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Prerunners: The Next Generation

Posted in Features on August 20, 2003
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Contributors: Randall Jachmann

Concerning trends in the prerunner community, 4WD is the current buzz word. For the last few years, long-travel 4x4s have been seen in increasing numbers; race teams and civilians like the idea of using an all-wheel-drive machine to explore trails and race courses. And why not? Four-wheel drive is a terrific tool when prerunning or during high-speed trail rides because deep sand, the occasional mud hole, or technical sections that require relatively low speeds are ideally suited to 4WD.

Long-travel 4x4s, however, aren't exactly cheap to build, nor is there a large selection of bolt-on front suspensions capable of delivering gobs of front-wheel travel while sending power through a set of halfshafts and a quartet of CV joints. Most long-travel, IFS 4x4s are created by skilled builders and are almost always a bucks-up deal. Note that we said "most" of the long-travel 4x4 front suspensions are scratch-built and bucks up -- there is a niche following among 4x4 prerunner fanatics tuned into the long-travel capabilities of Ford's infamous Twin Traction Beam front suspension.

The TTB is best described as Ford's Twin I-Beam design fitted with a differential and axleshafts; that is, a large solid axle pivots from the frame and looks like a traditional solid axle with one end (the brake and hub) lopped off and replaced with the aforementioned frame-mounted pivot. The second traction beam is void of a differential, pivots on the frame's opposite side, and contains an axleshaft, hub, and brake assembly. The TTB design is heavy and complex compared with a standard solid axle, but it provides the desired 4WD capacity and can be modified to deliver a large amount of wheel travel.

All of which brings us to Conor and Elicia Swanson's Ranger. Conor, an airline pilot, purchased the Ranger several years ago with the intent of having long-time friend Jake Batulis build a long-travel 4WD prerunner. Batulis' San Clemente-based shop, Prep by Jake, is well known within the off-road industry as the creator of many interesting, unique, and functional trucks, and Conor's Ranger received mods in line with the shop's reputation. The Ranger's TTB front suspension was widened 4.5 inches on each side to increase wheel travel, then the TTB housings were fitted with Currie axleshafts, which are spun by 4:11 gears and a Drivelines Unlimited driveshaft.

At the same time, Jake modified the TTB's geometry, suspension pickup points, and related chassis segments, all of which were addressed to create as much wheel travel as possible. King 10-inch travel coilover shocks were installed, as were Fox air bumpstops, and when the front suspension was cycled, 15 inches of wheel travel resulted. The rear suspension design employed by Jake is clever and unique: It's a true cantilever setup, which keeps the dampers and chassis upgrades under the bed's floor, allowing the Ranger to be used for cargo hauling as well as hauling "A." The Deaver progressive-rate leaf packs are damped with King position-sensitive bypass dampers, which stroke through 10 inches of travel, but, thanks to the cantilever arms, damp 17 inches of wheel travel.

Fox air bumpstops are in place, and Jake fabbed a slick set of traction rods that limit wheel hop yet don't induce any measurable amount of bind to the suspension travel. The rear axle is a hell-for-strong 9-inch Currie unit, which was upgraded with 35-spline axleshafts, a Detroit Locker differential, 4:11 gears, Currie disc brakes, and a custom axle truss by Jake. Torque is sent to the axle through another Drivelines Unlimited custom driveshaft. Check the photos: The chassis is nicely crossbraced, and all the suspension components fit together like a well-planned puzzle.

Keeping with the "do not disturb the cargo area" theory, Jake out-did himself and crafted an under-bed 32-gallon fuel cell. Perry's Fab 'n' Fiber supplied the front and rear 'glass and the hoodscoop. The '94 SuperCab's cockpit is also nicely outfitted and functional. Jake built a center console, which houses Auto Meter gauges; there's an Art Carr shifter; a 10-disc Pioneer CD changer; Pioneer amplifiers and speakers deliver entertainment unrelated to the thrills that come from piloting the Ranger; and an Explorer donated its leather seats so Conor and Elicia could travel in comfort and style. The Ranger's powertrain is one of the few areas where Jake wasn't responsible for building the various upgrades, although he did manage to fab a custom airbox housing a K&N Filtercharger. The Ranger's bent-six is basically OE, but it's equipped with a set of Bassani headers and a Bassani exhaust. The OE four-speed automatic transmission was replaced with an old-tech, but way-strong, three-speed C4 slushbox. Brian Westlin at Transworks R&D modified and installed the new transmission, and he also fitted the Setrab fluid cooler and hooked up the Art Carr shifter. All the engine's plumbing, as well as the braided brake lines, use XRP fittings.

Riding atop 35-inch-diameter BFG Mud-Terrain tires and aluminum-alloy Ultra wheels, the Swanson's Ranger prerunner is a well-conceived and functional concept that excels during off-road bouts -- whether fast or slow -- thanks to its long-travel suspension and 4WD capability. If long-travel trucks powering all four wheels is the future of prerunners, then we're all four it!


Vehicle year/make/model : '94 Ford Ranger SuperCab 4x4
Owners/hometown : Conor and Elicia Swanson/Kingwood, Texas
Engine/transmission : 4.0 L V-6, with Prep by Jake airbox, Bassani headers, Bassani exhaust/C4 automatic transmission modified by Transworks
Axles : Widened Twin Traction Beam with Currie axleshafts and 4:11 gears (front)/9-inch Currie rear axle with Detroit Locker, Currie 35-spline axleshafts (rear)
Suspension : Built by Jake custom design, King coilovers, Fox bumpstops, 15 inches of wheel travel (front); Built by Jake custom design, King position-sensitive bypass dampers on cantilevers, Fox bumpstops, Deaver progressive leaf spring packs, track bar, 17 inches of wheel travel
Wheels/tires : Ultra wheels (15x7-inch)/BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain Radial (35x12.50R15)
vOther modifications : Hella 4000 lights; fiberglass fenders and bedsides from Perry's Fab 'n' Fiber; powdercoating by Embee Performance Coatings; Reflex spray-in bedliner; tinted windows by Laguna Beach Window Tint; Pioneer sound system; Art Carr shifter; Auto Meter gauges

0310or 01z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Front Shot Airborne Landing
0310or 02z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Front Shot Airborne Closer Up
0310or 03z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Front Driver Side AirBorne
0310or 05z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Front Driver Side Showing Full Suspension Movement Upon Landing
0310or 06z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Front Driver Side Shot Getting Airborne
0310or 07z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Engine Shot Showing Custom Air Box
0310or 08z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Interior Showing Custom Center Console And Gear Selector
0310or 09z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Suspension Arm
0310or 10z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Custom Built Gas Tank
0310or 10z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Custom Built Gas Tank
0310or 12z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Traction Bar
0310or 13z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Rear Suspension Set Up
0310or 14z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Rear Suspension Set Up
0310or 15z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Twin I Beam Suspension
0310or 16z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Behind Tire Photo Of Brakes And Suspension
0310or 16z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Behind Tire Photo Of Brakes And Suspension
0310or 18z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Underbody Front Shot Skid plate And Front Suspension
0310or 19z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Interior Shot Front Seats
0310or 20z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Rear Passenger Side Shot
0310or 21z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Front Passenger Side Fender And Tire
0310or 22z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Front Light Bar Grille And Skidplate
0310or 23z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Passenger Side Wheel Close Up
0310or 24z+1994 Ford Ranger Super Cab 4x4+Front Picture Of Grille And Front Fenders

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