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Diesel Mustang: Contemplating a 570 lb-ft Mustang with exhaust smelling of French fries

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2018 Ford Mustang GT, not yet available in a Power Stroke diesel version. Photos courtesy Ford Motor Company.

While facing the unenviable task of lugging my life’s belongings to a new domicile a while back, I had the opportunity to step into a new Ford F250 Super Duty Power Stroke Turbo Diesel. I knew the Power Stroke name but, harboring no interest in trucks beyond my ability to borrow one occasionally, I had not experienced one. I’ve driven enough modern trucks to know that they’re more car-like than a lot of cars (this, while cars now aspire to be trucks), but this was my first real crack at a diesel since I rode shotgun in Mark Szabo’s clanky old Olds Custom Cruiser oil-burner back in high school. I wasn’t expecting much.

Boy, what a surprise. The current Power Stroke diesel in the truck I drove was a turbocharged, all-iron pushrod four-valve 6.0-liter V-8 that pumped out 325 horsepower and—wait for it—570 pound-foot of torque—at just 2,000 rpm! Just a tickle of the accelerator (you can’t really call it a gas pedal) sends you hurling forward smoothly and impossibly fast for something that size. There wasn’t that snap of the neck when you stomped the pedal, no shredding of those tall tires, but you got moving faster than you had any right to. This, in a truck that (in its lightest guise) weighs upwards of three tons, probably closer to 6,500 pounds, and sports the aerodynamic prowess of a supermarket.

Since then, there’s been a diesel-powered race to the thousand-pound-foot mark. Chevy’s current 6.6-liter Duramax diesel is rated at 910 lb-ft; Ford’s latest 6.7-liter Power Stroke is at 925 lb-ft. Dodge is getting 900 lb-ft out of its six-cylinder turbo diesel. That’ll pull your house off its foundation.

2017 F-Series Super Duty

Ford’s 2017 F-Series Super Duty.

If the Power Stroke performs this well in something this big, what could it do in something significantly lighter? Like, more than a ton lighter?

Like, in a Mustang? Or a Duramax in a Camaro, or a Cummins in a Challenger?

Nearly twice the torque, at half the revs, in a sporty package? Sign me up. Buick was the king of torque in the muscle-car era—510 lb-ft out the door in Flint—and unless you yanked the seats out a GS was nearly a two-tonner. With hundreds-more pound-foot and weighing a literal ton lighter, a diesel Mustang could be legendary. (And could help meet the crazy upcoming EPA mileage standards as well.)

Better still, there’s already an entire aftermarket out there that, with some computer jiggery-pokery, can boost both horsepower and torque—thus allowing the adaptability and mechanical personalization that Mustang has become legend for. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a crew-cab dualie doing a smoky burnout, or a Power Stroke running 11s on the strip.

A diesel wouldn’t be a cheap option—probably four or five grand, if costs from the truck carry over—and the boost in fuel mileage wouldn’t be enough to pay for the engine itself before 100,000 miles. Granted, you don’t buy a Mustang because of its gas mileage. But would freight-train torque be an incentive to plump for a diesel if the mileage boost was a side effect?

Folks I’ve lobbed this concept past, after reeling from the sheer shock of my madness, have pointed out that the internal stresses of a diesel engine—thanks in part to features like 18:1 compression before factoring in the turbo’s boost—require that the block and heads be made of durable cast iron; this makes everything very heavy, and would upset the Mustang’s generally excellent handling balance.

There’s also the question of whether a diesel Mustang (or Camaro, or Challenger, or Charger) would send the wrong message to the masses, and as it stands now, it probably would. The truth is, diesel is in need of an image fix. The name is loaded with bad imagery; too many people think of school buses, ’80s Oldsmobiles, or (more recently) VW’s disastrous emissions workaround when the name is bandied about. Most who think of diesel in modern terms simply think “truck”—as in big-rig, 10-4, breaker breaker. Not sexy.

America’s memory for such things is long. But diesel technology, as showcased here, has clearly come a long way. It’s gone further still in mainland Europe, where nearly half of the new cars sold are diesel; seven-dollar-a-gallon gas will drive you to it. Even Euro performance icons like the VW GTI have been available with diesels at home. (One wonders how Mustang would sell in Europe if stuffed full of Power Stroke.)

To combat the notion that diesels are smog-belching pigs, there are the recent developments in bio-diesel, a renewable fuel made from vegetable oil, peanut oil, soybean oil, and spent deep-fryer grease that you can harvest from your local Popeye’s. Your exhaust will smell like onion rings; all that’s needed is to get bio-diesel in regular production to shake the freaky-hippie-with-a-chemical-set-in-his-garage image and suddenly a dependence on fuel oil—domestic and foreign—disappears. Infrastructure always costs, but could existing refineries be used to convert old kitchen grease into bio-diesel? If people are doing it in their garages now, and they are, how hard could it be? Can you imagine McDonald’s opening diesel pumps alongside their restaurants as an environmental outreach?

Best of all, the components already exist—it’s simply a question of making them work together. Surely this is a more cost-effective (if less sexy) solution than the flavor-of-the-month hybrids, which are costing shedloads of development money, and don’t generate noticeably better fuel economy?

Can power, environmental responsibility, and Detroit’s bottom line actually coexist in harmony? Am I a fool to see the potential?