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Old 08-13-2020, 01:09 PM   #1
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Sad Engine Power Performance help....

Hi everyone! So, I am in need of some advice.

I have been converting a 1996 e250 with the 5.8l 351w engine. (122k miles)

We took it out for its maiden voyage this past weekend and one thing became very clear:

The current level of power I am getting will just not cut it.

We took it on some dirt roads up in the hills behind where we live (Boulder, CO) and had a terrible time getting up anything with even a modest incline. Basically had to floor it and send the RPMs through the roof to go 10 MPH up a hill... to the point it overheated and stalled at one point. On the freeway I can eventually get it moving, its just the low end torque on inclines is super wimpy.

I've taken to my mechanic and he said he can't find anything "wrong". Its just under powered for the weight of the vehicle. (only 6100 vs GVWR of 8850). And that is just an "old" engine.

So here is my question: Where do I go from here?

I've read thread after thread and it seems there are all sorts of things you can do to address this with widely varying opinions on which is best (bolt-ons like exhaust, performance chips, changing gear ratios, air intake, and larger engine items like new headers (gt40s), cam shaft, etc etc etc...). I've read so much, but just don't know where to start... and in fact don't even know how to find a shop that could help me navigate this all. I've reached out to a few mechanic shops but they seem to be more accustom to fixing things that are broken vs upgrading beyond manufactured spec.

Any advice on this would be MASSIVELY appreciated. Any referrals to a shop around Boulder/Denver would also be amazing.

thanks all!
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Old 08-13-2020, 01:30 PM   #2
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Hold up with the upgrades. This isn't your problem. If your RPMs are "through the roof" at 10 MPH, your transmission isn't working. Either your torque converter is toast, or your fluid is spent and it's aerating or it's getting so hot it's foaming up, which can happen if your gearing is too tall. Either way, your RPMs shouldn't be very high at 10 MPH.

What gears do you have, and how steep was the grade you were climbing.

FWIW - I used to drive a '94 E350 with the 351. I regularly pulled 8,000 pounds all across the country. Sure, going up Cabbage Hill or over Eisenhower tunnel would drop my to 30 MPH, but that was at a combined weight over 14,000 pounds.
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Old 08-13-2020, 01:58 PM   #3
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Time to find a new mechanic. I run a 351W in my '69 Bronco, and while somewhat less weight than your van (I'm at roughly 5000lbs unloaded), it's no slouch. I could use some deeper gearing in my diffs, and I'm not at your kind of altitude, but I agree with carringb that there's no reason to have such limited performance while the engine is screaming away.


How does it run on the highways?




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Old 08-13-2020, 04:15 PM   #4
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Thanks Herb/Carringb,

The road I was driving up was mostly 5% grade with a few bits around 7%/8%. And this is where it stalled. Of course it was at altitude of ~9,800 feet. Rear wheel drive with Dana 3.73 ratio.

I would say it just always is sluggish to accelerate. On the flat highway it can get to 70mph... but it certainly takes a while to get there. Even in around-town driving I feel like I have to floor it to accelerate from stoplights at a moderate pace.

It just feels like an old grandpa getting up out of his lazy boy after a long nap... ; )
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Old 08-13-2020, 04:48 PM   #5
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Start with the basics. Tune up including air-filter, distributor cap, fuel filter (possibly fuel pump) and make sure the exhaust isn't obstructed. I drove my 5.8L all the way up Mount Evans with zero problems.

But the high RPMs at low speed still make me suspect a torque converter or trans fluid issue. I had the 3.73 gears as well, so I don't think you have a gearing problem, especially since it doesn't look like you have grossly oversized tires.
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