2.8L VM Motori Swap - Diesel Tech

Four-Cylinder Diesel Possibilities

Jason Thompson
Nov 1, 2008
Photographers: David Kennedy, Courtesy Of Mopar
Photo 2/22
The 2.8L VM Motori is the untapped resource smaller-displacement diesel enthusiasts have been waiting for. This engine has many things going for it. It has common-rail injection, passes '05-'06 federal emissions, and makes 160 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. The non-emissions-legal engine shown here does not feature exhaust gas recirculation (EGR), but otherwise has everything needed to be called a modern diesel engine. Its 2.8L displacement makes it a good candidate for Jeeps, Toyota FJ Cruisers, small pickups, cars, and hot rods. High production numbers means the parts are out there, somewhere.
Photo 3/22   |   Here is the Jeep T1 (military long-wheelbase) donor vehicle. The 2.8L VM Motori diesel engine and five-speed NV3550 manual transmission were used in conjunction with the Rubicon's stock 241-OR transfer case with the 4:1 low-range gearset. This combination called for custom-fabricated motor mount perches (frame towers) and driveshaft lengths for the Rubicon.
Steve Houtman and Keith Montone of Mopar Performance Parts installed the above-mentioned diesel engine in an '05 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon. They worked on this project after hours on their own time. The donor vehicle was a military, long-wheelbase Wrangler known inside Chrysler as the T1. It might have been easier to switch the bodies, but that would have defeated the whole purpose of the engine swap.
So what did these engineer enthusiasts find on their exploration in diesel conversions? Overall, the 2.8L turbodiesel is a good fit due to both its physical size as well as its power output. The team found the Rubicon's frame, specifically the motor mount perches, needed modification (welding) in order to accommodate the diesel's motor mounts. Bolt-on motor mounts would make this a very easy conversion. Wiring the engine's ECM with a plug-in harness does not seem impossible. The intercooler and radiator have plenty of room, even with a mechanical fan, so that is a positive sign. The Rubicon's NV3550 five-speed transmission is found in '00-'04 model years. It bolted to the back of the diesel without any adapters. The earlier AX-15 will also bolt up.
Photo 10/22   |   Jeeps have nice yellow caps on their fills and dipsticks. This conversion uses a remote-mounted power steering reservoir. Ford Scorpio uses the 2.5L VM Motori diesel engine (not available in the U.S.) and puts the radiator reservoir on top of the engine. This might be a good modification for the cramped TJ engine bay. Also notice the open air filter instead of the T1's snorkel.
Specifications

2.8L VM Motori Turbodiesel
Type and Description: Four cylinder, inline, liquid-cooled
Displacement: 171 ci (2,768 cc)
Bore x Stroke: 3.70x3.94 (94x100mm)
Valve System: Belt drive, DOHC, 16-valve
Fuel Injection: Direct injection, common-rail, 23,000 psi
Construction: Cast-iron block, aluminum cylinder head
Compression Ratio: 17.5:1
Horsepower: 160 at 3,800 rpm
Torque: 295 lb-ft at 1,800 rpm
Engine Speed: 4,300 rpm, electronically governed
Oil Capacity: 6.3 quarts
Coolant Capacity: 13.2 quarts
Sourcing Parts Globally
In the U.K. they call their junkyards breaker yards. The 2.5L VM Motori is externally the same as the pre-2007 2.8L that went into this Wrangler conversion. Since Jeep Grand and XJ Cherokees both came with the 2.5L stock in other parts of the world, this means the parts exist. Used Jeeps with five-speed manual transmissions and diesel engines are selling for less than $2,000 in Europe. At that price one could purchase the whole vehicle and ship it to the U.S. Once here it would just be a matter of bolting the different powertrains and electrical systems in place. Another option is buying the parts from an '05 or '06 Jeep Liberty that was sold in the U.S. with the 2.8L.

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Fair Market Price $22,563
MSRP $22,995
Editors' Overall Rating
Mileage 17 City / 21 Highway
Engine 3.6L V6
Horse Power 285 hp @ 6,400 rpm
Torque 260 ft lb of torque @ 4,800 rpm
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