How it used to look:
Note: I originally posted all the build information on this truck over on The Ranger Station, but that was long enough ago that Photo-bucket seems to have lost some of the older photos. So I’ve been re hosting and rewriting and re-hosting the photos on this site.
As the ’87 XJ was nearing the end of its wheeling life with me, I started looking for the next project. I literally spent several months researching what the next vehicle would be. The basic requirements were for it to have a frame, and a 5 gear. Eventually I stumbled upon Bray D’s build and my decision was made. With plenty of CL surfing, I found the next build platform, a 1994 Extended cab Ranger STX with a 4.0 and a 5 gear. At 218k miles on it when I bought it, that motor was by far the quietest high mileage motor I’ve ever heard. As an extra bonus, I’m the second owner.
I drove it from October 2010 and racked up about an additional 3,000 miles before I started building the truck up in 2011. I took approximately 3 months for me to finish the 1st rendition of the build, which I felt was pretty good considering the amount of fabrication that went into this thing with the Beb Bob and such.
The Project Goals:
I was not out to be the biggest/best rig out there, just something that suits my needs the best that it can. So this rig needed to be:
- Be road worthy
- I don’t often have access to a tow rig, and with the nearest off-road park being 2 hours away, I need to be able to drive the thing down there
- I don’t have the space to store a dedicated trail vehicle (this is a 2 car garage build in suburbia).
- This rig will take us out on our next vacation in MT. And it did, but it had a few hiccups (2011)
- Reliable as possible
- Since most of the trips are a decent distance away, I need to not have to worry about simple mechanical failures. That also means I need to build this as bomb proof as possible with the funds available (You’ll see a contradiction on this later on). With the 4.0/5 gear combo being what it is, I’m not too worried about mechanical failure in that department.
- The ultimate here would be to wheel all weekend, and park it without having to do any “real” maintenance to it when I get back from a trip.
- As Low as possible
- I’m not one for big lifts, so I’m going to try to compact this whole package as much as possible. This should help with the on road manners.
- Lower package should help keep the local law enforcement happy as well.
- Going by IL 625 I’ve got to keep the frame at or below 26” and the bumpers at 27/29” (F/R) (GVWR of 4500-7500 lbs)
- Within the budget
- The idea being that I can sell off my Jeep stuff and be able to pay for this build. Maybe I should call this thing “The Dumpster” since its getting all leftover parts from other peoples projects
In the end, the truck met or exceeded those goals, though not without some teething issues. By the time winter 2011 was upon us, the truck was pretty well ironed out and took us on many, many adventures.
- 1978 F-250 Full Width D44 Font with leafs
- Detroit with Yukon Shafts
- Wagoneer front leaf’s
- 1999 Full Width E350 D60 Rear with Discs (somehow managed to find one with the right bolt pattern, the bonus is that the spindles are already large enough for 35 spline shafts if I need to go bigger).
- Very loose LSD in the rear
- Chevy Leafs (63’s I think, might be 64’s, off a 4wd 1500) with a AAL
- 4:10 gears
- They worked, and the truck got the best fuel mileage with these gears, but I would often kill motor mounts in double low with this gear set.
- 1350/1354 Double (From D&D)
- Gave me about an 80:1 crawl ratio which was usable, but still left me burning more clutch than I wanted.
- 1” NHL lift (to help clear the Doubler)
- 37” Nittos on H2 rims (waaay to big for the D44, but they’ll work.
- Bed Bob
- A good friend did the body work for me, which was good, as it would have looked horrible if I did it myself.
- I wound up righ at 113” of wheel base
- Exo of some sort
- I tend to rub the tree’s a lot around here (see the XJ photos), so it would be nice to have some protection to allow me to open the doors after a wheeling trip.
This first version of the build worked pretty well, but it could have been better. While the Dana 44 held up okay, I kept killing ball joints with the heavy wheels on it. I also managed to shear off the high steer arm at which point I’d had enough of that and jumped up to the D60 front.
