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Posted in Features on September 15, 2006
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A Diamond in the Rough
I'd like some advice with my seventeen-year-old daughter's project truck, which is an '00 Ford F-150 4x4 with a 5.7L V8 and an automatic transmission.

My daughter is a truck nut. When it comes to trucks, the more tricked out the better for her. This F-150 project, which my daughter is also working on, will be a graduation/18th birthday present.

I'm a contractor who recently got into the business of giving new life to late-model wrecked cars. When I was younger, I raced my own cars at Lions Drag Strip in Pacoima and cruised Van Nuys Boulevard in the early '60s.

We originally found the truck at an auto auction. It was completely stock and had been rolled somewhere out in the desert. The body was trashed, but the frame, suspension, and running gear were still good. It's a perfect base for a project street-legal trailrunner. I am planning to bid on a Harley Davidson F-150 that I saw, which will be the perfect donor body. We're going to combine the best of the two trucks.

Local shops want to sell what they carry and therefore give conflicting advice, so I am hoping to get unbiased advice from you. My plan, not my daughter's, is more show than go, since the truck will spend most of its time on the freeway and surface streets. But to be a good show it also needs to have the gear to go. The engine will be cleaned up to look good, but it will remain virtually stock for now. Money is always an issue; I am looking mostly for bolt-on parts so we can do much of the work. Saving labor means more money for quality parts. I am a big believer in quality. Any advice is greatly appreciated.Daniel R. JenkinsSimi Valley, California

Daniel,It sounds like a good project. Swapping bodies and frames is mostly a matter of dealing with the weight and bulk of the body you're swapping onto a frame. Plan on bribing several friends to come help heft the donor body onto the good frame.

You didn't mention what you have in mind as far as wheel and tire sizes go, so we don't know what lift height to recommend. We do, however, think that a bracket-style suspension lift will get the job done for your project. A bracket lift usually does not increase track width or increase wheel travel. It simply adds height and clearance for taller tires. We'd recommend looking for a kit that comes with taller replacement knuckles so that your upper control arms can stay in their stock mounting points. Look for good-quality welds and cleanly finished bracketry. Fabtech, Skyjacker, Superlift, Pro Comp, CST, and Rough Country are all examples of companies that make bracket lifts and have been in the off-road suspension business for many years.

One thing we feel strongly about is the need to regear the axles after you've installed larger tires. When you regear the axles with lower gears, you regain pulling power that you'll lose if you simply install bigger tires but do not change the gears. Consider installing a limited-slip differential in one or both ends of your truck while you're changing the gears. A limited-slip does not adversely affect street handling and does a lot to increase traction in the dirt.

Even if you choose to tackle the suspension installation yourself, we'd recommend having the truck professionally aligned. We'd also recommend having the gears installed by a pro. Gear installations are tricky and require using several special tools to get the job done right.

Travel Story Kudos
I was amazed to learn of the cliff dwellings in Mexico from the Turtle Expedition's Gary Wescott. Also, having read Part I of "Hole-in-the-Rock," I look forward to seeing the San Juan again as Larry Heck guides us through. Keep up the good work.Steve BrightTrevose, Pennsylvania

Hey thanks, Steve! Glad you enjoyed it.

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