Anybody can add a 6-inch lift, tires and wheels to a late-model diesel, along with stacks and power parts to make it cool, but what really makes a vehicle stand out in a sea of lifted Super Duties is something unique.
David Brooks’ 1954 International R-170 is definitely one of those rides. Brooks owns Aurora Manufacturing, in Berlin, Wisconsin, where he media blasts, paints and rebuilds parts for large military vehicles for a living. Using his mechanical background and love of classic trucks, he built this way-cool 1954 International rat rod in his garage. The coolest part of the build is that it houses a Cummins 4BT under the hood.
Brooks purchased the running 2-ton truck with only 10,000 miles on it for only $500. It originally served as a water truck for the Brooklyn Township fire department—hence the “B.T. No. 4” designation on the hood. Obviously, the truck was stored outside and exposed to the elements, giving the cab its rusted appearance, but thankfully, little of the rust actually ate through the body panels.
Brooks needed a bed for the truck, and a friend found one just 30 miles away that fit the bill perfectly Not only was it an International bed, it was also the same original color and stored outside, so it had a matching patina finish.
After collecting parts for the project over the course of about 18 months, Brooks started to assemble the truck, completing it in about three months. With help from family friend Shane McCormick, as well as help and support from his wife, Gina, and their two daughters, Melanie and Haley, they proved that a great truck can be built the old-fashioned way: at home in the garage.
Rather than modify the original frame to try to get a clean street rod look, Brooks custom fabricated a frame from 2×4-inch steel tubing to locate the body and suspension components exactly where he wanted them for the perfect look and stance. In the rear of the chassis, he installed a Ford 9-inch rear axle fitted with 3.50:1 gears and a spool for full traction.
The axle housing is located with a four-link setup that helps let the bagged truck sit flat on the ground. Speaking of bags, a set of Firestone air bags allows him to adjust the ride height from ground-scraping low to cool cruising by throwing a switch. In addition, a pair of Napa shocks tames the bumps and keeps the axle under control.
Up front, Brooks used a JW Rod Garage Mustang II front suspension kit to give the truck the stance he wanted, while providing good handling and trustworthy disc brakes for stopping. Like the rear, the front end uses Firestone air bags and Napa shocks to adjust the ride height and smooth out the ride. The truck features staggered-fitment Boss 5-spoke 338 wheels with 20X8.5-inchers up front and 20X10-inchers in the rear. These are wrapped in Nitto 245/45R20 tires up front and sticky 305/35R20 Mickey Thompson ET Street Radial tires in the rear. The custom offsets allow the five-spoke wheels and low-profile tires to tuck nicely into the fenders, both front and rear, when the truck is laid out. The large windows in the wheels also make it easy to see the four-wheel disc brakes installed on the truck.
Brooks has gone old-school with the air suspension system and controls it manually with Rockstar switches and SMC valves. He can easily drop the truck all the way down to the ground to “lay-frame” and show off or raise it up to ride height for cruising and racing. A Viair compressor and storage tank are mounted in the bed. And, because he was installing a tank, he decided to have some fun and add a five-horn train-horn above the fuel cell in the bed near the air tank.
The battery is also installed in the bed, because the engine bay is so cramped with the four-cylinder Cummins up front. To keep the bed looking clean from the outside, Brooks built a frame and skinned the top of it with vinyl for a homemade tonneau cover; this is secured from the underside with rubber bungee cords.
With the chassis sorted out, it was time for a powerplant, and rather than go with a small-block Chevy like a typical hot-rodder might do, Brooks opted for a diesel. It would have been great to stuff a six-cylinder 12-valve Cummins into the International, but space was limited in the engine bay, so he opted to install a four-cylinder eight-valve Cummins.
Since a stock engine isn’t right in a hot rod, he went to work on the 4BT, tearing down the engine for a performance rebuild. The engine uses a stock bore block, as well as a stock crankshaft, but it swings stock rods that were hardened and cryogenically treated for additional strength. The small ends of the rods are fitted with ceramic-coated pistons, and the stock camshaft was replaced with a performance street grind from Scheid Diesel.
While the cylinder head was off, it underwent some mild port work, and Brooks also installed 90-pound valve springs with custom titanium retainers. The head is secured with a set of head studs to keep it firmly clamped down to the block.
To improve the fuel system, Brooks turned to the experts at Fair Valley Performance, in Sauk City, Wisconsin. Its crew built a set of Bosch injectors for the four-cylinder Cummins with 5X.018 nozzles that are fed by .093 stainless steel injector lines. The crew also built a Bosch P-Pump with 13mm P&Bs, opened DV fittings, an RPM spring kit and a custom-grind camshaft to provide the Cummins with all the fuel it can burn. Brooks fabricated a compound turbo setup using a pair of custom turbos from Fair Valley Performance with an S300 over an HX-35.
The intake charge flows through the largest intercooler Brooks could fit in the truck before flowing into the head through the stock intake manifold. The spent exhaust gases are sent down under the cab and then expelled through a stack mounted to the running board on the passenger-side rear corner of the cab. Because space under the hood is at a premium, an electric fan and aluminum radiator are used to keep the engine cool.
The potent four-cylinder is backed up with a Dodge 47RH automatic transmission. It is linked to the Cummins through a BD Diesel flexplate and SunCoast torque converter with a 1,600rpm stall speed. A Derale transmission cooler mounted in front of the intercooler behind the grille is used to keep the 47RH running cool. A custom driveshaft delivers the power from the transmission output to the Ford 9-inch rear end to put the International truck into motion. Gear selection is handled by an extra-long Lokar shifter that was customized to work with the Dodge transmission.
Aside from mounting the cab and bed to the custom fabricated chassis, there was very little bodywork done on the truck. Two inches were added to each rear fender to fit the large tires and allow the truck to lay flat on the ground. The rest of the body and paint work was performed by International back in 1954—and by Mother Nature in the 58 years since the truck rolled off the assembly line.
Moving inside the cab, Brooks installed a pair of aluminum Handmade Seat Co. seats that were custom built by Jamey Jordan. Despite their harsh looks, we can tell you that the seats are actually very comfortable. Brooks planned to run the truck at the track, so he installed a custom four-point roll cage complete with diagonal door bars. He also installed a five-point race harness from Impact Racing on the driver’s side. Isspro gauges are mounted in pods on the roll cage crosstube that runs below the dash to let Brooks monitor engine vitals without cluttering up the original factory dash panel. And following the race theme of the interior, an aluminum steering wheel is mounted on a quick-release hub with a straight steering column.
Brooks’ 1954 International may no longer be a true R-170, but it is a great, little truck. He enjoys driving it and having fun at events whenever he can. On the track, he has run a best quarter-mile time of 12.0 seconds at 104 mph— which is great, considering he is hauling around a lot of steel with a four-cylinder engine in a truck that was built in his garage.
By Chris Tobin
Photography: Chris Tobin