There’s nothing cooler than an engine swap that fits just right. It only takes one builder to find the right combination between vehicle and engine that will result in perfection. Oftentimes, builders will take new technology and drop it in an old frame – preserving the classic look while improving performance on all fronts.
When automotive enthusiast Chris Karges got his hands on both a vintage 1957 Chevrolet 210 and an old diesel-powered ambulance, he knew he had the opportunity to make something special. With plans to craft a car more than worthy of praise, Karges enlisted the help of Hausmann’s Diesel Performance to undertake the engine build.
Co-owners Mike and Jessica Hausmann opened the shop in Laurens, NY in 2013. Mike will tell you aptly that “they do everything,” whether that be a quick oil change or a complete performance overhaul of any diesel truck.
“Cummins, Powerstroke, Duramax, it doesn’t matter – we mainly do repair, but there’s always a different undertaking going down,” Mike Hausmann says. “We also do a lot of Ford/Cummins swaps where we’ll take the 6.0L out and drop a Cummins in.”
The 1,800 sq.-ft. facility has four bays where a variety of projects get worked on at any given moment. Hausmann says they often build engines for pulling trucks. The next big project will begin in the spring when Hausmann plans to put an LBZ into a 5th Gen Camaro.
“We like doing weird stuff,” Hausmann says. “If it’s not a little weird it’s probably not interesting.”
That was assumedly the mantra when Hausmann agreed to build Chris Karges a powerful engine for his prized ride, aptly named the “HellAir.” That admittedly brings to mind a Hellcat swap, but the team opted to drop a beefy 6.6L turbo LMM Duramax diesel engine into the old car.
The team at Hausmann’s Diesel Performance began by cleaning and assessing the old engine, which had over 400,000 miles on it. After it was baked, shot blasted, checked for cracks and balanced on the bottom end, the block was sandblasted and painted before receiving a heat-treatment coating in order to keep the heat at manageable levels along the engine bay.
“We ordered up some Diamond pistons and put them in pretty early on, and those had a 75,000 psi relief cut in them for the valves,” Hausmann says. “There’s Wagler rods in the bottom end and everything else in the bottom end as far as the main cap bolts and rod bolts are ARP.
“It took us a while to settle on the right cam for what we were doing, and eventually Hamilton came through for us on that. We got a nice street cam from them that was basically made for a diesel pickup, but it worked great for us. The Stage 2 pushrods also came from Hamilton and the Stage 2 valve springs were from Wagler. Also, with the valves, we decided to do hardened valve seats to prevent the exhaust from getting burnt out.”
A lot of time went into considering heat management when building this Duramax engine. Along with the heat-treatment coating is a custom-built, 4-row radiator that keeps the temperature down even more.
“This started as a fun project that we wanted to throw a bunch of power on for some burnouts,” he says. “But then, it turned into more of a daily driver or cruiser that had some reliability to it so that if you wanted to drive it across the country, you could.”
When the time came to decide on a turbo system for the Duramax, a number of things needed to be considered. Not only was the car straying away from a super-performance purpose, but there was little room left under the hood.
Karges and Hausmann didn’t want to opt for a cowl induction hood because they wanted to preserve the car’s “clean” look. Because of this, a dual or compound turbo system was out of the question. A single Fleece Performance 68mm FMW Cheetah turbocharger delivers enough compressed air into the engine for the HellAir’s needs.
Relatively small 45% over fuel injectors from Lincoln Diesel were added as well before a clear vision for the car was finalized. The rest of the oiling system is completely stock other than small adjustments that were made to prevent the oil pan from sitting too low.
Even with the single turbo and small injectors, the HellAir easily belts out just over 600 horsepower and 1,100 lb.-ft. of torque at the rear wheels. That’s more than enough power to carry Karges down the highway or along the streets of Las Vegas at this year’s SEMA Show, where he proudly displayed his creation.
American Legends Hotrods and Musclecars also played a large part in building most of Karges’ HellAir outside of the engine. Arguably the most interesting part of the vehicle is the transmission they paired with the LMM Duramax – a ZF six-speed manual.
“It’s kind of unique because with the Duramax engines, everyone just puts an Allison transmission behind it,” Hausmann says. “GM stopped manufacturing the ZF6 trucks in 2006 and they only made like 130 with standard transmissions in them. Even before that there were only a few thousand ZF6s and most trucks still had Allisons, so they’re pretty rare now.”
Karges takes the HellAir to as many auto shows as possible, and currently has high hopes of getting it selected for the Barrett Jackson Cup this January, where 50 vehicles will be on display in the auction arena to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary. Regardless of where this HellAir shows up, Karges has one awesome ride, and we hope to see more from him and Hausmann’s Diesel Performance in the future!