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Cummins powered step vans

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  • Cummins powered step vans

    There are going to be ten or so of the 4BT powered vans sold here in Iowa. Some run and drive, some run but the transmissions are bad, some have no brakes, some have about 100k and some have about 200k.

    Any thoughts on what these categories are bringing? All have Turbohydramatic 400 transmissions.
    Power Wagon Advertiser monthly magazine, editor & publisher.

    Why is it that the inside of old truck cabs smell so good?

  • #2
    The Pontiac series TH400 is the usual culprit responsibile for early retirement of these trucks. Good tranny behind a small block, but never built for diesel torque! They require extensive modification beyond what the factory provided to be able to handle Cummins torque, even behind the little 4BT.

    The stepvan prices are widely varied. You can find them at out of the way auctions for bids of $800-$1,000 [ask me how I know] but the's single item of a west coast stepvan [near Portland] went for $3,600 last I heard! This was a low miles truck, right around 50K as I recall, in good running condition sold by Frito Lay. A buddy of mine recently sold a Chevy P-30 stepvan with a good running small block Chevy in it for $3,600.

    Once you purchase a stepvan there are some bonuses. Today I just removed the 26 gallon fuel tank that fits perfectly between the frame rails of my Town Wagon. It was getting scratched up as I used a putty knife to remove the exterior dirt and grime. Reason? ALL ALUMINUM! I will also re-use all its fuel lines and plan to adapt the Hydroboost brake assembly to the Townie for power brakes. You can sell the Cummins/GM bellhousing adapter and parts for cash, usually around $650-$800 depending. The stepvan itself has 750 lbs of aluminum in the body which can be sold for scrap at whatever the going rate is. Mine came with 2 brand new front tires, 8R-19.5, that will be sold for cash.
    A friend of mine wants to buy the leftover body from me for storage on his property, and that's a lot easier than cutting it up.

    Overall it's still an expensive project that requires some serious financial considerations before commencing. Easy to spend $6,000-$8,000 AFTER the above, mostly for mechanicals, and easier still to just let Charles Talbert do it for you....!


    • #3
      By the way, new rules have come down from on high to Frito Lay transportation centers: ALL SURPLUS STEPVANS WILL BE SOLD VIA DOVEBID.COM FROM NOW ON: ALL! No more 'deals' with the service centers to get one cheap out the back door. However many other companies use the 4BT powered vans.


      • #4
        You said 'Easy to spend $6,000-$8,000 AFTER the above, mostly for mechanicals'. I am sure that you mean the stuff to complete the conversion, but what sorts of things are you talking about?


        • #5
          Hi Tom! Welcome to the Power Wagon advertiser Forum.

          I'm an old [don't say it, Norm] gasser guy so this stuff was all a surprise to me. If you want to go all Dodge which I elected to do then figure on roughly $800 to $1,200 for an NV4500 5 speed, and a Cummins/Dodge bellhousing adapter, and Cummins/Dodge bellhousing, Cummins/Dodge flywheel [$500? for all] plus a super duty clutch from South Bend is $1000, $400 for a stocker; and at least a Dana 60HD rear end if you're going to get serious, plus a stout front end for 4WD, plus Spicer 1350 u-joints throughout. Diesels and even the baby Cummins are torque monsters and you have to build to $uit. Vibration is an issue so top quality motor mount$ and vibration damper$ are required. May have to fab up some cro$$ members and mount$, too. Oh, and one custom drive$haft will set you back $400 with 1350 Spicer joints.

          These little Cummins tip the scales at 750 lbs, and the NV4500 5'r is 200 lbs , plus the AL adapter plate, bell and clutch weigh something, so spring capacity is an issue. I had to go from stock and saggin' 1,250 lbs capacity to new Eaton Detroit 1,500 lbs springs to make up for weight differential. There's $400-500, plus some new bolts, and how are your spring hangers and $hocks?

          Curious thing about diesels is that they afford ZERO compression braking. Therefore one will probably need an exhaust brake like the D-Celerator, PacBrake, B/D Brake or Jacobs [about $1,200 each]. These are mandatory as far as I'm concerned if you're going to tow anything, as some older P/W have marginal brakes. Also time to look at a brake upgrade for the same reasons, like di$c$ which aren't well known for being cheap [$500-1000]. Speaking of exhaust, don't forget that the diesel needs all the exhaust flow it can get, so piping must be at a 3" minimum, 3.5"-4" being preferred. Easy to spend $500++ on custom exhaust in these sizes.

          Got to have at least 3/8" fuel supply lines, plus at least 3/16" [1/4"] return, and possibly an auxiliary electric lift pump [$150], and filter$ [$50?]. Al$o the added weight and the fact that none of us are getting any younger may dictate a Power $teering conversion [$1000?] Might as well put in some new axle/wheel bearigs, especially considering the added torque so maybe $200-400? In some cases a new radiator is mandatory, especially with the older 'honeycomb' designs, so figure maybe $300-500 plus some ho$es/piping. Speaking of piping you'll need a top notch air $upply to feed the Bosch injection/Holset Turbo and that ain't free.

