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“I tend to like the weird and unique stuff,” explains Mo Lones, the owner of LSXKILR Custom Calibrations in Bonner Springs, Kansas. “In the early 2000s I was building a Lincoln Mark VIII, and back then if you walked into a local speed shop with something that wasn’t a Camaro or a Mustang, they’d basically tell you that they couldn’t help you. So that led me down this road of just doing it myself. Eventually I became the guy to go to if you had some oddball, obnoxious build.”
While LSXKILR Custom Calibrations is happy to swap a new camshaft into an F-body, slap a supercharger on a Mod motor, or help a gearhead get their tune dialed in, Lones’ favorite projects tend to stray from the beaten path. So, when the shop’s recently-purchased 1982 Caterpillar 1404 forklift started acting up, he decided to take an unconventional, but ultimately more comprehensive, approach to solving the problem.
Nobody likes a tempermental forklift. This Caterpillar 1404 needed a five-minute wake-up just to be ready to work.
“We bought it for day-to-day shop stuff – loading and unloading engines, moving the dyno around, and that kind of thing,” he says. “But even after we gave it a tune-up, we were constantly having issues with the carburetor. We had this Gatorade bottle full of ethanol that we’d squeeze into the carb, and you’d have to baby it for two or three minutes just to get it to idle. It was a real hassle, and parts for that carburetor just aren’t readily available. One day I was just like, ‘Let’s just Holley swap this thing and be done with it.’ So that’s what we did.”
Lones soon determined that the Sniper EFI Autolite 1100 would be the best option the replace the single-barrel carb on the Caterpillar’s 163ci four-cylinder engine. But getting the new EFI system to play nice with the power plant, and dialing it in for the unique requirements of the application, required a little more legwork than a typical plug-and-play EFI swap.
The Caterpillar's 163ci four-cylinder engine is now being fed by a Sniper Autolite 1100 EFI system. The throttle cable is a modified 1996-1998 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra piece, and the throttle position sensor has been spaced away to keep it away from the exhaust manifold.
“Forklifts have a governor built in from the factory to hold it at a specific RPM,” he points out. “That way someone can’t hop in, floor it, and send the engine RPMs to the moon. We wanted to retain that functionality so that anyone could get in and use the forklift safely. And that was a challenge because the factory carburetor was designed to move the throttle in one direction, and the Sniper system’s plate was designed to move in another.” The team determined that converting the rod linkage over to a physical cable at a certain point in the chain would be the best way to address the orientation problem, so they snagged a cable from the intake manifold runner control system of the ’96-’98 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra. Looping it over allowed the throttle linkage to pull in the right direction.
“The other thing we needed to address during the install was the Sniper’s throttle position sensor,” he tells us. “If we had just bolted the Sniper system up to the intake on the forklift, the throttle position sensor would have been resting on the exhaust manifold. That obviously wasn’t going to work because it would have ended up melting the throttle position sensor, so we needed to figure out a way to create some space between the two.” Fortunately they found an exhaust manifold primary from a diesel engine that was ideally suited to serve as a spacer, and that allowed them to create some breathing room between the Sniper system and the intake flange, in turn moving the throttle position sensor further away from the exhaust manifold’s heat.
To ensure that the system would receive accurate readings, they shaved and welded up the included O2 bung to the Caterpillar’s exhaust pipe. “On a forklift that pipe is really tiny,” Lones notes. “So, we couldn’t just clamp it on – it would have had exhaust leaks.” The coolant temperature sensor was a more straight-forward proposition, however, as threaded factory plugs allowed the team to make the connection without any fuss.
The Sniper's 3.5-inch touchscreen handheld is handy for monitoring the engine as a gauge cluster.
Once the system was all hooked up, the crew at LSXKILR Custom Calibrations turned their attention to the EFI system’s calibration. “At that point I fired up the Sniper software on my laptop and created a baseline tune for this engine. And once we had it started up, I used the USB-to-CAN cable to dial it in from there for start-up fuel, tip-in, and things like that.”
The shop worked on the project during downtime over the course of about four days, and it appears to have been well worth the effort. “It’s a night and day difference. Now you can just start it up and go. It doesn’t have to be coaxed into idling, so I don’t have to give a five-minute tutorial on how to use it. It feels like a much newer forklift.”
And now that it’s back in service, Lones also has some ideas about how he can take the new setup even further. “When you operate a forklift, there are situations where it’s going to be stationary and you’ll need to move the forks up or down, or side to side. So I was thinking about using an advanced table and one of the inputs / outputs to trigger it to automatically go into a high idle if you operate the levers for the forks. Normally you’d have to press the gas to throttle it up for more hydraulic pressure to raise the forks, but it’d be nice if it just did that on its own. And the Sniper system has the ability to do that.”
But that upgrade might have to wait until the shop has some extra time to spare. Right now, projects like "The Frightening" are taking precedence. “It’s kind of our take on the F-150 Lightning,” Lones says. “It has a built Ford 6.8-liter V10 in it, and it’s getting a 91mm turbo as well. Not sure how much power it will make, but it’ll be a lot.”