By G.R. Whale
Editor's note: My Pickup is an occasional PUTC feature in which we invite readers, industry associates, friends and colleagues to write about their own pickups, either currently owned or from their past. We introduced the column in October and will be adding it to our editorial mix every few weeks. This is the last of four installments detailing Four Wheeler magazine's Operation Tugboat, about a 1992 Dodge W250 Club Cab 4x4. To read the first three parts, click here.
Following its debut at the Specialty Equipment Market Association Show and seven installation projects, Operation Tugboat was still generating stories for Four Wheeler. And it was generating work. Banks Engineering asked to borrow it for four or five days and returned it five weeks later, idling blue smoke, way overdue for an oil change and in need of new rear tires due to hard driving during a chassis dyno. It seems Banks used Tugboat as an engineering guinea pig. The smaller, wastegated housing, intercooler, exhaust and pump tweaking had brought rear-wheel power to 235 horsepower with 643 pounds-feet of torque. Until you got that wastegate open you could make Tugboat smoke like a battleship: Videographers couldn't get enough of it.
When we later upgraded to a BD turbine-mount exhaust brake, the exhaust and pump settings were fiddled with again, giving us a 4-inch pipe from brake to muffler and a 3.5-inch pipe the rest of the way. With less volume and more timing, the engine felt livelier and smoked a bit less. In its current configuration with a winch bumper and two large Hella driving lights, it runs best at peak boost of 22 to 23 pounds per square inch. Less boost sends exhaust gas temperature up first; more boost sends water temp up first, and at 22 psi they climb together. Driving it to an EGT of 500 degrees provides the best fuel economy; to date our best run was a 22.6 mpg ride up the back of the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 70 to 75 mph. The overdrive unit I wanted to install would have helped, but then I'd worry about the tires.
Other modifications included changing to a Detroit Locker in the front axle when the limited-slip had trouble during our more aggressive off-road outings and adding a shell to keep the cover from filling in with rain. This hasn't presented any problems so far, although the exterior finish hasn't lasted as long as Dodge's paint, and the window cylinders don't last like factory hood or hatch parts.
Neither of the Reese hitches we've had over the years has ever failed, and the fifth-wheel rails in the bed make great tie-down points for cargo. That said, we prefer the current under-bed options.
I have a partially installed Horton fan clutch on the truck now, the theory being that I can get better in-town air-conditioning performance with low idle speed (645 rpm on level ground) and on the highway there's a little less drag and noise.
Eventually I bought Tugboat. When the new Ram appeared in 1994, it was obvious to me that pickups would start changing more like cars, losing much of their "universality." By that time everyone knew the problems with the Ram and how to fix them, and I'd gotten used to having a pickup/tow truck handy all the time.
Some pals convinced me to show it at their club meets. To do that, I had to add some exterior chrome (there was some under the hood). Cummins' chrome is the best I've tried, but curiously, Cummins didn't chrome its own No. 1 oil-fill valve cover. I had swapped the stock unit because of the added air compressor belt. I added a Mag-Hytec differential cover, installed a bypass oil filter system and switched to synthetic oil since the truck is now parked a lot and oil analysis is cheaper than changing it frequently.
Tugboat maintenance involves replacing parts like filters, bearing repacking and bulbs — for some reason the only bulb that wears out is the right front side marker, five times so far. The plastic driving light covers seem brittle and tend to loosen a bit every time they come off, and one fog light and the windshield are pitted. The transfer case is just now making noises, acting as if it might not be happy with 50 percent more torque than stock, but all the project changes made during Tugboat's Four Wheeler era still work fine.
I continued doing projects at Four Wheeler after this W250 was "done" (we all know projects like this are never really done). I even finished an Explorer and tried again with Ford. That concept was an F-150 "Lighting PreRunner," a 1994 Raptor if you will. Ford liked the idea and SVT even sent a Lighting engine. But more than a year after that new project got the green light, Ford declined again because it had a new F-150 coming (the 1997, still a year away). So I donated the engine to a Ford pickup racing team and never developed another Ford project concept again. But I'm always open to suggestions.
In the meantime, at the age of 21, Tugboat continues to chug along — which we expect it do for many years to come.