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Gale Banks Comes Clean: Part 1

Spending a Day with the Iconic Diesel Legend Reveals Interesting Thoughts on a Variety of Subjects

Tom Valente
Dec 1, 2012
Photographers: Bob Carpenter
What's going on with Banks and the military?

Not a new question; we’ve been dealing with the military since 1976. The Navy had formed a new group then that’s real famous now. They were looking at engines for their boats. We were in the marine engine business at the time. It’s an interesting thing just looking at the military from the boat side. We have always built engines for cars, trucks, and boats. The military side was always gas, but around 2003 the military decided it was looking to move to diesel. The Department of Defense came up with a rule that by 2010 you couldn’t have gasoline on a ship. They went over to diesel. The boats I deal with are commonly 40-foot or more, high-performance-type attack craft.
Now, I always tie my engine development to racing because racing is the most severe thing you can do to an engine. If I want to know the limits of an engine design, I build a racer and squeeze it as hard as I can squeeze it. In this case, it was a 5.9L Cummins, like a Dodge common-rail pickup with the common-rail fuel injection, which had just come out at the time. So I got with Cummins, Dodge, and Bosch and kinda did like a John DeLorean thing (where he put a big V-8 in a little Pontiac LeMans) by taking a Dakota and putting a big inline-six in there.
Photo 2/3   |   1212 8l 01 Gale Banks Comes Clean Part One Gale Banks At Work
The engine came a foot into where you sit, so I had to move everybody back. I used an extended cab so I could do that. We ran what would be the prototype of the Navy engine at Bonneville. I used the truck to tow a trailer onto the salt. The fastest the truck has gone is 222 mph. Our world record is 217 mph and it still stands, it’s been 10 or 11 years since we did that deal. So that was like a proof of concept, and the Navy jumped on doing a Cummins. We built a 700hp, 1,050-lb-ft military marine engine, and that’s what they are running now. But they are looking for something that’s quicker out of the hole. Sometimes you have to get the hell out of Dodge.
So when a hot situation occurs, I’ve got this supercharged setup on my Duramax V-8 in addition to two turbochargers—so we blow the boat out of the hole on the supercharger and then we switch it offline and run the air to the turbos (which are sized for top-end), and the turbos take over. I make boost at idle with the supercharger, so there’s no lag. You’ve got boost right now. Drive the boat on top and you’re gone. Then we swing it over to the turbochargers (which are sized perfectly for the upper end) and off you go. It’s real fuel-efficient. It’s real good when you want to station-keep (run alongside) beside a boat you are trying to board (like one that might have pirates on it).
Low speed is all done with the supercharger so you can match the speed of the other boat easier. We did a proof of concept of that last year in Coronado with a boat we’ve got out there in the shop (and you can’t take any pictures of) and we pretty well proved the concept.

The cool factor is that the fellows you get to work with are the subject of all kinds of intrigue. They don’t want to be in the movies, they don’t want credit. Seems like people force that on them, which is very dangerous for them. I’m not going to get any deeper into that.
But what about the Humvee program?

There’s some stuff I just can’t talk about. There was a bunch of them here last week because we completed the Humvee testing. Last week was a big week for me. On the land-based side, we just showed our engines at the IDGA show at Cobalt Hall in Detroit about three or four weeks ago. We’ve been working on the land-based side for a number of years also. Most interesting is the Humvee.

Some years ago, one of the Special Forces groups approached me to improve the performance of the vehicles because they used to weigh around 7,800 pounds when they came out in 1985; up-armored they’re more than 14,000 pounds. There are different levels, but you get the point. In Afghanistan it’s incredibly high (in elevation); it affects power, too. I’ve been working on improving the turbocharging on that Humvee engine, which is a 6.5L diesel—a descendent of the 6.2L diesel that came out in the pickup trucks in 1982. I worked on that engine as a prototype in the ’70s. I’m real familiar with the engine and first turbocharged it commercially in 1981 for pickups and Suburbans. From ’87 to ’89 models you could buy a GMC truck at a dealer with my turbo on the 6.2L because they were late coming out with the 6.5L. That’s a deal I cut with John Rock, who was running GMC at the time. So the first turbodiesel pickups you could buy in the United States were GMCs with Banks turbocharging under the hood, and it said my name on it. That was very cool—that was huge.

So, I’ve got deep experience with this engine. I know the way it’s turbocharged today is just the way it was turbocharged in the late ’80s. The engine makes 190 hp, but when we put one on our chassis dyno, it makes 113 hp at the ground. Now you think, “How the heck can you move 14,000 pounds with 113 hp?” All I’ve got to say is: Gears. You gear it down enough, and you can move the world with a 1hp engine. It takes you a while to get someplace, though.
We do a 0-to-50 test, it’s a military spec. If you’re in combat, maybe you just need to get around the next corner to get out of it. Years ago, we designed a new turbocharger called the Banks Sidewinder. It’s been used on a lot of stuff: twin turbo’d small-block Chevys, 6.9L Fords, 7.3L Fords, and more. It’s a quick-responding turbocharger with moderate boost capabilities. It’s a low-boost intended, high-efficiency turbo. This is just what you want with one of these things because you don’t want to go beyond 10 to 12 pounds of boost.

Now in Afghanistan the problem doubles because you are up around 10,000 to 14,000 feet in altitude. So I asked, “Where do you test the turbocharging for the Humvees in Afghanistan?” Pikes Peak! So last year and this year we were in lead with Paul Dallenbach, the best driver I’ve ever seen, in the most dangerous race I’ve ever encountered. The running of the bulls is nothing compared to Pikes Peak.
Photo 3/3   |   1212 8l 02 Gale Banks Comes Clean Part One Gale Banks With Banks Power Project
We perfected the turbo control for altitude on Dallenbach’s Banks-turbocharged, 1,400hp alcohol-burning small-block Chevy. The damn car was the fastest thing on the hill. The problem was he went off the road. The guy we were duking it out with (the guy from France) went off, too. So the two best cars on the mountain crashed. That’s a shame—but that’s Pikes Peak.

So now, we’ve got a turbo system that altitude-compensates for high altitude on these 6.5L Humvee diesels. We also have a braking system, because as these things got heavier, they increased the brakes slightly, but that’s been it for a number of years. They had to raise the body to get clearance because the brakes are inboard. So the Humvee is slow, heavy, and it smokes. It’s like saying “Here I am, come get me.”
We just finished the installation of our first military Humvee package right here at Banks, and we had military people here installing the stuff (which is really cool to get to hang with those guys). And we also installed an Allison transmission, which revolutionizes the way the thing shifts and pulls, and it hugely increases the out-of-the-hole performance (as does the turbo). So we have our own program for the transmission to run it, our own wire loom…we just basically update a Humvee and bring it into the modern performance world with basically a 30-year-old engine design.

That’s going to have to do for now. The Humvees are going to be with us for probably another 20 to 30 years. They are like the B-52s of the wheeled vehicle area of the military. There are new vehicles coming, but the Humvees—there’s 180,000 of them—they’re not going to trash them tomorrow. So we’re helping make them safer.
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