- 1979 F-350 Full Width D60 Font with leafs
- Spartan Locker (I love how tight this thing locks up)
- Wagoneer front leaf’s – “Stock” pack from Tear Grand Wagoneer (Much beefier than the stock 7 leaf pack)
- Spartan Locker (I love how tight this thing locks up)
- 1987 Surbaban Full Width 14 Bolt Rear
- Yukon Locker
- ’77 K20 Disc Brake swap using Ruff Stuff Brackets
- Bastard Chevy Leafs (63’s I think, might be 64’s, off a 4wd 1500) with a AAL
- 4.88 gears
- 1350/1354 Double (From D&D)
- 1” NHL lift (to help clear the Doubler)
- 37×12.50 .mil take offs and TWF Recentered H1’s
- Bed Bob
- Sitting at 113.5″ for the Wheel Base
- Its ugly, but it gets used hard every trip out.
This version of the truck worked extremely well. In fact, so well it made some of the obstacles out here too easy. I was often trying the hardest lines I could find just to get a bit of a challenge, and the truck would just keep on rocking through them.
The biggest draw backs of this version was that the low belly height and long wheel base often meant that some ledges would wind up denying me. The other hang up was the 14 bolt with 37’s, there just wasn’t that much clearance in the rear when aired down.
But all things come to an end, and this one was somewhat abrupt. My son was born in late 2013 which meant that the truck was suddenly too small for our family adventures. Try as I might, I just couldn’t find the room to squeeze a baby seat and the wife into the truck at the same time. So it had to go, everything was sold off and the shell dropped off:
In the end, there really weren’t many things I would have done differently on this build, though I should have started with an Explorer 🙂 Even after 4 years of hard wheeling, the thing was still remarkably solid yet so I was sad to put it down. Here are some thoughts on it after living with it.
Front SOA with leaf springs and shackles up front:
By using the flat wagoneer leaf springs, and shackles up front, you effectively get the same characteristics as an arched leaf spring with a shackle reversal. However, with the TTB framed rangers, you can keep the packaging pretty low. There were a couple of draw backs though:
- Lots of flex on short leaf springs means that the bushings tended to get munched quickly.
- With shackles up front, you need to run some sort of track/panhard bar to keep the steering from being too vague
- The wagoneer springs package real nice, but you can’t get them with a military wrap unless you get a custom pack made. That said, I never did bend my crown replacement pack, so it’s not a huge issue.
GM 63” Rear Leaves:
I wound up creating a bastard pack by cutting off a main leaf, and adding it to the pack with an AAL. I was amazed at how well this packaged flexed and rode. Enough that I plan on duplicating the setup again if I need another rear leaf pack in a future build
Consider your weight:
I originally thought that I would be able to keep the whole ranger package around the 5,000 lb mark, so I was a bit surprised when it frequently scaled in the 6,500 lb mark (once as high as 7,800 lbs!). I think there were times I was denied on some of the obstacles solely due to the weight of the truck. Also keep in mind that the heavier things are, the more likely you’re going to need the bigger components (one ton axles). Having said that, these things are pretty heavy from the get go so there is only so much you can do.
Go ahead and jump to the bigger axles:
I tried to make the D44 front work and it just wasn’t happening. While I never killed a shaft in the 44, I just couldn’t keep ball joints in the thing, the combination of a heavy wheel combo and the weight of the truck would just murder them. So if you plan on running 35” tires or larger on one of these trucks (extended cab/exo/skids), you’ll probably be money ahead by jumping into the one ton world. The counterpoint is that if you managed to keep things lighter, with a less heavy wheel packaged (reg cab/No exo/minimal skids), you can keep a D44 alive.
I’m still on the fence with the 14 bolt. Its main selling point is the cheap factor. But it is often a boat anchor, so running another axle out back may not be a horrible choice. People knock the Rear D60, but I never had any issues.
Running both 4.10’s and 4.88’s, I’d have to say that the 4.88’s were better. With the doubler, and M5OD transmission, it put my crawl ratio over 100:1 and gave me some good trail running ratios as well. Mileage did drop with the jump in gears as well (14.5 mpg with the 4.88 and 15.5-16 with the 4.10’s), but the drive-ability went up considerably. It’s also worth mentioning that the 4.0 will run down the highway all day long at 2500 rpms without a care in the world, and I killed less motor mounts with the 4.88 gear set compared to the 4.10’s.
Quite simply, if you’re going to play in the rocks with a manual transmission, you need one. Way more throttle control and much less clutch burning. I was one of the rare ones that didn’t have any issues ordering from Duffy at D&D. Yes there were a few issues in the beginning, but after those were ironed out, the thing performed perfectly.
