Baja Shop Airs Out Its Ranger
After school when other kids were playing with their G.I. Joe action figures, AJ Rodriguez was at his family's fabrication shop. Playing in race cars and rolling himself down the alley in old off-road tires, AJ's love for off-roading began at the earliest possible age. As the current owner of Southern California's Baja Shop, 25-year-old AJ's obsession for off-roading and fabrication is now stronger than ever. Maintaining his desire to stay on the cutting edge of technology and quality, AJ is pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering. He has learned his trade wellover the past 25 years, and he plans to keep going for at least another 25 years.
His latest adventure began about a year ago. "I'm not doing anything to this truck. This is my daily driver and I am going to keep it stock." That's what AJ told his girlfriend Lisa when he brought home this '98 Ranger. At the time, he may have even meant it. However, he didn't realize his lack of will power when it came to fabricating his own vehicles. Lisa knew better though, "AJ has never left any vehicle he owns stock for very long, and history usually repeats itself." Less than three weeks later, he came home with a set of 33x10.50x15 BFGoodrich Radial All-Terrain tires mounted on some Ultra wheels. But they rubbed because of the stock fenders and stock ride height. Since AJ owns the shop, there were several simple solutions to his dilemma. By bolting on a simple lift kit or a set of fiberglass fenders, he could fix the problem. However, just like a kid with a unlimited supply of LEGOs, AJ took advantage of his resources and began to build up his latest obsession quickly, straying away from his original plan to keep it stock.
AJ knew that to really get into off-road driving safely and reliably, there were more demands than just a lift kit and some shocks. With these two ideas in mind, he went to work on the little Ford. He actually began with a simple prerunner bumper. This was the foundation for the rollcage. AJ built a 1-1/2-inch tube cage that extends from head to tail, top to bottom. With the rollcage complete, the groundwork was laid for the rest of the vehicle.
At this point, AJ faced the fact that the truck wasn't going to remain very stock, so it was time to work on the suspension. In the front, AJ built a set of custom-lengthened A-arms, which incorporated a set of 10-inch King coilover shocks. To improve fender clearance and high-speed stability, he built the A-arms to increase the wheelbase by 1 inch. The freshly completed front suspension system would now produce 15 inches of wheel travel.
The rear suspension design was left stock using leaf springs, except for the installation of a set 14-inch stroke King shocks. To accommodate these long dampers, a longer shock tower was built with the custom rollcage, giving the rear suspension 15 inches of wheel travel.