, I can really light up the neighborhood now,” said Dave. “I just thought it would look neat to have them on the bumper, but now that they’re installed I’m very impressed with how well they light up the road.”
With Road Armor bumpers on, complete with AnzoUSA lights, the Road Treasure project truck is now officially complete or at least as complete as it’s going to be for awhile until he gets bit by the mod bug once again. Dave couldn’t be happier with how his build turned out and just loves that his LB7 is turning heads wherever he goes.