LET ‘R EAT

A 6.0L-powered Florida Mega Truck—and an owner with a lead foot

Nearly 30 years old and still playing with trucks… Justin Hildebrand may never grow up. But that’s OK. The Bradenton, Florida, shop owner is a regular on the local mega truck scene, partaking in chest-high mud bog slogs, tire-shredding tug o’ wars, and even sled pulls with his sky-high ’04 Super Duty. What’s more—given all the wild engine combinations that often grace these types of trucks—Hildebrand’s F-250 is still equipped with a 6.0L Power Stroke.

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What do you do on the weekends? Justin Hildebrand hops in his 11-foot-high, 11,000-pound Super Duty and points it toward the deepest mud hole he can find. And when he’s not navigating the nearby swamplands, you can usually find his F-250 hooking bumper-to-bumper with other mega trucks.

Rebuilt for Reliability

Being that his company, JH Diesel & 4×4, is heavily involved in diesel repair and performance, Hildebrand knew that he could make a 6.0L work in the mud—and that it could be reliable. After obtaining a used 6.0L for $800, he tore it down and rebuilt it with a Ford overhaul kit. Other than adding a Stage 2 Colt cam to drive the turbo harder, the short-block is void of upgrades. A few reinforcements were necessary up top. To prevent valve float and reversion, performance valve springs from Hamilton Cams replaced the stockers. To eliminate deflection and any loss of lift at the valves, a set of Manton pushrods got the call. And to keep the resurfaced cylinder heads from lifting, ARP studs fasten them to the block.

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In recent years, tug o’ war competitions have become a huge draw for mega trucks down in Florida. At any given event, as much as $5,000 can be on the line—incentive enough to obliterate a set of expensive V-tread ag tires.

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With the 6.0L Power Stroke’s factory bottom end capable of handling plenty of power and abuse, Hildebrand focused his attention on top-end enhancements (with the exception of a Stage 2 camshaft from Colt Cams) when he rebuilt the engine that powers his ’04 F-250. To complement the cam—and because his 6.0L spends a lot of its time wide open—Hamilton Cams performance valve springs and retainers were installed, along with Manton three-piece chromoly pushrods. The heads are anchored to the block courtesy of ARP studs and sealed via factory Ford head gaskets.

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Thanks to an Irate Diesel Performance T4 turbo mount, a BorgWarner S364.5 SX-E sits in place of the factory variable geometry Garrett, shown here buried beneath the cowl. The quick-spooling 64.5mm S300—which makes use of a 74mm turbine wheel and a .91 A/R exhaust housing—helps get the revvy 6.0L and the truck’s 11,000-pound overall mass up to speed as quickly as possible.

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Opting for a set of Full Force Diesel’s 190cc injectors fitted with 75% over nozzles, Hildebrand knew the stock high-pressure oil pump and factory lift pump wouldn’t need to be upgraded. However, a regulated return fuel system from Driven Diesel was installed to ensure ample fuel volume and pressure is always on tap for the 190/75s to use.

190/75s & Stock Oil

While shopping for a set of injectors, Hildebrand settled on the perfect combination for his needs: Full Force Diesel’s 190cc units fitted with 75% over nozzles. Capable of supporting more than 600 hp, the 190/75s can conveniently be run at their full potential without the need for a higher volume HPOP or an aftermarket lift pump. However, Hildebrand did add a regulated return system from Driven Diesel for a bit of insurance on the fuel side of the injectors. The job of wringing every last drop of power out of the injectors by way of custom PCM tuning is left in the hands of Gearhead Automotive Performance.

Fixed-Geometry Turbo

Because it was imperative he find a turbocharger that could spool adequately in the mud yet not run out of steam at 4,000-plus rpm, Hildebrand opted for an S364.5 SX-E unit from BorgWarner. Thanks to a T4 turbo mounting system from Irate Diesel Performance, the fixed-geometry charger sits directly in place of the factory VGT, and it even accommodates an OEM-intended S&B cold-air intake. The truck’s exhaust system consists of a custom-built downpipe feeding a 6-inch CAT stack in the hood.

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Believe it or not, a stock 5R110 TorqShift transmission resides behind the potent 6.0L. It’s been graced with a billet input shaft—but only because Hildebrand broke the factory one. The only other addition to the five-speed automatic is a BD Diesel TapShifter, which allows him to control shift points manually at the touch of a button.

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Bolted downstream of the 5R110 is a quick-change transfer case from SCS Gearbox. The drop-box unit provides a 12.66-inch drop in order to keep the driveline angles in as straight a line as possible. Thanks to the quick-change transfer case, the truck’s final drive ratio can also be altered in minutes should the need arise.

