ATOMIC ORANGE SPECIAL

A SOLID AXLE, FLARESIDE ’97 F-250

We all have that one friend with a creative flair who does things differently. And we all know a guy with a lead foot. If you’re friends with J.D. Donohue, you know that both of these traits can coexist within the same person. A commercial painter by day, J.D. is no stranger to dabbling in body work in his free time. Add to that a lifetime worth of exposure to all things automotive, and you start to see why his ’97 F-250 turned out the way it did. His eye-catching OBS Ford sports a flareside bed, atomic orange paint, a solid front axle, and a fresh 7.3L Power Stroke that’s ready for another hard-earned 300,000 miles.

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No longer eating through expensive mud terrains thanks to the solid front axle, J.D. has had great success— both on and off the pavement—running these 315/75R16 Deegan 38’s from Mickey Thompson. The 35-inch mudders mount to a set of 16×10-inch Helo HE791 Maxx Chrome wheels.

Built for 400HP—and 400,000 Miles

After playing the big horsepower, stock bottom-end 7.3L game and losing (a rod left the block), J.D. decided to get back to basics with the current engine powering his F-250. First and foremost, the truck had to be rock-solid reliable. However, to suit J.D.’s driving style, it also had to have more giddy-up than stock. Starting with a good core block from a ’95 parts truck, 0.010-inch overbore pistons, forged-steel factory rods, and the truck’s original heads were installed during the 7.3L’s assembly at Maximum Diesels. To stand up to higher rpm and elevated boost, a set of Comp Cams’ shimmed 910 valve springs, Smith Brothers chromoly pushrods, and ARP head studs made the cut, too.

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A commercial painter by trade, but with a lifetime of automotive experience, J.D. decided to strip the truck of its black paint roughly eight years ago and do something totally different. After sourcing a rust-free, flareside bed, addressing the troublesome areas in the body, and getting his hands on some Atomic Orange paint, he pulled the trigger and shot the truck himself. If the lively, C6 Corvette-derived paint scheme doesn’t get your attention, a ¾-ton diesel wearing a flareside bed surely will!

AC Codes and Electric Fuel

Like any 7.3L, bigger injectors help wake them up considerably. For J.D.’s fun-yet-reliable approach to the build, a set of factory-spec AC-code injectors from Alliant Power got the nod. The single shot units flow 160 cc’s and are supported by a brand-new, 17-degree high-pressure oil pump from a ’99.5-’03 Super Duty application. A homemade fuel supply system revolves around a Super Duty-intended electric lift pump, which sends a steady 65 psi the injectors’ way. On top of the engine, the fuel bowl was scrapped, and a regulated return system installed to keep fuel delivery consistent and air-free.

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One surviving component from J.D.’s previous 650 hp setup is the transmission: a full billet Street Performance E4OD from John Wood Automotive. Treated to stronger internals such as billet shafts, a billet intermediate planetary and a billet forward drum, in addition to a billet stator triple-disc converter and extensive pump, center support and valvebody work, the four-speed auto stands a chance of outlasting the rest of the truck.

T4 Turbo System and Super Duty Intercooler

Thanks to Irate Diesel Performance’s complete T4 turbo mounting system, a BorgWarner S364.5 SX-E crams 35 psi of boost into the 7.3L’s lungs at full-tilt, while also providing superb all-around drivability. The high-flow S300 forces compressed air through an aluminum factory Super Duty intercooler, 3-inch diameter intercooler piping, and 3-inch aluminum intake plenums. With the S364.5 SX-E said to be capable of supporting 300 to 500 rwhp on 7.3L’s, J.D.’s 400 hp combination nestles it perfectly in between. Exhaust gases pass through a two-piece, 3-inch downpipe that transitions into a 4-inch, stainless steel system from Diamond Eye Performance.

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ATF temps usually top out at 160 degrees thanks to a simple, 11×14-inch Hayden remote mount transmission cooler. In the rare event that transmission fluid makes it up to 180 degrees, the electric, 650-cfm fan kicks on for additional cooling.

