Branden Smith’s Immaculate, 500-Plus HP 7.3L

They don’t build ‘em like they used to, reason enough for Branden Smith to hold onto his insanely clean, Florida-stationed ’01 F-250 as long as he can. The 21-year-old Super Duty has spent its entire existence in the sunshine state, and the rust-free chassis and sheet metal reflect as much. On top of that, just 97,000 miles have been logged on the odometer. But to keep a 7.3L Power Stroke relevant in the age of tune-only, 500hp common-rail diesels, Branden recently added all the right parts to bring his old Ford up to speed. A completely different turbo system, bigger injectors, more fuel supply, and a built 4R100 made the list—and he even updated the interior and added late model factory running boards and a tailgate to the mix.

If ever there was a good stock bottom end 7.3L candidate to be saddled with a host of top-end power-adders, Branden Smith’s ’01 F-250 is it. With just 97,000 miles on the truck’s original Power Stroke, he recently did a ton of work under the hood in an effort to bring the old 7.3L to life. With a goal of 500-rwhp, he believes he’s easily there now, thanks to Irate Diesel Performance, Unlimited Diesel Performance, DieselSite, FASS, LinCo Diesel Performance, and Sun Coast. Don’t worry, the rods are of the desirable forged-steel variety (rather than the failure-prone PMR’s).

A Low-Mile, Forged-Rod ’01 7.3L

By the skin of his teeth, Branden’s engine left the factory with forged-steel connecting rods, as opposed to the powdered metal versions that fail when subjected to excessive horsepower. With the forged-rod bottom end confirmed, he embarked on a goal of 500-rwhp. And with less than 100,000 miles on the 7.3L, the factory valve springs, pushrods, and even head bolts were left alone. In short, Branden’s low-mile Power Stroke is the perfect test platform for throwing a host of top-end power adders at a bone-stock rotating assembly and valvetrain.

BorgWarner’s box S467.7 turbo has proven a great all-around charger for 7.3L owners who are willing to make the switch to an aftermarket T4 turbo system. Paired with larger injectors, it’s extremely streetable, can be used to tow with, and definitely supports big power (650-rwhp). In Branden’s case, his S467.7 was supplied in Irate Diesel Performance’s all-inclusive T4 turbo mounting kit. Stainless steel up-pipes and a T4 exhaust collector, the required pedestal, oil supply and return lines, an intake Y and intercooler pipes, a 3.5-inch downpipe, and powder coating were even part of the deal. Irate’s billet 3-inch inlet intake plenums and DieselSite’s boost fooler also made it onto Branden’s engine.

Fuel And Oil Upgrades

The quickest way to wake up the sleeping giant that is a 7.3L is through the addition of larger injectors. However, a host of supporting mods have to be in place in order to get the most out of them. To guide him on his horsepower journey, Branden turned to his friends at LinCo Diesel Performance who sourced a set of 250cc, 100-percent nozzle injectors from Unlimited Diesel Performance, a DieselSite Adrenaline high-pressure oil pump, a 140-gph FASS lift pump system, a G&R Diesel tank sump, and Irate Diesel Performance’s regulated return system. Providing spot-on tuning for its injectors, Unlimited Diesel Performance supplied the Gearhead-tuned Hydra chip that makes at least 500 hp possible.

To both increase flow and keep fuel from dead-heading in the cylinder heads, Branden opted for one of Irate Diesel Performance’s regulated returns. The fuel bowl delete style system cleans up the lifter valley considerably, not to mention the fact that an adjustable Fuelab fuel pressure regulator is provided. Branden keeps fuel pressure set at an injector-friendly 65-psi.

T4 Turbo Mount And S400

Stepping up his turbo game in a serious way, Branden ditched the factory-based Garrett GTP38 in favor of an S400. Hooking up with Irate Diesel Performance for one of its complete T4 turbo mounting systems, the popular (and proven) BorgWarner S467.7 was included. Stainless steel up-pipes and a T4 divided exhaust collector, a new pedestal, 3-inch intercooler pipes and intake Y, and a 3.5-inch downpipe helped make the turbo swap possible, and Branden also opted for Irate’s billet 3-inch intake plenums. At full tilt, the S467.7 sends 48-psi of boost through the factory intercooler.