Factory 5R & SCS Drop-Box

As for the transmission, the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach led to the factory TorqShift automatic being retained. After all, the five-speed slushbox has proven capable of harnessing 550 hp and 1,000 lb-ft or more for extended periods of time in stock form, and its retention required no additional integration work. The one reinforcement the 5R did receive was a billet input shaft. Once power makes its way through the TorqShift, an SCS Gearbox quick-change transfer case transfers it to the front and rear military axles.

The 12-Day Hustle

Believe it or not, Hildebrand’s Super Duty went from daily driver to mega truck in less than two weeks’ time. During the speedy build, Hudson’s Welding fabricated the sub-frame, cradle and four-link suspension, 18-inch-travel F-O-A coilover shocks and limit chains were added, 5-ton Rockwells replaced the factory 10.5 and Dana 60, and 66-inch tractor tires mounted to 34×18-inch 10-lug wheels were bolted up. From start to finish, the entire build consumed just 12 days.

Never Lift

Just like the quick turnaround time employed during the course of the build, Hildebrand doesn’t waste a second behind the wheel. When it’s his turn to get in on the action, he never hesitates to bury the throttle—and keep it there. Whether it’s hooked bumper-to-bumper with another mega truck or blasting through the swamp, you can always find his 6.0L running wide-open. In an age where far too many folks spend obscene amounts of money on toys they never use, it’s refreshing to see a budget-built vehicle living up to its full potential. If you ever find yourself at a Trucks Gone Wild event, Cowboys Orlando or Diesels in the Swamp, Hildebrand’s Super Duty won’t be hard to find. It’ll be the one making all the 4,000-rpm racket.

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For the most cost-effective means of stopping this behemoth, pinion brakes are utilized front and rear. The 12-inch rotors were built by Red Barn Customs and the calipers and brackets came from Wilwood Engineering.

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The truck’s one-off suspension system was fabricated by Hudson’s Welding of nearby Sarasota. Friends of Hildebrand’s, they were kind enough to build the four-link, sub-frame and cradle entirely on-site at JH Diesel & 4×4 in Bradenton.

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The cradle not only serves as the central mounting point under the truck for the four-link bars, but also encloses and protects the SCS drop box.

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At each corner you’ll find an 18-inch-travel, 2.5-inch-diameter remote reservoir coilover shock from F-O-A. To keep the shocks from ever hyper-extending (in which case they can blow out), Hudson’s Welding added roller chains out of a marine application instead of traditional nylon limit straps.

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Titan 18.4-34 tractor tires measuring 66 inches in height are tasked with propelling the big Ford through the goo, and—believe it or not—scaling the V-tread pattern serves as the primary means of climbing up into truck’s cab. The 34×18-inch wheels started out as empty shells from L&W Fab and Machine in Temple, Georgia, with Hildebrand welding in the appropriate center sections to get them to work with the Rockwells.

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When you run your truck as hard as Hildebrand does, it pays to keep a watchful eye on the kind of heat you’re generating. After an exceptionally lengthy tug o’ war had concluded, he hopped out of his idling truck, told us everything was “hot,” smiled, and walked away for a few minutes. The Edge CTS2 monitor would later recall that coolant and transmission temp had reached 240 degrees.

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Once equipped with a front bench seat, Hildebrand was forced to do something different after a rough mud bog landed a couple passengers in his lap. Now, two Corbeau race seats sit in its stead, although the rear bench remains.

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Specifications

2004 Ford F-250

Owner: Justin Hildebrand
Hometown: Bradenton, Florida
Odometer: 200,000 miles
Engine: 6.0L Power Stroke V8 with ARP head studs, Hamilton Cams performance valve springs, Manton chromoly pushrods, Stage 2 Colt cam
Fuel: Full Force Diesel 190/75 injectors, stock high-pressure oil pump, factory lift pump, Driven Diesel regulated return
Air: Irate Diesel Performance T4 turbo mounting system, BorgWarner S364.5 SX-E, S&B Filters cold-air intake
Exhaust: Custom-built downpipe to 6-inch hood stack
Tuning: Gearhead Automotive Performance via SCT X4 programmer, Power Hungry Performance FICM tune
Transmission: Factory 5R110 TorqShift with billet input shaft, BD Diesel TapShifter
Transfer Case: SCS Gearbox quick-change transfer case with 12.66-inch drop
Horsepower: 550-600 hp (est.)
Torque: 1,100-1,200 lb-ft (est.)
Tires: Titan 18.4-34 V-tread (66-inch)
Wheels: 34×18-inch L&W Fab and Machine shells with center sections welded in at JH Diesel & 4×4
Suspension/Chassis: Hudson’s Welding fabricated four-link suspension, cradle and subframe, F-O-A 18-inch travel remote reservoir coilover shocks with custom limit straps
Axles: 5-ton Rockwell with locker (rear), 5-ton Rockwell with open differential (front), front and rear pinion brakes with Wilwood calipers and brackets, Red Barn Customs rotors