Bronco II tank swap:
I’m very glad I did this swap. There are a lot of complaints about these tanks hanging down too low, and I found that never to be the case. Certainly not enough of a case to ever cause me issues on the trail, and the extra range was worth any issues it could have caused. For reference, the tank doesn’t hang any lower than the typical Jeep Cherokee tank (XJ), and is certainly more tucked up than a TJ tank. If the Jeep folks can live with low hanging tanks, then you shouldn’t have any problem either!
I never felt the need to run hydro assist on this truck, and in fact several of my jeep friends (with hydro) often commented on how easy my truck was to steer. It would have been nice to have a small ram to take some of the load off of the box, but I can honestly count on one hand the number of times that hydro assist would have helped. And I’m not certain that I wouldn’t have broken something while bound up during those times with hydro assist. Keep in mind that Ford used the same steering box on the F350 that they used on the Rangers. I will say that adding a power steering cooler did help quiet down the pump whine quite a bit on the hot days.
The Ranger Based Vehicle Platform as a whole:
As a whole, this is a great platform to start out with. The truck was driven to and from the trails, and wheeled HARD for the past several years with no ill effects. No cracks in the frame, no funky body panel fitment, and the A/C even still worked! The only real weak link in my opinion was the manual transmission (some folks never have issues though).
What would I do differently:
Build and Explorer! Seriously though, the only reason this truck had to be put down was due to the lack of space for my growing family. If I had started with an explorer, we’d still be rocking along right now, so consider future growth in your plans if your family is inclined to go with you.
The other things I would consider doing differently would be to run a different style of track bar, and shorten up the wheel base a bit more (I was at 113” ish). It got old crawling under the truck to remove the track bar before and after wheeling. And the wheelbase was just long enough that I would belly out on several obstacles, and the rear drive shaft took quite a few hits due to it being so long and low. I really don’t want to think about how much I have wrapped up in replacing rear drive shafts!
I would also consider building a smaller version of the truck. While it was fun to have the “big boy” axles and tires, it turned out to be a bit over kill for the Midwest wheeling I typically do. In a nut shell, most of the obstacles out here became rather easy once the truck was completed. So I found myself taking harder and harder lines to keep things entertaining. To the point that I would run any trail other than the “Rock Bouncer” type trails (not my bag). In running around in this Baby TJ, I’ve found that the easy/mild trails are fun again and I’m being forced to pay attention and work to wheel whereas in the truck it was very point and shoot. So keep in mind that bigger is not necessarily better.
So for now, we’re running around in a Cookie Cutter TJ since it was an “Instant Family Wheeler” and got us back out on the trails quickly. I foresee us going back to a RBV platform in the near future though as the Jeep doesn’t do the road time as well as we need it to. Edit: The cookie cutter is gone, and The Merc is getting built.
- NHL body lift (one puck) (Linky)
- Front Leaf SAS (Dana 44/60)
- Dana 44 and leaf springs and the D35 Tear out (Linky)
- Replacement Leafs from Team Grand Wagoneer (Linky)
- Leaf Mounts (Linky)
- D44 Test Fit (Shackle lenght) (Linky)
- Crumple Zone Plating (Linky)
