1994 Ford F-250 With a 6BT, Overland Tent, and 40s
Matt Swithenbank’s Fummins slays snow, crawls rock, and camps like a champ.
We met Matt Swithenbank and his 6BT Cummins-powered 1994 Ford F-250 at the 2020 King of the Hammers race. His diesel-powered Ford caught our eye with its custom-built tube bed, overland tent, and 40-inch tires. Read more about how the truck came to life!
1994 Ford F-250: The Goal
"The only reason I got this truck in the first place was to tow my Toyota race truck around," explained Matt Swithenbank. His thesis statement for the 1994 Ford F-250 evolved into wanting to have a truck that he could take anywhere and do anything with. Whether the task was hard-core snow wheeling in Northern California, towing his trailer, journeying across Utah or the Baja Peninsula, or chasing desert races, the pickup had to be ready.
1994 Ford F-250: How I Got It
"I originally traded my '00 4Runner for it when it was only a mostly stock '94 F-250 IDI turbodiesel with the E40D transmission." At the time, the 1994 Ford F-250 ran around with a Dana 50 traction beam front suspension, a 4-inch lift, and 35-inch tires. "Within the first year of owning the truck I was having issues with the engine and trans and made the decision to start collecting parts." Matt began preparing for the Ford's upgrades by first lifting a Cummins 6BT from a '91.5 Dodge W250 with only 127,000 original miles. Next came a ZF-5 transmission out of a Ford F-550 propane delivery truck, and a smattering of gathered and fabricated parts to make the two powertrain components play nicely together.
Cummins Power for the 1994 Ford F-250
With its new Cummins powerplant under the hood and upgraded transmission, Matt used the 1994 Ford F-250 as his daily driver for the better part of a year. Attempting to remedy its less-than-optimal driving characteristics, he began working on the front suspension by adding 4 inches to each traction beam, King coilovers, and 37-inch tires. To match the increased track width, the back of the truck received a DRW 10.5-inch axle, which was held in place by Matt's carefully designed parallel four-link suspension and King 2.5 coilovers.
Looking at the 1994 Ford F-250 from behind, it's hard to miss the custom-built tube bed. "I hated pickup truck beds falling apart and getting banged up. The truck was already huge, and I knew I was bringing it into a crawling environment, so I might as well build something I could drag against a tree or a rock and it wouldn't ruin my day." Matt also planned on routing his rear shock mounts through the bed, which would require significant sheetmetal surgery if the stock bed was maintained. The custom work contained the shocks, left him with usable storage space, and paid homage to the distinct lines of the OBS Ford.
After a trip through Death Valley dealt a crippling blow to his TTB frontend components, Matt decided to step up to a solid axle. The resulting reimagination of his frontend included a Ford Super Duty Dana 60, King 2.5-inch triple-bypass shocks to accompany the coilovers, custom-built radius arms, and a significant dose of armor. Matt drives his truck—a lot—and it seems to be nothing short of the good times catalyst. You'll either find the Ford loaded down with an Australian shepherd and camping gear headlamp-deep in the snow, chugging through the rocks and higher-speed parts of desert trails, or pulling towing duty for the race truck—as it was originally intended. We caught up with Matt in the Mojave Desert where he showed us what it took to make the Cummins-powered Ford go fast and crawl hard.
When the 1994 Ford F-250's original 7.3L engine blew a head gasket, Matt decided to sever ties with the IDI and replace it with something a bit different. As he described it, "6BTs are a ton of fun. I physically cannot drive the truck without smiling. Not possible—I tried." He scored the Cummins inline-six from a junkyard after it had sat for a handful of years—and it fired right up. The mill benefits from an AIRAID intake, Holset HE351 turbo, Mishimoto intercooler, Denny T Performance fuel pin, and a 3,000-rpm governor spring. Matt also fabricated custom engine mounts using poly bushings and mounted a pair of wet-cell batteries and his ARB air compressor under the hood.
Wheels and Tires
Matt's 1994 Ford F-250 has worn many sizes of tires beginning with 35s and 37s, and someday he'd like to run 42-inch meats under the rig. However, at the moment, "There's not one out there that I want." For now, his set of 40x13.50R17LT Nitto Trail Grapplers and 17x9-inch Pro Comp steel wheels get the job done from towing on the highway to romping through deep snow.
"This truck had some crazy frame flex, so I went overboard on those," said Matt, describing his custom-built rocksliders. They're built from 2-inch, 0.25-inch-wall square tubing and are welded to the frame.
"I modeled the front bumper after a go-fast truck, and it's as prerunner as I could make it," said Matt about the handiwork on the Ford's front. The bumper is tied into the frame and shock towers so "it's not going anywhere" while still guarding the grille. Matt's Smittybilt 12,000-pound winch hangs on the front bumper and has served valiantly un-stucking the truck from messy situations with its synthetic rope.
Matt wanted to build a bed that could stand up to trees and rocks, carry everything he needed, and still have some style. "Note the use of tubing and sheetmetal to match the elegant body lines of the OBS Ford," he noted. His craftsmanship included various diameters of 0.120-inch-wall tubing, 16-gauge steel, and fabrication finesse.
