What To Do When Bolt-Ons Aren't An Option
Need to build a Jeep for the trail? Few things could be easier. Wanna build a Toyota trail rig? Close to a slam dunk. Now suppose you want to modify your Ford Ranger for trail work. That's a little tougher. While Ford Rangers have proven themselves as one of the best trucks ever built for prerunning and desert racing, they're not established to the same degree in the trail riding world. Matt Cawley of Tuscon, Arizona, can tell you all about it.
Matt picked up his '00 Supercab Ranger Flareside for 'a whale of a deal' with commuting and mountain biking in mind. The Ranger was adept at getting Matt to work and at transporting its owner and his mountain bike to various Arizona mountain bike trailheads. Over time, however, Mr. Cawley decided that trail riding in his truck might be just as much fun as trail riding on his bike had been. A transformation began.
The Ranger had to remain street legal, and it had to be comfortable enough and practical enough to continue its daily driving duties. Loads of cash weren't on hand, so the stock drivetrain needed to remain in place. The parameters set, Matt started choosing parts. Thirty-three-inch BFG Mud-Terrain T/A's wrapped around black steel wheels did the traction trick without overwhelming the stock axle ratios or the CV joints in the front drive system. Room was made for the BFG's using an RCD Suspension 5-1/2-inch lift system. That's were the simplicity ended.
To cope with the abundant and sizeable Arizona rocks, Matt's truck needed a pair of rock sliders. A lengthy internet search turned up nothing ready-made, but it did reveal a shop in Salt Lake City, Utah offering to fabricate rock sliders for any application. Matt called the shop, and found that said shop wasn't very interested in fabbing any 'sliders for his truck. "I had to shame them into it," Matt relates. "They said they wouldn't make any rock sliders for my truck until I reminded them that their website stated that they'd make rock sliders for any application." The Ranger paid a visit to the shop and came away with a fine set o' sliders.
Any trail rig needs storage space, and while an empty truck bed has plenty of available cubic feet, it offers few provisions for securing specific tools and trail essentials. Unsecured tools and spares that slosh around in a truck bed usually end up pounded into rubble by the time they're needed, at which point they're worthless. As with the rock sliders, no company offered a specific trail rack for a Ford Ranger bed, much less a Ford Ranger Flareside bed. Undaunted, Matt used his professional engineering skills to draw in CAD what his imagination had conjured up. A local welding shop took the drawing and created it in metal.
We had the chance to join Matt in northern Arizona for some trail time. With its combination of ready-made and custom-created hardware, this Ranger has transformed from a mild-mannered daily driver into a versatile rig capable of going where its fresh-from-the-factory counterpart would rightfully fear to tread. Chivo Falls, Box Canyon to Martinez Cabin, Upper Ajax Mine, Telegraph Canyon, Rice Peak, and Gunsight Pass are Matt's favorite trail destinations close to home. During the trip to Sedona for our photo session, we added Schnebly Hill Road, Broken Arrow, and Smiley Rock to Matt's "done" list.
Will this Ranger be taken to the next level? Are a solid front axle and a crawler box in the offing? Probably not. "As much as I like my Ranger, I notice its limitations," Cawley confesses. "I could go further into custom parts with this Ranger, but when I'm able to build a rig for the hardcore trails, I'll probably start with a Jeep Wrangler. They're just too easy to build." In the mean time, Matt and his Ranger still enjoy plenty of trails on the Ford side of life.