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1996 Dodge Ram 3500 - Tough Tow Rig

Is Blair Pine's 550hp '96 Dodge 3500 the Ultimate Hauler?

Jason Sands
Jul 25, 2014
Towing is hard on a truck, anyone can tell you that. So how has Blair Pine's 1996 Dodge Ram 3500 survived more than 150,000 miles towing 15,000 pounds? Blair's formula for success began with buying the right truck—and having some talented friends.
Blair bought his Dodge brand-new back in 1996, and five years later, he partnered with diesel trailblazers like Joe Donnely, Nowell Thomas, and Piers Harry to modify his Dodge. While his engine's setup changed often in his earlier years of tinkering and made as much as 650 hp, he finally settled on a combination that was both reliable and powerful.
Photo 2/11   |   Blair settled on an engine combination that makes about 550 hp at the wheels. The 12-valve features a ported head with 60-pound springs, head studs from Haisley Machine, and a BD exhaust brake.
Since Blair is a motorcycle racer, he needed to make it to West Coast events without worrying about his truck failing. And, since he drove like a motorcycle racer, he didn't want to slow down for hills. This quest to tow reliably (and fast) led to him putting a set of prototype Piers towing twins on his truck in 2005. The two turbos meant that Blair could tow his toy hauler at 60 mph up a 6 percent grade, making 50 psi of boost with a 1,200-degree EGT. But the added power caused another problem: about 4 to 5 miles into long grades, his truck would begin to overheat. Blair tackled this problem by turning to an old street-rodder's trick: running an aluminum radiator. It turns out that Griffin, the company that makes retrofit radiators for muscle cars, also made them for Dodge trucks. With the new Griffin radiator installed, Blair's uphill towing temps dropped from 230 degrees to a cool 200 degrees.
The transmission also received its fair share of upgrades. A South Bend single-disc clutch helps transmit the power to the ground, and the transmission has been reworked with an improved Third Gear, syncros, and a fully splined mainshaft. To keep the engine in its optimal rpm range at all times, 4.10 gears were installed in the front and rear axles, and a U.S. Gear two-speed overdrive was added so Blair could split gears on hills. Blair runs Amsoil throughout his drivetrain, and the temperature sensor installed in his overdrive unit has reported a 20-degree drop compared to other oils he's tried.
Has Blair built the ultimate tow rig? We can't say for sure, but it's got to be close. The simplicity of the 12-valve engine and manual transmission are perfect for long haul reliability, the truck spools up quick with the small twins, and it can blast up hills at full boost. Heck, the Dodge even has an ice chest in the center console. To top it all off, the truck has run on home-brewed biodiesel since day one, which is a testament to the durability of the mechanical-injection system. We can tell you one thing—if we had to choose a truck for a cross-country towing trip, it would probably be Blair's.
Photo 6/11   |   1996 Dodge Ram 3500 Rear View
Out back, a turned-down 4-inch exhaust keeps soot off the paint, and a Mag-Hytec differential cover keeps rearend oil cool.
Photo 7/11   |   1996 Dodge Ram 3500 Engine View
For fuel, Blair relies on a mild setup to keep EGT in check while towing. The P7100 injection pump has stock delivery valves and a 3,000-rpm governor spring kit. Dynomite Diesel stage 2 injectors are used for added power and low smoke. Also visible in this picture is the Banks Twin-Ram intake.
Photo 8/11   |   1996 Dodge Ram 3500 Radiator
Here you can see the Griffin aluminum radiator that was key to keeping water temperatures under control while towing uphill.
Photo 9/11   |   1996 Dodge Ram 3500 Interior
The Ram’s interior is simple and comfortable, with just the right amount of flash. The two red buttons on the shifter control the U.S. Gear overdrive unit and the BD exhaust brake.
Photo 10/11   |   1996 Dodge Ram 3500 Guages
The three staple gauges of diesel performance (boost, pyrometer, and transmission temperature) tell Blair exactly what’s going on with his ’96 Dodge while he’s towing.
Photo 11/11   |   1996 Dodge Ram 3500 Turbo
“I honestly don’t remember what size turbos we settled on,” Blair said. “They’re basically Piers towing twins, they work great, and they’re wastegated to 50 psi.” Blair also incorporated an ATS exhaust manifold for increased reliability.

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