’93-’07 Ford Ranger
It may very well be the vehicle that holds the record for the most factory front fenders replaced by white ones, but the Ford Ranger is a bonafide off-highway machine. Much of the Ranger’s pedigree comes from its wide acceptance and success in desert racing. This, in turn, has led to vast aftermarket support for both the robust I-beam swing axle of the 2WD models and the stout Twin-Traction Beam of the 4WD trucks.
Ford redesigned the Ranger for the ’93 model year with a more rounded and aerodynamic look. This body, with minor changes in later years, would prove to be the last major body style change for the smallest Ford. The ’93 Ranger soldiered on with the venerable coil-sprung TTB front suspension and the available 4.0L V-6, which made 160hp (145hp on manual models) and 225 lb-ft of torque. When equipped with the 4.0L, the Ranger used a 27-spline Dana 35 front differential with reverse-cut gears and Dana 44-sized U-joints. Out back was the proven 28-spline Ford 8.8 solid axle located by leaves. Other engines available, but less desirable, were the 2.3L four-cylinder and 3.0L V-6.
In 1995, the newer Explorer-style dash was introduced to house the driver’s air bag and optional passenger airbag (not available until 1996). Other changes included an update of the four-speed A4LD transmission (itself an update of the C3) behind the 4.0L called the 4R55E. The sole manual trans option was the Mazda-sourced five-speed M5OD-R1. In 1997, the 4R55E was dropped in favor of the five-speed 5R55E.
- Stout TTB frontend
- Cheap and plentiful
- Aftermarket support
- Weak manual transmissions with bad slave cylinder design
- Sensitive to lift and alignment
- C-clip rear axle
- Factory limited slips wear out prematurely
Be on the lookout for:
Any ’97 4.0L truck. These were the cream of the crop and featured Dana 35 TTB, Explorer interiors, more powerful brakes, torquey 4.0L and five-speed auto
’78-’79 Ford F-150/ Bronco
The ’78-’79 Ford F-150 arguably wore the best styling of the sixth-generation F-Series trucks and came from a time that where the Big Three were duking it out for truck supremacy and adding creature comforts common in today’s trucks. It was also the generation that took the sales crown in 1976, a title that the F-series still holds today. It is no wonder why the F-150 was so popular, with solid axles (Dana 44 front and Ford 9-inch rear), coil springs in the front, and your choice of a full-time NP203 or part-time NP205 transfer case. Engines ranged from the bulletproof 300ci I-6 to the highly criticized 351M and 400M V-8, but the V-8s could be had with the Ford’s three-speed C6 automatic transmission, a major selling point at the time. From the driveline, right down to the heavy-duty frame, these trucks were overbuilt for their weight ratings.
In 1978, a shortened F-100 chassis was also the foundation for the newly redesigned and upsized Ford Bronco. Featuring a larger size, a new top design and a tailgate that held the retractable backlight, the Bronco finally had features that put it more in line with Chevy’s Blazer. The Bronco was only offered with the 351M or 400M. These trucks were the last of the solid-axled ½-tons from the Ford factory.
- Ford built a ton of them
- Solid axles and front coil springs
- Over-built chassis and drivetrain
- Engines choked by smog equipment
- Mediocre low-range gearing
- Little aftermarket support for M-series engines
Be on the lookout for:
The stronger gear-driven, part-time NP205 transfer case
’86-’95 Suzuki Samurai
The Samurai, which was known by various other names throughout the world, made its U.S. debut in 1985 as an ’86 model. The solid-axled Samurai, with its super-short wheelbase and compact dimensions made for an extremely maneuverable 4x4 on the trail, with some even comparing it to the similarly-sized and much-beloved Jeep flatfender. It was also extremely forgiving to drive, making it an excellent beginner’s 4x4. The Samurai offered a real two-speed transfer case with automatic or manual locking hubs.
Both a soft top and hard top were initially offered on this pint-sized ute, however, the hardtop was dropped in 1989 due to poor sales. Other changes for the ’89 model year, technically on the ’88.5 model, included those meant to better meet the needs of the North American market, including a new dash, bigger sway bar, softer springs and more comfortable seats. A lower Fifth gear was also added to make the most of the little 1.3L four-cylinder’s 63 horsepower. In 1991, a new 1.3L four-cylinder with a throttle-body fuel injection system was added, bringing the horsepower up to a barn smoldering 66. Fortunately the 2,000-pound curb weight of the Samurai made the 1.3L a better match in real life than it sounds on paper. If 1.3 liters is not enough fury for the tinkerer in you, engine conversions are popular and plenty. Kits exist to swap in a number of larger Suzuki four-cylinders, as well as 4.3L Vortec V-6s, and even Chevy small-blocks. For those who love oil-burners, a VW four-cylinder diesel is another popular swap.
Stock Samurai suspension is a spring-under leaf design, front and rear, and allows for 27-inch tires. This setup is easily modified with a spring-over kit that will allow for 32-inch tires. With bigger tires, weak areas include front Birfield joints. An uninspired 2.269:1 low range lends itself well to aftermarket support.
The last year of the Samurai was 1995. Low sales and stricter federal regulation all but ended the Samurai’s run in America.
- Easy to work on
- Limited space
- Hardtop models are top-heavy
- Low fuel capacity
Be on the lookout for:
’90 and later fuel-injected models