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  • 1996 Dodge Ram 2500 Cummins - One Clean, Mean 12-Valve

1996 Dodge Ram 2500 Cummins - One Clean, Mean 12-Valve

Mike Charlton’s Pennsylvania Pickup Rocks

Ron Fresquez
Jan 1, 2009
Photographers: Ron Fresquez
Mike Charlton may only be 23 years old, but he eats, breathes, and sleeps diesels. When he is not treating acid-mine drainage water at his family’s business—AMD Industries Inc.—he is working at Keystone Diesel helping owner Andy Sebek turn his run-of-the-mill diesel pickup truck into a fire-breathing, smoke-blowing monster. He is also active in the diesel scene as a Tech Specialist and Super Moderator on Cumminsforum.com, as well as an active member of Competitiondiesel.com. He also enjoys sharing his knowledge on local car enthusiasts’ forums pittspeed.com and lsxperformancparts.net.
Mike, who lives in California, Pennsylvania, got pulled into the diesel scene about seven years ago by watching videos on the Internet of some of the greats like Haisley, Scheid, and Scott Vorhees. When his dad was ready to retire his ’96 Cummins—daily driver/work truck—for a new ’041?2 common rail, Mike convinced him not to trade it in. Instead, Mike took it off of his hands, and that’s where the slippery slope began.
While the truck was mechanically sound and stable, it was in much need of some tender loving care. The body had a few imperfections, but the paint had the dreaded clearcoat failure, and looked pretty rough.
Mike and Brian Grillo, owner of Grillo Automotive Services in Charleroi, Pennsylvania, sat down to take care of the bodywork and paint. Fitted with new Bushwacker Extend-A-Fender fender flares and Westin Stainless step bars, Brian laid down the stock Silver Mist color, but with a twist. Brian added a pinch of metallic, and a lot of pearl to really set the truck apart from the crowd.
For another added touch, they decided to brand the truck with third-generation badging all around (including the custom “Big Rig Edition” emblem), and added the tailgate marker light from a second-generation dual-rear-wheel truck. Mike also installed a factory set of cab lights, since the truck did not come equipped with them. A set of one-piece crystal headlights with a Xenon 6000K HID kit provide the lighting on dark roads. To make the stance a little more aggressive, Mike installed a 2-inch leveling kit up front, an adjustable track bar, +2 DT Profab control arms, and 16x10 Pro Comp chrome 6079s wrapped in Pro Comp 35x12.50-16 Xtreme A/Ts. To help with steering this bigger combination, he installed a Skyjacker steering stabilizer.
When Andy, Mike, and the rest of the Keystone diesel crew sat down to talk about making this super-clean 12-valve run better, that’s where things became really fun!
They started by installing a Southbend 3600 12cb clutch with a 13?8-inch input shaft to plant the power to the ground. All the power in the world isn’t going to get you anywhere if you can’t plant it down below. They then sent a stock, low-mileage 12-valve head out to Greg Dahl, owner of GMS Racing Engines, for him to work his magic. Greg did a resurface, full port and polish, and competition valve job. He also O-ringed the head, and the bottom was tapped for studs. With a new factory gasket in place, ARP 12mm head studs provide the clamping force to keep cylinder pressure where it belongs. The 60-pound valve springs were installed to keep things tight at 4,000-plus rpm.
On the fuel side of things, the folks at Keystone Diesel did some tuning on the P-7100 215/913 pump, and installed their custom fuel plate. They also installed Keystone Diesel custom 5x18 injectors, and Keystone Diesel custom laser-cut delivery valves. An Airdog 150gph fuel pump with ½-inch lines was installed to keep the proper amount of fuel moving, and keep fuel pressures up to par.
To help move even more air, Mike installed an ATS three-piece pulse exhaust manifold, and a CFM+ carbon-fiber intake horn. When it comes to turbos, he went straight to the Industrial Injection line and installed a 66/74/16 Silver Bullet that is fed by an AFE Stage II intake, along with PDR intercooler boost and clamps to keep the 60-plus psi of boost pressure in the piping.
To aid in some power and keep this monster’s EGTs within reason, Mike went to Snow Performance and installed a Stage 3 water/methanol kit. He is running a 50/50 mix, and to be certain he doesn’t run out of extra juice in a time of need, a seven-gallon tank was installed in the bed. Initially, they planned on running around 24 degrees of timing, but currently have it set at 20 degrees because of the added pressure caused by water/methanol.
They ran custom 6-inch miter-cut stacks to exit the exhaust (and smoke), and covered the piping (along with the water/meth tank) with an Extang full-tilt tonneau cover. A custom set of traction bars and driveshaft loops are in the works.
Auto Meter Phantom II pyrometer, boost, fuel-pressure, and oil-pressure gauges keep track of all the vitals, and a Stewart Warner shift light (with digital rpm and playback) make sure the truck isn’t run over its rpm fueling limit. Other interior modifications include an Alpine DVD player, a Rockford Fosgate amplifier, Infinity speakers, Sirius satellite radio, and a Cobra Classic 29 LTD Nightwatch CB radio to communicate with truckers on the road.
Mike’s first trip to the dyno netted 566.5 hp and flatlined the dyno at 1,000 lb-ft of torque. A few weeks later, he found 580 hp and 1,178 lb-ft of torque.
It isn’t often that you find a young guy like Mike with so much unbridled enthusiasm for the hobby of diesel pickups. But when you do, you know you’ve found someone special.

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