Adventure gear is arranged in the bed and includes an RTIC 65 ice chest, a floor jack, a water container, and storage boxes. Tool boxes built into the sides hold tiedowns, a cordless impact wrench, and other tools. Behind the gear sits the 22-gallon diesel transfer tank.
Rear Suspension: Shocks
"The original plan was to run airbags in the back but it's hard to get those to articulate," explained Matt, referencing his choice of 2.5-inch King coilovers and air shocks with the same measurements. When towing or if the Ford is loaded down with gear, Matt charges the shocks with nitrogen to level the load, and he can't speak highly enough of the setup.
With his primary concern of "ride quality and being able to go off-road without chipping a tooth," Matt decided he needed to compensate for some of the solid axle's characteristics. He employed a pair of King 2.5-inch triple-bypass shocks to complement the existing King 2.5-inch coilovers giving him the comfort and travel he needed.
Navigation and Interior
"Keep it simple and stock," is Matt's theory on the truck's interior. The original seats are plenty comfortable, and the rubber floors are still underfoot and ready to accept any trail debris tracked inside. Lowrance is the name on the GPS keeping Matt oriented while chasing desert races, Rugged Radios are the comms, and the Momo wheel is the outlet for his steering inputs. As a security measure, the wheel shares duties between the Ford and Matt's Toyota race truck.
Rear Suspension: 19 Inches of Travel
"I decided to go with a parallel four-link with a Panhard bar because the thought of having a triangulated setup and towing didn't sit well with me. I wanted a Panhard bar for added reassurance that my rearend wouldn't fold up on me." Keen eyes will also notice the RuffStuff trailing arms used as upper links in Matt's well-thought-out rear suspension. "The original plan was to run airbags in the back, but it's hard to get those to articulate," explained Matt, referencing his choice of 2.5-inch King coilovers and air shocks with the same measurements. When towing, or if the Ford is loaded down with gear, Matt charges the shocks with nitrogen to level the load, and he can't speak highly enough of the setup.
Transmission and Transfer Case
Since James often has the entire space inside the 1994 Ford F-250's bed cap stuffed with gear, he needed somewhere else to stow adventure equipment. The solution? "I built the trailer in my friend's garage." The wheel and tire combo on the M101 military trailer is the exact same as what's on the Ram, plus, the trailer has room for an additional fullsize spare which is held in place with Mac's tiedowns. His Yakima rack holds the Simpson 3 rooftop tent and awning, both from ARB. Trailer contents can vary based on the trip. If it's a multi-day adventure, expect to see spare water, fuel, gear, and tools. Otherwise, it's an extension of the Ram's currently occupied bed area. To simplify things, James keeps the trailer weight under 3,000 pounds which does not require him to run trailer brakes.
"The motivation to build a rig like this is to go camp and go on adventures," said Matt, "so when I saw a rooftop tent, I knew I had to have one." His swinging tire carrier uses 1 3/4-inch, 0.120-inch-wall tubing and 3/8-inch plate to hold the fullsize spare and keep it out of the bed, freeing up valuable space. Matt kept the Tepui tent mounted low for trail clearance and sometimes, as he explained, "I even swap it over to the Super Duty (his other tow rig) when that goes traveling."
1994 Ford F-250 Specifications
Owner: Matt Swithenbank
Stomping grounds: Paradise, California
Build time: 6 years
Engine: 5.9L Cummins 6BT turbodiesel I-6
Transmission: ZF S5-42 manual 5-spd
Transfer case(s): BorgWarner 1356 2-spd
Low range ratio(s): 2.69:1
Crawl ratio(s): 75.1:1
Front axle/differential: Ford Super Duty Super 60, Artec truss, RuffStuff differential cover, 4.88:1 gears/Yukon Zip locker
Rear axle/differential: Sterling 10.5-in, Artec truss, RuffStuff differential cover, 4.88:1 gears /Yukon Zip locker
Front: Bosman Designs custom 6-in extended Super Duty radius arms, King 2.5-in coilovers, King 2.5-in triple bypass shocks
Rear: custom-built parallel four-link w/track bar, RuffStuff trailing arm upper links, King 2.5-in coilovers, King 2.5-in air shocks
Tires: 40x13.50R17LT Nitto Trail Grappler
Wheels: 17x9-in Pro Comp steel
Steering: 1.75-in, 0.25-in-wall DOM tubing w/ 7/8-in Heim joints, Artec weld-on double-shear knuckle mounts
Armor: rocksliders w/2-in, 0.25-in-wall square tubing, custom steel bumper and winch plate, swinging fullsize tire carrier w/1.75-in, 0.120-in-wall tubing and 3/8-in steel plate
Lighting: 20-in LED rear-facing lightbar
Cool Stuff: ARB air compressor, Lowrance GPS, RTIC 65 ice chest, custom-built tube bed w/ wood floor panels, 1-, 1.5-, and 1.75-in, 0.120-in-wall DOM tubing, and 16-ga steel; Tepui rooftop tent, custom built-in toolboxes, 22-gal diesel tank