2016 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali: Bold, Black and Bad to the Bone
We often see trucks at events like the SEMA show that are the epitome of “over the top” and utterly crazy. It makes no difference whether it’s the drivetrain, chassis, or paint and graphics, when we see trucks like this, we know there wasn’t a single person involved in the build who questioned the direction of the project.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are rigs like the ’16 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali belonging to Frank Zwinger, an excellent example of doing just enough with various elements of a rig and having the end product turn out exceptionally well.
“I’ve owned 10 to 15 GM diesel trucks in my life,” Frank says. “I wanted to do something different with this one. I have a lot of hot rods that are really no good on the street. I wanted a truck that is fun to drive, looks good, and is totally usable on the street as well.” Frank definitely accomplished his goal and did it with style, because while he has not racked up a million miles on this big rig yet, the distance he’s traveled with it has been quality time on the road. “I have about 10,000 miles on it,” Frank explains. “This is my nice weekend or after-work truck. Up here in Idaho, we have some rough winters, and they treat the roads with the worst stuff. I never take this one out until the calcium chloride is off the pavement after winter.” If you don’t believe him, look at the photos that show the underside of this GMC. The truck’s belly is clean enough to eat from.
Frank is quick to respond when asked about his favorite elements of the Sierra. “The styling and the power,” he says. “I think black is the best-looking color when a truck is clean. I did not want to go crazy changing the truck’s looks, but I did want to do some things to make it a little tougher. Adding the ’17 Sierra’s hood (with the scoop on the front) was one of the first changes I made. That inlet is functional and feeds fresh air into a BorgWarner S480 turbo.” Along with the hood, there are fender flares that keep the wider rubber safely under the body, and tinted windows that add menacing attitude. The Recon lightbar sits behind a Rolling Big Power grille and throws out enough lumen to make even the darkest Idaho night look like mid-afternoon.
The truck’s high-rise stance comes via a Cognito Motorsports 6-inch suspension lift. “I have used cradle-style lifts in the past, because I thought they helped maintain the stock ride quality better,” he says. “This Cognito suspension is awesome, and it provides a great ride. I installed a fifth-wheel hitch and haul cars frequently, so I added airbags in the rear. It’s a really nice setup to tow with.”
One of the things any rig that tows needs is power to get a load moving. Since Frank is an Idaho guy, he wants power to handle grades and basically anything else that gets in front of him. Deviant Race Parts had the solution with its compound-turbocharger kit. “The idea here is to have a truck that’s 100 percent stone reliable,” Frank muses. “Deviant’s kit adds a BorgWarner S480 and keeps the stock turbo as the second charger in the compound setup, and it works fantastically. The truck gets about 20 mpg on the highway and makes 675 hp and 1,180 lb-ft of torque on the chassis dyno. It has all the power I want, and it is a dream to drive. If you did not know anything about trucks or what a stock one feels like, you’d get in this truck, take it down the highway, and think it’s a stock GMC that makes tons and tons of power. I love it.”
The rest of the engine combination is very simple and relies mostly on OEM parts. The intake manifold, fuel injectors, and exhaust manifolds are all stock. On the fueling side, rather than go with dual CP3 injection pumps or another hard-core setup, Frank has a Wehrli Custom Fabrication CP3 conversion that facilitates using that venerable pump rather than the CP4 that is standard on the Duramax LML engine. The exhaust is a relatively tame Flo-Pro Performance Exhaust 4-inch system and EFILive ECM tuning is done by Motor Ops. The result is a reliable and efficient engine—and a rig that can tow, sip fuel, and bury an unsuspecting challenger when the situation arises and Frank needs to make a point. The best of three worlds!
Frank upgraded the transmission as well. Internally, the Allison six-speed automatic is bolstered with high-performance clutches, and an ATS Diesel Performance Five Star torque converter was also installed.
Because this is a Denali-edition truck, its crew cab interior is packed with the best amenities GMC offers. “The seats in the Denali are killer; the stitching and stuff is great. I upgraded the stereo for better sound, but I really did not want to drastically change a really good looking and comfortable interior,” he explains.
While there’s nothing wrong with an all-out build or pushing the limits of style and power, there’s something cool about approaching things from a different angle and creating balance and a clean package to enjoy. Frank Zwinger has owned a lot of trucks, but not one of them has had the total package of looks, power, and authority like this one. This rig is proof that “just enough” can sometimes be perfect.
Fast FactsYear/Make/Model: ’16 GMC Sierra 2500HD Denali
Owner: Frank Zwinger
Hometown: Coeur d’Alene, Idaho
Odometer: 10,000 miles
Engine: 6.6L Duramax LML
Programming: EFILive with tuning by Motor Ops
Fuel: FASS Fuel Systems 150-gph lift pump, Deviant Race Parts sump kit, Wehrli Custom Fabrication CP3 conversion kit, Exergy Performance CP3 injection pump, stock injectors
Air: Deviant Race Parts compound-turbocharger kit, BorgWarner S480 and stock turbos, Mishimoto air-to-air intercooler, stock intake manifold, S&B Filters air cleaner
Exhaust: Stock exhaust manifolds, Flo-Pro Performance Exhaust 4-inch tubing
Transmission: Allison 1000 six-speed automatic by Deviant Race Parts, ATS Diesel Performance Five Star torque converter
Lubricants: Lucas Oil synthetics used throughout
Horsepower: 675 hp
Torque: 1,180 lb-ft
Tires: 35x12.5R22 Nitto Ridge Grappler
Wheels: 22x12.5 American Force Raptor SS8
Suspension: Cognito Motorsports 6-inch lift; rear airbags; Cognito tie rods, idler arm, pitman-arm support
Axles: ATS Diesel Performance rear differential cover
Body: ’17 GMC Sierra hood, Recon lightbar, Rolling Big Power grille, AMP Research PowerSteps, Bushwacker fender flares
Interior: Edge Products Insight CTS2 display
Fun Fact: Frank has owned diesel trucks since he was in high school. His first was an ’80s GMC with a naturally aspirated 6.2L engine, which he lifted 12 inches and installed 44-inch mud tires on. He says that because of its severe lack of power, the truck could only be driven off-road in low-range four-wheel drive!