Diesel Rat Rods: Epic, No Matter the Budget

There is no denying the rise in popularity of diesel rat rods in recent years. Reality TV (“Vegas Rat Rods”), industry trade shows, magazines and various social media outlets have certainly done their part to get these unique creatures in front of the masses. As a result of the exposure, oil-burning rat rod projects have popped up all over the country—and countless vintage trucks, coupes and sedans have been rescued from scrapyards. Old iron from the 1920s on through the 1960s is regularly being resurrected and repurposed in a very inventive way.

Thanks to the “anything goes” nature of most rat rod builds, you can always find an abundance of creativity and originality built into these one-off machines. From sedans to wagons and pickups to semis, no vehicle platform is off the table, either. As far as the almighty dollar is concerned, we’ve seen diesel rat rods pieced together on shoestring budgets, while others were built with no expense spared. In the article that follows, we’ll showcase both types of builds: a 1950s Ford with just a few thousand bucks invested, and a high-dollar ’46 Dodge with the book thrown at it.

Hungry for more? Look for additional diesel rat rod features in the months ahead.

“The Rust Bucket”

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As the owner of RTC Performance Diesel in Dandridge, Tennessee, Adam Doan comes across his fair share of second-hand vehicles, engines and body panels. So after a good friend suggested they build a rat rod, he took stock of what he had at the time, as well as what he could get at an affordable price. Starting with a ’79 Ford F-100 chassis, Adam dropped a 7.3L Power Stroke into the engine bay, along with a ZF-6 six-speed manual transmission. The rear fenders would be sourced from a ’56 F-100.

Take-Out Engine

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Around the same time the 7.3L blew up, Adam had a core 6.0L Power Stroke in his possession, which had been plucked from an ’03 Super Duty. Rather than find another 7.3L, he opted to install the 6.0L and its corresponding 5R110 automatic in place of the 7.3L/ZF-6 combo. A wire harness from an ’05 E-350 van was used to seamlessly integrate the engine and transmission into the old Ford. The 6.0L itself has been treated to ARP head studs, a set of 250cc injectors with 100-percent larger nozzles and custom tuning from Tyrant Diesel. After this combination (which still makes use of the factory Garrett VGT) hurt the stock TorqShift transmission, Adam had it rebuilt and reinforced by Eli Myers of Rocky Top Transmissions.

F-600 & F-100 Parts

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If you’re wondering why the front clip is so wide, it’s because it’s off a ’55 F-600. The cab, on the other hand, came off of a ’52 F-100. Pulling the project off on an ultra-tight budget meant that Adam had to make use of what he could source locally and build what he couldn’t find by hand. “We built it with whatever we could get our hands on,” he told us. “I have maybe $1,000 in all the body panels, if that.”

Chevy Bed

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In keeping with the “whatever we can make work” build strategy, Adam didn’t let brand loyalty get in the way, as the bed was garnered from a ’49 Chevy. Upon peering into the bed, you’ll discover a 15-pound nitrous bottle and the spot where the battery was relocated—along with a steel fuel cell that’s butted up against the back of the cab. Beneath the bed, you’ll find a 10.25-inch Sterling out of a ’93 F-350. Across the scales, The Rust Bucket checks in at a slim 4,450 lbs (with driver).

The Office

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A bare bones interior provides room for two occupants and that’s about it. Just two gauges exist inside the cab (two externally): one to keep an eye on oil pressure and the other a pyrometer, to watch exhaust gas temperature. That’s the extent of the truck’s in-cab instrumentation. Who needs a speedometer, anyway? The time slip will tell you how fast you were going!

Quick & Competitive

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But is it fast? For the amount of money invested and a very favorable power-to-weight ratio, it’s pretty darn quick in our book. With Adam’s good friend, Kendall, in the driver seat, the Rust Bucket has turned in a best eighth-mile of 7.28 seconds so far. That translates into an 11.40 in the quarter-mile. The truck has also proven to be dead-on in both 7.70 Index and bracket racing. In fact, Adam finished eighth place in the Outlaw Diesel Super Series’ E.T. Bracket category in 2017—a class that’s made up of more than 140 competitors. 

The “Six Pack”

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For a high-end example of a diesel rat rod, look no further than Premier Performance Products’ ’46 Dodge. With half a dozen Nitrous Express bottles mounted in the bed, it’s fittingly named “Six-Pack.” As a major wholesale auto parts distributor that caters heavily to the diesel industry, Premier Performance could’ve built any type of project vehicle they wanted to, but settled on a rat rod for one key reason: It was different. Premier employee Bobby Barney was quoted as saying: “We wanted to do something different and out of the box—and we thought this would bring a lot of attention to our product lines.” Well it worked. This thing draws a sizeable crowd wherever it goes.

Race-Ready 12-Valve

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Leaving nothing to chance, the 5.9L Cummins that was sourced from a ’94 Dodge Ram 2500 donor was sent directly to Industrial Injection for a full competition build. The 12-valve inline-six was fitted with battle-tested hard parts such as Carrillo rods, Mahle forged-aluminum pistons and one of Industrial’s gorilla girdle kits. Big fuel comes in the form of a 13mm P7100 Dragon Flow injection pump, capable of flowing 1,100cc of diesel. The big P-pump sends fuel (through oversize lines) to a set of dual-feed, 5x0.028 injectors.

Dodge, GM and Off-the-Shelf Parts

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The Six Pack makes use of a 1946 2-ton Dodge body that had been abandoned in a farmer’s field, while the chassis is based off of a ’94 Dodge ¾-ton. The frame has been back-halved, half a roll cage has been added and some of the wood from the original bed was repurposed to serve as the mounting pad for the truck’s NX nitrous bottles. An AAM 1150 rear axle derived from a Duramax application has been shored up thanks to a Grizzly locker and 30-spline axle shafts from Yukon Gear & Axle. Air ride suspension is employed front and rear, along with Icon Vehicle Dynamics’ 2.5 series remote reservoir shocks.

Triple-Digit Boost, Four-Digit Horsepower

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A compound turbo arrangement incorporates an Aurora 8000 (95mm) and an Aurora 5000 (71mm) from ATS Diesel, along with miscellaneous clamps, hoses and piping from Vibrant Performance. The healthy, two-stage turbo configuration sends 120 psi of boost through a ZZ Custom Fabrication side-draft intake manifold before cramming it all into the cylinder head. Right out of the gate—with no fine-tuning of the wastegate or P-pump—the Six Pack made 965hp on fuel while aboard the chassis dyno. Then with a couple bottles turned on, power jumped to 1,100hp. After more testing and some minor adjustments, the folks at Premier think the truck’s fuel-only horsepower numbers will be 1,300-plus, along with 1,500-plus on spray.

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