- “K” Member Trimming (Linky)
- Final Leaf Mount burn in (Measurements) (Linky)
- Shackles and Front Cross Member (Linky)
- Front Shocks (Linky)
- Track Bar (Linky)
- HP Dana 60 Front (Linky)
- Rear Dana 60/14 Bolt
- Quick Rear Mock up and Bed Removal (Linky)
- Stripping the Rear and Quick rear spring location for 115″ WB (Linky)
- Rear Dana 60 (Linky)
- Rear Test fit and Chevy 63’s (Linky)
- Rear Test fit #2 and Leaf Mounts (Linky)
- Rear Leaf Mounts Final Location (Under cab) (Linky)
- Rear Add A Leaf to boost the Chevy pack (Linky)
- Bastard Pack (LInky)
- Rear Shackle Mount Final Location (Linky)
- Rear Shock Mounting (Linky)
- Rear Shock Moutning V2.0 (Linky)
- Shocking the Rear (Linky)
- Moving the Shocks out (Linky)
- Rear Bump Stops (Linky)
- 14 Bolt Swap (Linky)
- Driveline Stuff
- M50D Maintenance (Linky)
- 1350/1354 Doubler Build with D&D Machine kit (Linky)
- Crawl Box upgrade (1354 guts in the 1350) (Linky)
- 1354 Manual Linkage (swapped out the E case for a manual one, had to make linkage) (Linky)
- Aerostar Speedometer Cable (Linky)
- Clocking the Transfer Case (Linky)
- Bronco II Fuel Tank Swap (Linky)
- Stock motor mount modification (Linky)
- Extended Spare Drive Shaft (Linky)
- Doubler Shifter Linkage (Linky)
- Master Cylinder Fun! (Linky)
- 1354 Flange to Yoke Swap (Linky)
- New Transmission Cross Member (Linky)
- Updated Transmission Mount/Crossmemeber (Linky)
- Chaining Down the Motor (Linky)
- 4 Banger Gear Swap, using Plum Crazys Thread (Linky)
- Misc. Maintenance (Lower intake Fix and 2 row Radiator Swap) (Linky)
- Reid Knuckle Upgrade (Linky)
- Trans mount v3.0 (Linky)
- Bed Bob
- Misc Stuff (I’ll come up with a better name latter)
- First time streching its legs (Linky)
- The death of a Cherokee (Linky)
- Second Stretch (Linky)
- Fender Trimming (Linky)
- License Light (Linky)
- Winch Mounting (Linky)
- 2,000 mile update (Linky)
- Re-centered H1’s (Linky)
- Steering Update (Linky)
- Intermediate Steering Shaft Refresh (Linky)
- Military Take Off Review (Linky)
- 30,000 mile update (Linky)
- 1st Long Road Trip (Linky)
- 1st Offroad Trip – 2011 SIJA Jeep Jam at SMORR (Linky)
- 2nd Offroad Trip – 7/30/11 Washita MX (Linky)
- WY/MT 2011 Trip -(Very long vacation post)
- 3rd Offroad Trip – 9/24/11 Interlake (Linky)
- 4th Offroad Trip – 10/15/11 SMORR (Linky)
- 5th Offroad Trip -11/19/11 Washita MX (Linky)
- 6th Offroad Trip – 3/12/12 Interlake (Linky)
- 7th Offroad Trip – 4/21/12 Washita Mx (Linky)
- 8th Offroad Trip – 5/5/12 SMORR (Linky)
- 3rd Road trip -5/6/12 Ha Ha Tonka State park (Linky)
- 4th Road trip – 6/2/12 Valley Glades Mo (Linky)
- 9th Offroad Trip – 6/16/12 Washita Mx (Linky)
- 10th Offroad Tip – 7/21/12 Washita Mx (Linky)
- 11th Offroad Trip – 8/5/12 Flat Nasty Offroad (Linky)
- 12th Offroad Trip – 11/17/12 Flat Nasty Offroad (Linky)
- 13th Offroad Trip – 12/29/12 Washita Mx (Linky)
- 14th Offroad Trip – 2/23/13 Badlands Offroad (Linky)
- 15th Offroad Trip – 3/9/13 Flat Nasty Offroad (Linky)
- 16th Offroad Trip – 4/6/13 Interlake (Linky)
- 17th Offroad Trip – 5/18/13 SIJA Jeep Jam at SMORR (Linky)
- 18th Offroad Trip – 6/1/13 Moonlight Racing (Linky)
- 19th Offroad Trip – 7/27/13 Turkey Bay (Linky)
- 20th Offroad Trip – 8/24/13 Flat Nasty (Linky)
- 21st Offroad Trip – 9/21/13 Interlake (Linky)
- 22nd Offroad Trip – 9/22/13 Stocker No Locker at Moonlight Racing (Linky)
- 23rd Offroad Trip – 3/15/14 Moonlight Racing (Linky)
- 24th Offroad Trip – 5/3/14 Flat Nasty Off Road for SIJA Jeep Jam (Linky)
- 25th Offroad Trip – 6/21/14 SMORR (Linky)
- 26th Offroad Trip – 7/26/14 Washita (Linky)
- 27th Offroad Trip – 10/11/14 SMORR (Linky)
- 28th Offroad Trip -11-1-14 Moonlight Racing (Linky)
- 29th Offroad trip – 1-1-15 Washita MX (Linky)