Keeping the 250/100 injectors happy is a job that was left to a Titanium Series fuel supply system from FASS. As FASS’s entry-level system for the 7.3L and 6.0L Power Strokes, the lift pump is capable of flowing 140-gph. Notice the Nylon wire loom around the fuel hoses for added protection, which makes for a nice, clean touch as well.

Sun Coast 4R100

Because no stock 4R100 can hold up to a heavy, 7.3L-powered Super Duty on 35’s that’s turning out more than 1,000 lb-ft of torque, Branden turned to Sun Coast transmission mastermind (who also happens to be his co-worker), Ernie Davis, for a battle-ready rebuild. Davis’s valve body tweaks, BorgWarner clutches, a billet flex plate, and an Aermet input shaft were all part of the build—along with Sun Coast’s billet stator, triple-disc 4R100 torque converter. The stock intermediate and output shafts have been left alone for now, because in the words of Branden: “I know a transmission guy, if I break anything.” The four-speed was topped off with extra ATF courtesy of a Mag-Hytec deep pan.

The FASS system pulls fuel from the factory Super Duty tank, albeit through a billet-aluminum sump from G&R Diesel. In addition to its ½-inch supply port, the sump integrates a return port, which meant no routing the return line to the top of the tank (or cutting into the filler neck) was necessary.

“Thanks to the truck’s solid parts recipe, it’s much more than just a 500hp play toy.”

Fun Yet Fully Functional

Thanks to the truck’s solid parts recipe, it’s much more than just a 500hp play toy. On top of the obvious fun factor Branden enjoys, he can daily drive his F-250, tow his toy hauler with it, and can take a long distance road trip anywhere in the country in confidence. His deep blue Super Duty is the perfect example of how far the 7.3L aftermarket has come over the past two decades. Twenty one years since it left the assembly line, it’s making more than double the factory horsepower yet remains as functional as it was the day it left the dealership. Maybe O.G. Power Stroke fans are right—the 7.3L may never die.

For an edge in efficiency and volume over the factory 17-degree high-pressure oil pump, DieselSite’s time-tested Adrenaline made it onto Branden’s Super Duty. The Adrenaline HPOP, which has proven capable of supporting more than 500-rwhp, has no problem feeding ample ICP (high-pressure oil) to a set of 250cc hybrid injectors equipped with 100-percent nozzles from Unlimited Diesel Performance.
To clear the 35-inch mud terrains, the truck was treated to 6-inches of lift—along with the corresponding extended travel Bilstein 5100 series shocks at each corner. To eliminate bump steer, dual steering stabilizers reside up front.
Standing up to the four-digit torque output of the 7.3L is a 4R100 that was readied for battle at Sun Coast. As the Sales Account Manager at Sun Coast, Branden is a colleague of longtime transmission wizard, Ernie Davis, who was kind enough to build the four speed one afternoon. Davis built the valve body and treated the 4R100 to BorgWarner clutches, an Aremet input shaft, and a Sun Coast triple disc, billet stator converter. Extra fluid capacity is provided by a Mag-Hytec pan.
Gloss black milled Slammer Xposed wheels from Hardrock Offroad certainly don’t hurt the Ford’s curb appeal. The 24×12-inch wheels are fitted with 10-ply, E load range, 35×12.50R24 Roadone Aethon M/T X rubber.
While it’s barely been lived in, Branden did reupholster the original seats himself with a kit he sourced online. Along the A-pillar and within a 3-gauge pod, a 60-psi boost gauge, a 260-degree trans temp gauge, and a 1,500-degree pyrometer from Glow Shift help him keep tabs on the S467.7, 4R100, and engine. An audio system that consumes much of the rear of the crew cab makes road trips enjoyable (and overrules most of the 7.3L’s clatter).
You won’t find many 7.3L’s with this kind of mileage on the odometer anymore, and Branden’s is slowly increasing. Since our photo op, the truck has 97,000 miles and change on the clock. Luckily Branden has two other daily drivers at his disposal, which helps keep miles off of his 21-year-old gem.
This is the secret to tying every mod together: a Hydra chip from Power Hungry Performance. Thanks to being custom tuned by Gearhead Sales, the big single 7.3L is extremely drivable (and in fact, towable), the 250/100’s are clean-burning, and (perhaps most importantly) the truck should easily clear 500-rwhp.

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