          There's some of the bad news: $6,500 right there at the least. Good news in the next post..... :~ )


          • #6
            I won't get into specifics as it's not the appropriate place, but I believe in prayer, and obviously in Whom I pray to. The results of that are that I got a Chevy stepvan with Cummins 4BT for $1,000 plus $300 misc charges.

            I found an NV4500 [just gone through by tranny shop and with the uppdated 5th gear nut] on E-Bay for $800 delivered from Houston TX. I got my cummins adapter, belhousing, and flywheel from Phil at Atlas Auto Wreckers near Portland [1-800-521-2928] for about $500 delivered. My stock radiator [3 cored] for '67 Town Wagon was stout enough so okay there [using the stock Chevy electric fan]. Stock clutch will be $400. I can use the stock exhaust off the stepvan 'cause I have a Millermatic 35 to melt it together with. Also using the stock Chevy 3/8" fuel lines. The gas tank just happens to fit in my frame rails [totally cool all aluminum piece!!] and the stock filler neck is easily adapted with the donor gas inlet piece from a '73 Duster welded in my TW. I happen to already have crossmembers in the right place and fairly easy to MIG up some STRONG front motor mounts and maybe re-use the stock Cummins #1100639 vibration isolators. I already had a donor trucks Dana 60HD that we put a Spicer 1350 joint with 3/8 girdles on. Fortunately I can re-use the stock Chevy driveshafts and 1350 joints with one cut, so maybe $150 there. New Eaton Detroit front springs $500 delivered CA, plus $50 for ESPO Springs (1-800-903-9019) u-bolts. Buddy gave me a great '70 D-200 front axle & swaybar, so put on all new brakes there. Firm Feel in Oregon (1-360-546-3633) did a top notch rebuild on my Saginaw steering box for $285. Don't need no stinkin' Power Steering! The stepvan's HydroBoost hydraulic power booster for brakes will be modified to fit, using 12 1/8 X 2" fronts, Dana 12 X 3" rears drum/drum. Full set of Stewart Warner 'Wings' gauges about $500.

            That's a large part of it but lots of nickel-dime stuff. I'll probably come out the other side for maybe $5000 if all goes well, not including home made exhaust brake and water/meth injection kit. It can be done.

            IT AIN'T CHEAP!!

            IT IS WORTH IT! 30 mpg, lots of power, 20+ mpg towing a trailer, and it's a Cummins..... :~ )


            • #7
              Thanks for all the info JimmieD! I am seriously considering the swap on my '52 M-37. I am pretty good at making stuff work, Lots of engine swaps under my belt, so I will likely be using alot of stuff from the junk yard and doing most of the work myself.


              • #8
                Here are some links to a couple of fine fellas with tons of info on M37/4BT swaps!



                They have both helped me a lot with my swap.



                • #9
                  Thanks again, I will explore these sites.


                  • #10
                    Currently, I am down to $500.00 for 36,000 mile Cummins 4BT. I bought my Frito Van through Dove bid Auctions for 1,600.00, scrapped out the Aluminium body for 1,100.00 And have someone interested in the Turbo 400.

                    I used the chassis for a '47 Dodge 1 1/2 ton WFAX-32 project I had sitting around for 10 years. I could not believe the frame dimensions are almost identical to the original '47 Dodge frame, plus I got power steering and disc brakes out of the deal. I am thinking in running a 360/727auto in this and using it as my shop truck. Oh yeah, I move the rear axle forward about 37 inches.


                    • #11
                      On one tons and up, the frames are pretty standardized at around 34", in all makes. This was intentional as it makes it easy for aftermarket builders to make a dump bed, tow truck, utility body, etc. that fits all makes.
                      Last edited by MoparNorm; 08-29-2006, 11:28 AM. Reason: corrected faulty memory, dim, is 34" not 38"


                      • #12
                        Hmmmm....they only pay up to $0.65 per lb for scrap aluminum around here. Must be different in your neck of the woods. Sounds like it worked out well for you so far.


                        • #13
                          25 gallon aluminum gas tank fit just fine. Also sold the lefover truck minus parts I needed for $1,000. Total of $1,350 paid, got lots of parts and probably end up with a free engine? Crossmembers have to be relocated and extensively modified. Cummins motor mounts didn't work so had to custom fab some which was a real challenge under the circumstances, and custom tranny mount isolator is the next step today. So, lots of work but did okay on recouping some investment. Will also be selling the complete GM adapter setup out of stepvan which will offset some expenses too.... :~ )


                          • #14
                            Cool! The next batch of trucks on Dove Bid are going for more $$$ now, so this must be getting to be a popular conversion.


                            • #15
                              The auction in June was peculiar among others by same. There was ONE ONLY stepvan in the entire western USA beyond Denver and it had only 36,000 miles on the Cummins!!! It went for a premium price at $3,600 because of those two factors. Hopefully in the future there will be more available in a particular area to tame down the bidding. It all depends on if a guy needs one NOW or can wait and win one on a lowball bid.

                              Also good for those in search of to scout around and find where the local wholesaler's auctions are, as used by car dealers. These auctions usually have vehicles available to the public as well and that's where I got mine, for $1050 plus about $300 in related fees. Pays a guy to do his homework and maybe some networking. I just saw a stepvan parked out back of a building the other day and we're going to go get the scoop on it.... :~ )