6BT Cummins: Everything You Want to Know

The 6BT Cummins was introduced in 1984, and was used for agricultural equipment. In 1989 Dodge teamed up with Cummins to offer the 5.9L Cummins in their heavy duty pickup trucks. This quickly became a popular alternative to the large gasoline engines typically found in heavy duty pickups. Ever since then diesel pickup trucks have become a massive market in the US.

Diesels are far better for heavy towing than gasoline engines, which is part of the reason for their massive success in the US truck market. In this short article we are going to cover everything from engine specifications and real world applications, to getting more power out of the 6BT Cummins engine.

6BT Cummins: Engine Basics

We wouldn’t have the specs sheet without CumminsHub, so be sure to check them out!
The 6BT Cummins is a 5.9L inline-6, with an OHV designed. This is somewhat similar to the AMC inline-6 used in Jeep models of the time.

The 6BT has an iron cylinder block, as well as an iron cylinder head. While this makes it extremely heavy, it also makes it extremely strong. Strength is one of the 6BT’s most known features. Many people has pushed them past 1,400 horsepower, and the stock ones can exceed 1,000,000 miles if properly cared for.

One of the best features of the 6BT Cummins is its fully mechanical fuel system. This makes it excellent for an engine swap, because there is only a couple of wires needed to make the engine run. But, because of this you can’t just plug a tuner into it and make more horsepower.

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6BT Cummins: Real World Applications

The 6BT was the first in the Cummins “B” engine family to be used in a light truck. However, it was initially designed for use in Case agricultural equipment. Dodge struck up a deal with Cummins in 1989 to use the 6BT in their 3/4 ton and 1 ton trucks.

  • Agricultural equipment
  • Dodge Ram 3/4 ton
  • Dodge Ram 1 ton

Later down the line the 24 valve QSB (Quantum System B) engine was used in marine, agricultural, and construction equipment.

6BT Cummins: Performance Data

When the 6BT was first used in the Dodge Ram in 1989 it produced 160 hp @ 2,500 rpm and 400 lb-ft @ 1,600. While horsepower was down from the traditional gasoline engine, torque was up by quite a decent amount. In the world of trucks torque is really the number that matters.

In 1994 horsepower for the manual transmission models was increased to 175 horsepower, and torque to 420 lb-ft. Then in 1996 the power was increased to 180 horsepower and 420 lb-ft for automatic transmission models. Power for manual transmission models was increased to 215 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque.

Once again, we wouldn’t have this horsepower/torque chart without CumminsHub, so be sure to check them out!

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6BT Cummins: Tuning Potential

If factory specifications bore you to death as they do to me, then you’ll enjoy this next section. Who cares what the 6BT Cummins was like from the factory, what is it really capable of?

Well from what I can tell from poking around diesel forums, the 6BT’s bottom end is good for about 800 horsepower and 1400+ lb-ft. Anything past that and you’ll need a built bottom end. The transmission will either need a beefy clutch for the manual, or an entire transmission build for the automatic.

How can you easily get power out of your 6BT Cummins?
Since it has a fully mechanical fuel system, getting power out of it requires basically turning up the fuel. This is typically done by grinding down the fuel plate, or purchasing a performance fuel plate. The fuel plate controls the flow of diesel to the engine per a given RPM. Bigger fuel injectors are also very important for the 6BT Cummins.
Obviously the common upgrades like a larger exhaust also help the 6BT gain power.

RELATED: 4BT Cummins: Everything You Want to Know

The folks over at Hot Rod Garage were able to get 320 horsepower and 800 lb-ft out of their 6BT swapped 1973 Dodge Ram. They did this by installing a larger turbo charger, larger injectors, a performance fuel plate, and a larger exhaust. With those modifications they doubled the horsepower and torque.
I’ll put a YouTube video down below showing off how easy it is to get a ton of power out of the 6BT Cummins

Summary

So overall the 6BT Cummins is an awesome engine. It was the engine that truly made diesel pickups popular in America. The fully mechanical fuel system makes it great for engine swaps, and also makes it extremely reliable. Getting power out of it is as simple as turning up the fuel and bolting on a better turbocharger.

Let me know what you think of the 6BT Cummins in the comments below!

Author: Bryce Cleveland

Bryce is a die hard car fanatic. When he's not working on his Jeep Cherokee, he's beating it up in the desert. He started Dust Runners Automotive Journal in 2014 and continues to write content for it as much as possible.

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