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The newest trend in crate engines is… a 161-hp diesel?

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The SEMA Show is automotive sensory overload. You can only see so many Broncos, Overland Jeep Gladiators, and Toyota Supras before your eyes glaze over. The same goes for looking under the hood, where the Chevy small-block is nearly ubiquitous. So we took notice when two sport trucks showed up to the 2019 SEMA show with something else under the hood: The Cummins R2.8, a four-cylinder, 161-horsepower diesel.

I can already predict some of the comments. Why go to all the trouble and expense of a custom build to put a measly 161 hp under the hood? Counterpoint: 310 pounds-foot of torque. Also, I just mentioned the ubiquity of the small-block. The Chevy engine is popular for plenty of good reasons, but sometimes different has an appeal in and of itself. And the price of the R2.8 isn’t bad either at $7,699 including the wiring harness, accessories, and engine computer.

If the two trucks at the SEMA 2019 are any example, this little diesel could find its way into a lot more projects in the near future.

1966 Chevrolet C10 Fleetside

1966 Chevy C10 slammed SEMA 2019

All the custom cars and trucks at SEMA are on display with a clear motive to showcase and promote car parts. It’s no coincidence that this 1966 Chevrolet C10 pickup was on display at the United Pacific booth. The company has a huge catalog of reproduction parts, and just recently began selling fenders and other stamping for GM pickups. The build itself was done by Kyle Oxberger of Metalox Fab and Johny Gonzales of Johny’s Garage.

Custom Chevy C10 tailgate patina SEMA 2019 1966 Chevy C10 interior custom SEMA 2019 Chevy C10 United Pacific SEMA 2019 bed Chevy C10 United Pacific SEMA 2019

As an example of the ridiculousness that is a SEMA build, this truck started with a long bed and short window cab. Instead of starting with a different truck, or mounting a short bed on a frame, Oxberger cut 12 inches from the front and 8 inches from the rear. You can see in the bed where the front and rear stake pockets are missing. The exterior is not a paint application to look old, everything below the beltline is aged paint and bare metal polished to a fine shine; the white paint is new. The interior body metal is painted as well, with Dakota Digital gauges and new seats and door cards from TMI interior completing the look.

Cummins R2.8 in Chevy C10 engine bay

As for the engine install, Gonzales says it was no problem. The Cummins “Fits in perfectly, the exhaust routing is easy because there’s only one collector, and there’s no power steering fitment issues. The one trick he’s proud of is fitting the intercooler and air conditioning heat exchanger in front of the radiator without modifying the stock grille. It’s a story that lacks drama: No last-minute changes to the oil pan, no firewall clearance issues. Gonzales makes it sound like the engine was the easy part, and looking inside the tidy engine bay it’s easy to believe.

1962 Ford F100

1962 Ford F100 SEMA 2019 Cummins R2.8

Over at the Cummins’ booth it’s a similar story. The 1962 Ford F100 on display was built by Troy Seyfer, proprietor of Seyfer Specialties in Denver, Colorado. The 10-month build started relatively rust free, he says, and there was minimal work done to the body. “We just cleaned it all up and tried to make the lines really nice,” says Seyfer, “to keep the pure aspect of the F100.”

1962 Ford F100 Cummins R2.8 Rear view SEMA 2019

Underneath there’s a Mustang II front end with coilover springs and shocks, a four-link triangulated rear suspension, and Baer brakes all around. The biggest challenge according to Seyfer was getting the ZF eight-speed transmission, sourced from a Ram 1500 EcoDiesel, to talk to the Cummins 2.8-liter. For that he tapped Axis Industries, which specializes in Cummins R2.8 conversions and related parts and adapters. They built a gateway for the two electronic systems to interact and, aside from that it’s another drama-free build story.

Engine bay Cummins R2.8 in Ford F100

So how does it drive? Seyfer speaks the truth of most SEMA builds: “It wasn’t done long enough to drive it.” Still, he managed about four miles of shakedown before snow and scheduling got in the way. “It’s smooth, quiet, and it’ll still smoke the tires.”

In some ways, the sport truck is an ideal candidate for an engine like this. The Cummins offers plenty of torque with new-engine reliability and straightforward installation. And like we said, it’s something different from your average engine swap, and different is good.

Cummins R2.8 Ford F100 SEMA hood decal