We're done using the pages of OFF-ROAD as a dirt-style show-truck showcase, so when John Llado first contacted us about featuring his custom-to-the-core Ford Excursion, the first question we posed was, "Does it work?" Our tactless query was calmly answered. Llado replied that, yes, the Excursion was functional and that he had, in fact, taken it through the whoops in Glamis at 50 mph. While that was enough to pique our curiosity, we reserved final judgment until we were face-to-grille with the big Ford.
At first glance, this rig seems like just another too-tall, too-clean, too-bling fairground cruiser. Miles of chrome alternate with an ostentatiously applied blue coat, covering the length, breadth, and depth of the extra-large SUV. We were ready to lump this truck with every other all-show-no-go truck we've seen. Then we looked underneath and changed our minds.
The Power Stroke-motivated blue beast shares suspension technology with some of the most functional off-road trucks ever dreamt of and created in true-to-life steel and rubber. In place of ridiculously arched leaf packs that resemble the letter V, Llado's Excursion uses long links to locate the front and rear axles. The suspension links join midship to a subframe, starring in dual roles as a suspension-mounting platform and a drivetrain protector. To ensure safety and confidence while driving in the real world, front and rear antisway bars keep body lean at bay. To ease steering effort both at the steering wheel and steering-box mounts on the frame, a Lee ram assist mounted to the axlehousing adds hydraulic-powered input directly to the tie rod.
Let's back up a bit. John was first bitten by the truck-building bug as a kid growing up in North Carolina. Attending numerous mud bogs, tractor pulls, and Monster Truck events kindled an enthusiasm for custom creations that would eventually evolve into John's company, Wild Side Customs. After several of Wild Side's trucks garnered attention at SEMA, Ford Motor Company offered John an Excursion to build into a SEMA show-stopper. Llado was promised a four-wheel-drive model, but when the truck arrived, it lacked a transfer case and solid front axle. Since he was the privileged recipient of no-payment, no-interest financing, John smiled, said "Thanks," and went about building the Excursion.
Converting to four-wheel drive was the first order of business. An NV271-F transfer case was obtained, along with the proper transmission output shaft and adapter housing. A factory Ford Dana 60 took the place of the two-wheel-drive I-beams up front, suspended by Fabtech 8-inch leaf packs, which are attached to the frame using factory mounting brackets. The truck was now four-wheel drive. Life was good.
John's custom touches made for a get-you-noticed ride, and the Excursion costarred with rapper Busta Rhymes in a Mountain Dew commercial. During the shoot, Llado's Wild Side Excursion was subjected to 40-foot ramp-to-ramp sky shots and driven over cars. This action made for a great commercial but wreaked havoc on the truck.
With the Fabtech suspension ruined, John turned to Unlimited Customs' Frank Schettini for an extreme makeover. Schettini cut, bent, and welded the suspension system that gives this truck its functional side. Coilover shocks found their way underneath and equip the Wild Side Excursion with ride quality that rivals a Caddy, despite the weight of 38-1/2-inch Mickey Thompson Baja Claws at each corner.
We feel that our original "Does it work?" query has been more than satisfied. This truck is capable of trail work, commuting, and towing a loaded 30-foot weekend warrior full of sand toys to Glamis and back. Llado's Excursion truly rides the razor's edge between function and form. If you must build a show-'n'-shine champ, take some notes from the functional side of Wild Side. After all, if it doesn't work, then why build it?