Billet E4OD

While the parts list on J.D.’s freshly-built 7.3L seems more than sufficient for surviving 400 rwhp, the billet-internal E4OD from John Wood Automotive is pure overkill. Retained from a time when the truck was dishing out well over 600 rwhp, it makes use of billet shafts, a billet forward drum, and a billet intermediate planetary, along with a reengineered center support and CNC-machined pump. The four-speed slushbox is topped off with a billet stator, triple-disc converter and a performance valve body. Further fine-tuning of the transmission, and especially the engine, comes by way of custom PCM tuning from Gearhead Automotive Performance.

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Renowned as one of the best products in the diesel industry, a set of One Up Offroad’s short-gusset traction bars eliminate axle wrap out back. Although they were originally installed during the truck’s higher horsepower days, they’re just as vital at 400 hp as they are at 650 hp. On OBS Fords, axle wrap can show up as early as 300 hp.

A Forever Truck

As a successful business owner, J.D. has the means to drive any vehicle he pleases—and in fact he owns several new trucks—yet he always seems to find himself behind the wheel of his OBS. After 30 years of playing with lifted trucks, J.D. can unequivocally say that this project has been his favorite. Once the thrill of 350/200 injectors, an S400, and 70 psi of boost left his system, he pieced together a truck that still makes more than twice the power it did from the factory, but that will last hundreds of thousands of miles while doing it. After all, the engine only sees 35 psi of boost (and has head studs), the pyrometer never tops 1,200 degrees in the hottest tune, the transmission is built to handle north of 1,500 lb-ft, and the fuel system is almost completely made up of OEM components. Despite frequent offers to sell his pride and joy, J.D. maintains that the bright orange, flareside, solid axle-converted ¾-ton will be titled in his name for a long time to come.

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Though J.D. Donohue’s ’97 F-250 has sported many setups over the years (from stock to 650 rwhp), he recently settled on a fun yet conservative horsepower combination that checks in at roughly 400 ponies. With ultimate reliability in mind for the 7.3L Power Stroke, he turned to nearby Maximum Diesels for a helping hand. The block, pulled from a 250,000-mile ’95 F-350 parts truck, was bored to accept 0.010-inch over pistons and fitted with factory forged-steel rods. The heads attached to the block are the factory cast-iron pieces, but they’re fastened in place courtesy of ARP head studs, and also benefit from Comp Cams’ 910 valve springs and Smith Brothers chromoly pushrods.

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Despite the truck’s age and nearly 300,000 miles on the odometer, the factory dash is in remarkable shape. However, when it became apparent that the factory seats had seen better days, they were replaced with reclining Mastercraft Baja RS units. As for the massive center console, J.D.’s OBS often serves as a mobile office—so installing a unit out of an ’08-’10 Super Duty just made way too much sense.

“…FLARESIDE BED, ATOMIC ORANGE PAINT, A SOLID FRONT AXLE, AND A FRESH 7.3L POWER STROKE THAT’S READY FOR ANOTHER HARD-EARNED 300,000 MILES.”

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Keeping things old-school along the A-pillar, J.D. runs Auto Meter analog gauges as opposed to an electronic monitor. A quad pod from Complete Performance allows him to keep tabs on boost, EGT, transmission, and water. However, thanks to Maximum Diesel’s help with the engine work, John Wood’s bulletproof E4OD, and Gearhead’s sound tuning, J.D. has little need to glance at them.

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With a set of AC code, 160 cc injectors to feed, an electric fuel supply system is employed, along with a regulated return. Based around a Motorcraft lift pump from a ’99-’03 Super Duty application, the pump pulls fuel through the factory selector valve so J.D. can run the factory-intended dual tank arrangement. But while the factory 16-gallon front tank remains, a 32-gallon unit replaced the rear one for additional range.

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Typical of any lifted ’80-’97 F-250, the factory Dana 50 TTB and the owner didn’t like each other very much. After eating through his fair share of tires, replacing axle beam pivot bushings every couple thousand miles, and spending inordinate amounts of time at the alignment shop, J.D. ditched the twin traction beam IFS for a Dana 60. Since installing the solid front axle, he’s also replaced the 4.10’s with 3.55’s for optimal highway cruising. Also notice the front shackle reversal kit, sourced from Sky Manufacturing to improve the truck’s ride quality.