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July 2012 Postal Route Letters to the Editor

Our Readers Write Back!

Classic Chevy Engine Swap
I’m an old-school hot-rodder with a 1955 Chevy. I’ve been considering replacing the 235ci six-cylinder with a diesel engine as opposed to the conventional OHV V-8 of the LS series. I wonder which diesel would best fit in the old Chevy. And just how much of a project will it be to make the change?

I’m thinking Chevy Duramax, but my nephew and brother-in-law say go with a Cummins. But which one? I’m not into horsepower or torque. I want a good-running car with some good economy. What would you suggest?
Loyal Tripp
Peyton, Colorado

Hmmm...That is a tough one. We would consider an ’01 to ’07 Duramax or an ’03 to ’11 Cummins. Both will run well, be smooth, and get good fuel economy. Neither option will be very inexpensive. The cheap, good way to go is likely the ’94 to ’98 5.9L Cummins.

Best First Diesel
I have been reading Diesel Power for about 2 years. This magazine is the reason I’ve struck an interest in diesels. I will start driving soon, and I am looking at used diesels. I need a truck that is low in price—not low in quality. I also want a truck that would be easy to add large amounts of power to because I am tired of every guy in this town who has a diesel that blows black smoke thinking he has the fastest truck in Indiana. I would love to show them they are not the diesel experts they think they are. I know diesel is the way to go because the engine will last longer than a gasser—and who doesn’t want more power and fuel economy? But I need all the help I can get, so give me whatever ideas you have.
Hunter VanArsdale
Via email

For a cheap, high-quality diesel, we always recommend asking your neighbors or family members to sell you their diesel. Ideally, you want to find a truck that you know the history of, and one that’s just about ready to be sold off or traded in. If you can’t find one in your family, you’ll be hard pressed to beat a regular-cab, two-wheel-drive, manual transmission-equipped truck. They’re cheap because they have few options, and they tend to last forever because there is less on them to fail.

A Cummins-Powered Ford Is Not A Dodge
I am curious as to why the Cummins- powered Ford trucks, called “Fummins trucks” by many, are being put into the Ford section of your Diesel Power Challenge event. Yes, these trucks are Fords, but I believe they should be in the Cummins section to allow space for three Power Stroke trucks in the Ford camp. I’m just curious, since there are many 6.4Ls that could do great in the event, yet I’m sure there will be a Fummins or two voted into the mix—which really leaves the Power Stroke guys in the shadows.
Konnor Chupp
Metamora, Michigan

In the future, we may add a diesel engine-swap class to our Diesel Power Challenge, but for now a Ford is a Ford—no matter which engine is in it. Remember, Dodge does not own Cummins (neither does Ford, for the record). If a reader showed up with a Dodge that had a Duramax or Power Stroke under the hood, we’d still call the truck a Dodge.

Why We Love Diesels
There are many opinions about the benefits of diesel power in our everyday trucks: better mileage, more torque, extended engine life, etc., etc. But the real reason we prefer diesels to gasoline is a closely guarded secret, one that, at great personal risk, I’m going to share with you.

We love the noise.

Rattle…rattle…rattle. The appreciation of this sacred sound is the one and true motivating factor behind the popularity of the diesel engine in North America. To explain this, we must return briefly to those thrilling days of yesteryear, about 1962.

Back then, there were few interstates. Most of the roads, especially in California, were of the two-lane variety. The undisputed kings of those roads were big rigs. Kenworths, Peterbilts, Autocars, White, Freightliners: a litany of transportative titans that snorted and growled and crept up the sundrenched asphalt of the Golden State at low speed and high rpms. Even the biggest engines of that day were puny in performance when compared to the powerplants in a modern diesel pickup, but that was the deal; a screaming two-stroke GMC or a 220hp Cummins coupled with a pair of transmissions (main box and auxiliary) would take your 80,000-pound rig up the old Ridge Route at a thunderous 10 or 12 mph.

How well I remember that drive. My dad had a mid-’50s Sterling with a Cummins, and I, a kid all of 8 years old, would often accompany him on the epic journey, beginning in Los Angeles and terminating in some exotic destination like Oakland, Fresno, or Stockton. The endless flat expanse of the San Joaquin Valley was tedious and either blisteringly hot or numbingly cold; the real excitement was at the beginning and end of every trip.

The Ridge Route, also known as Old Highway 99 between L.A. and Bakersfield—was aptly named. A narrow, two-lane python of a road, complete with lethal drop-offs and steep grades. It meandered through the Tehachapi Mountains, topped off at the 4,000-foot Tejon Summit, and then dropped precipitously through a steep-walled canyon into the flatness of the Valley. Even in a contemporary automobile, the Ridge Route could be challenging to brakes and the cooling system. In a big, loaded truck, it was like something out of a Homer novel.

On a good day, it required about two hours to make it up to Tejon Summit, engine roaring, fire spouting from the exhaust stack, my father wrestling with the two gearshifts. Passing another truck was a Herculean (and incredibly loud) endeavor. Once you finally reached the top, it was mandatory to stop and check the brakes, because ahead of you was the infamous 5-Mile Grade. I saw many a truck pass us at near supersonic speeds, brakes gone, flames coming from the wheels, going down the grade like a flak-stricken B-17 over Berlin. There was, of course, an escape route, filled with soft sand at the bottom, and most of the time there was at least one rig, mired up to mid-hub, stuck in it. That’s what happened if you were lucky...

I came to love the throb of that huge and inefficient old diesel, sitting there getting my molars jarred loose, hour after hour. There was a profound sense of being somehow connected to the earth, to mysterious processes that kept my young and often befuddled world balanced. I could sleep in the cab with the motor running, but I awoke with a “What the heck!” start when it was abruptly shut off.

Nowadays, the drive over the Ridge is accomplished via the multi-lane smoothness (and blandness) of Interstate 5, although trucks still get into trouble on the northbound downgrade on occasion. The diesel engines in our modern trucks are much more powerful—and far quieter—than those howling, iron beasts of 50 years ago.

Which, I guess, just goes to show you: You can’t have everything...
Mark Michaels
Via email

To all our readers, we thank you for your comments and compliments. Keep those emails and letters coming. Write to: Diesel Power, 831 S. Douglas St., El Segundo, CA 90245, or email us at dieselpower@sorc.com.

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