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Ford Invasion - SUV Wheeling

Posted in Events on June 1, 2013
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When we heard that Serious Explorations, an Internet-based Ford Explorer enthusiast community, was having their 4th Annual Ford Invasion at the Southern Missouri Off Road Ranch (SMORR) near Seymour, Missouri, we felt the need to, ahem, explore it a bit further. Hence, this is how we found ourselves belted into Gregg Muller’s ’95 Explorer, which was pointed down a trail with a collection of mostly Explorers both fore and aft.

Brad Baker’s plain white ’97 Explorer is a full-on “sleeper.” It looks docile off the trail, but get it on the trail and it turns into a crazy flex machine thanks in part to a James Duff bolt-on solid axle conversion. Up front is a chromoly-shafted Dana 44 axle with Chevy flat-top knuckles. Out back is a Detroit-locked 8.8-inch axle. Other mods include a ’92 Explorer frame, 5.0L V-8 engine from a ’98 Explorer, manual-shift BorgWarner 4406 T-case, Wild Horses Hi-Flow power steering pump, rear-mount ’91 Ford E-150 fuel tank, and 35-inch Pro Comp Xtreme Mud Terrain tires.

Serious Explorations is the brainchild of Rick Horwitz, of Phoenix, Arizona. In 1996 he created the site to show how capable the Ford Explorer could be. “In actuality, the Ford Explorer was as capable as any four-wheel drive predecessor. I knew it, and thought others should too,” he says. By 2006 the site had over 40,000 members and today the site has over 205,000 registered members. “These members represent stock as well as highly-modified off-road and street-cruising Ford Explorers, Mercury Mountaineers, Mazda Navajos, and Ford Rangers. Owners and fans of the vehicles share maintenance tips, modifications, and plan enthusiast events across the country and globe,” Horwitz says.

The Ford Invasion is one of Serious Explorations’ annual national events and it is typically held in the spring. Gregg Muller, the event’s organizer, says, “We’re all anxious after a long winter to get to the trailheads to see how well our mods work.” He goes on to say, “SMORR is a favorite place for our group to assemble together for a few days of trailriding, rockcrawling, camping, and a chance to see each other once a year.” The Serious Explorations crew is a friendly bunch, which is illustrated by the fact that the family-oriented Ford Invasion is open to all makes and models of 4x4 vehicles.

We were able to spend a few hours on the trail with a group of early arriving rigs on the first day of the three-day event. Our group contained rigs that came from Arizona, Michigan, Maryland, Kansas, and Oklahoma, as well as Missouri. We started off on easy trails and wrapped up on some of the park’s moderate trails. “The testing day really came in handy for some of us, as we managed to break three different types of axles, and a brake failure. All issues were repaired and trail ready by the end of the day,” Muller notes.

Throughout the day and evening participant numbers swelled at camp as more rigs arrived. Saturday was the big day that included lots of wheeling as well as afternoon competitions including a barrel race (won by a ’97 Explorer running 31-inch tires) and a four-wheel drive, low-range 50-yard drag race (won by a ’98 Mountaineer). A SMORR-prepared dinner followed by contest awards and a raffle ended the day.

In the end, we left the Ford Invasion impressed by the participant’s dedication to their chosen make and model of 4x4. These folks know their vehicles inside and out and many have made some fascinating modifications. You can follow the news about Ford Invasion 2013, and many of the other Serious Explorations local and national events, by visiting

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Explorer Envy?
The Ford Explorer has been a major player in the SUV market since its introduction in 1991 with over 6,000,000 units sold according to Ford Motor Company. This translates to them being easy to find and typically inexpensive. If you’re thinking of buying a Ford Explorer, go for either the first- (1991 through 1994) or second- (1995 through 2001) generation vehicles. Both came with full frames. The first-gen was powered by a 4.0L V-6 and had a TTB front suspension. The second-gen used the 4.0L V-6, but switched from TTB to A-arm IFS. Beginning in 1996 an optional 5.0L V-8 became available. The 2002 through 2010 Explorer (third- and fourth-generation) still used a full frame, but is less desirable, mostly due to the rearend of the vehicle being changed from a solid axle/leaf spring layout to an independent (IRS) setup. The 2011-and-up Explorer (fifth-generation) is a unibody IFS/IRS vehicle without a two-speed transfer case.

The Ford Invasion wasn’t just open to Fords. Angelo Garcia, a soldier stationed at nearby Ford Leonard Wood, joined Friday’s ride in his ’93 Toyota Land Cruiser that has 245,000 miles on the odometer. The rig has 4.88 gears, Longfield front axleshafts, a 4-inch Slee Offroad suspension lift, and 315/75-16 Goodyear MT/R tires.

Solid Axle Sport Trac
It’s not every day you see a Ford Explorer Sport Trac with a solid front axle conversion. Chad Merry of St. Louis, Missouri, owns this Sport Trac and he arrived as we were leaving the park, but we had to stop to snap a couple photos of this unique machine. The front IFS has been replaced by a Dana 44 axle that has 4.56 Yukon gears, an ARB Air Locker, Superior chromoly axleshafts, CTM U-joints, Warn hubs, knuckles from Parts Mike, and high-mount steering. The suspension is a simple leaf spring setup that uses Jeep Grand Wagoneer seven-leaf packs. The rig rolls on 35-inch tires

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If you haven’t been to Southern Missouri Off Road Ranch you need to get there. The park, located about five miles south of Seymour, Missouri, covers 943 acres and features well-marked trails that run the gamut from easy to hardcore. The gent you see in this photo is Brandon Powell, and he’s one of the folks responsible for creating this amazing wheeling destination. Calling it a ranch is truth in advertising because from the road it looks exactly like a ranch. Don’t be shy, though. Drive up the long lane and you’ll be greeted with some of the nicest facilities found at an off-road park. Clean, air-conditioned and heated bathroom and shower facility, kids playground, 45 campsites, and more, are on tap at this impressive park. Gobs of info and photos of the park can be found at The SMORR website even offers a downloadable trail map and GPS files of the park.

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