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Silver Thunder

Posted in Features on August 17, 2002 Comment (0)
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Off-road racing is one of the most demanding sports on earth for so many reasons. To this day, money alone still can't buy a victory when racing across thousands of miles of treacherous terrain. No matter how long teams race, there seems to be no way to make an off-road race a guaranteed success. These vehicles and teams cover as many as 2,000 miles off-road at a time. With no foul-outs, no time-outs, and no half time, this sport is like no other. Sometimes with less than a month between races, the entire vehicle must be rebuilt with attention to detail that rivals FAA standards.

With that said, all a competitor can do to promote his success is surround himself with a reliable support system. This '84 Ranger is the perfect example of the reliable platform that has put Jerry Penhall in the winner's circle more often than not throughout his 27-year stint as an off-road race driver and fabricator. He has earned himself the ability to support his love for racing through his fabrication shop Penhall Fabrication.

When Penhall started his racing campaign, the truck was barely running. In the beginning, it was to be just a parts-chaser for his shop. However, since then, the little Ranger's goal has been significantly raised. Penhall's habit of making things better has led this Ranger down the path to a full-blown prerunner. The truck started its life as a standard cab shortbed. As it progressed, it was upgraded to an extra cab for more traveling storage. This shortened the bed a little too much for off-road use, but with the leaf springs, it was adequate. However, after a season of prerunning, Jerry was looking for some more wheelbase and more rear travel. The torch was brought out, and the chassis was chopped off as it came out of the cab.

This led to the formation of the perfect platform for the three-link rear suspension system. A 4130 chrome-moly tube cage was fabricated to support the suspension-to-be. Prep by Jake provided the 35-gallon fuel cell that was incorporated into the cage along with two spare tires. The three suspension links were created to form the new parallelogram suspension system. The chrome-moly links were triangulated and plated to secure the 9-inch Currie axle with 4.56 gears. The job of damping comes from a trio of Fox products. A coilover 2.5x14-inch Fox shock provides the spring rate and static damping. It is complemented by a 3x14-inch external bypass shock for position-sensitive damping. The remaining part of the 30 inches of progressive wheel travel are damped with a 2x4-inch Fox bumpstop on each wheel.

Four-wheel drive makes this prerunner different from most. Jerry has considered changing the truck to a two-wheel drive to get more wheel travel, however, one of the main parts of the Ranger's job description is to be able to tow the race car from any remote location in the event of a mechanical problem. The four-wheel drive's I-beams were taken from a fullsize Bronco. The dual 12-inch Fox shock-supported frontend produces 16 inches of wheel travel.Stopping the Ford is no problem with the four-wheel Wilwood Dynalite II disc brakes. Every one of the Penhall vehicles roll on BFGoodrich rubber. This truck rides on a set of extra-tough Baja Mud-Terrain tires mounted up to American Racing wheels.

The body of the Ford is comprised of a fiberglass hood and fenders from Perry's Fab and Fiber. It has a fresh coat of silver paint to match Jerry's race car and his towing vehicle. Inside the Ford are the essentials plus a few luxuries. The practical layout includes a pair of low-back PRP seats, with Pyrotech seatbelts.

A Sony CD player and a PCI Race Radio make up the interior electronics. Behind the seats sit a cooler and a pair of Dirt Bagz carbon-fiber tool bags. The custom aluminum dash supports a full line of Auto Meter gauges and a MOMO steering wheel. Of course, the street-legal truck wouldn't be complete without a heater and air conditioning.

Although the truck is built to go fast, the main idea behind the truck was to be Ford tough, and the powerplant reinforces this idea. The '92 4.0L V-6 is full of reliability enhancing upgrades. Built for long distance, the prerunner stays cool with a Ron Davis Aluminum Radiator. A Unique Metal Products air filter keeps the airflow into the engine clean for thousands of miles.

A Vanir Tech mass airflow sensor complements a larger throttle body, while a set of custom headers replace the stock manifolds to give the engine an easily added boost in torque. The engine bolts up to a stock transmission with an Art Carr cable shifter. The package delivers a reliable record. In all of the Penhall Race Team adventures, not once has the truck come home on the back end of a tow strap.

All said and done, this Ranger has purpose beyond any of the other team vehicles. It still gets used daily to chase parts. On the weekends, it's usually found in the dirt prerunning for an upcoming race. During the race, the Ranger is the main Penhall racing chase vehicle, a truly purpose-built work in progress. With more miles on it than all of the race cars in the Penhall stable combined, this Ranger sets the standard for off-road longevity.

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