Long Live The 7.3L Ford Super Duty Engine - Inside Perspective
Not to spoil anything here, but I’d call Part 3 of “Keepin’ Up With The Joneses” a crowning moment for the magazine’s ’97 F-350. With the final weak link ruled out this month thanks to a serious revision of the truck’s electric fuel system, I once again put the 186,000-mile, stock-bottom-end 7.3L to the test. Not only did I hit my goal on the dyno, but I backed it up at the track and discovered the truck is capable of running 12.50s in the quarter-mile.
From the get-go, I knew I wanted more power -- but I think I ended up building the ultimate sleeper. Once the 16-inch factory Alcoas got bolted on, the truck instantly became one of the most inconspicuous, never-see-it-coming hot rods in rural Illinois. But even though a 17-year-old Ford that appears to be in full “farm truck” mode yet runs 12s might seem like enough of a surprise, it’s not even the truck’s biggest secret. I’ll give you a hint: The old-body-style Fords are lighter than most people think…and taking advantage of my F-350’s lack of heft is a big part of what enables me to keep up with the diesel Joneses.
Thanks to the ’97 weighing a skimpy 6,930 pounds on race day, I can be at a considerable horsepower disadvantage against newer (heavier) trucks and still run neck and neck with them. A good match for the OBS would be a third-gen, four-door Dodge making 600 to 625 rwhp, or an ’08 to ’10 crew cab Super Duty cranking out 650 to 670 rwhp. In case you’re wondering, that’ll cost you $12,000 in mods if you’re in the Dodge, $15,500 if you’re manning the Super Duty, and $16,000 if you’re me.
Good Engines Don’t Die
As more and more enthusiasts continue to modify 7.3Ls, the aftermarket is actually expanding. That’s impressive, considering the last engine rolled off Indy’s assembly line more than 12 years ago. What makes the 7.3L so attractive? Its durability, power potential, lack of emissions controls, and the fact that parts are pretty darn affordable. The simplistic yet rugged nature of the truck that surrounds these engines doesn’t hurt matters, either.
If you started with a bone-stock, healthy-running ’94½ to ’00 7.3L Power Stroke (purposely excluding the ’01 to ’03 powdered-metal rod engines), bought only brand-new parts, and did the work yourself, it would cost you the aforementioned $16,000 (give or take) to duplicate what’s done to my ’97. Yes, that’s a lot of money, but it’s completely justifiable if you build in steps -- and on a budget. For instance, my own project is 4½ years in the making, which averages out to roughly $3,500 annually. A lot of us spend that each year in fuel costs.
Tuning, Tuning, Tuning
Last but not least, the right tuning is everything. It can literally make or break any engine -- especially a modified 7.3L. Tuning conservatively at low rpm then pouring on the fuel up top is the key to making a factory short-block live, and that’s something Matt Robinson of Gearhead Automotive Performance understands very well. Calibrating this way has kept hundreds of high-mile, stock-bottom-end 7.3Ls together -- all of which are in the 500hp range (or higher). I’m proud to say my ’97 is part of that list and has been for the last 20,000 trouble-free miles.