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2003 Ford F-150 Prerunner - Under The Knife

Posted in Features on July 1, 2009
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Photographers: Lisa Cassel

When is it the right time to cut up a perfectly functional truck in the name of off-road performance? Some wait until the warranty period is passed. Some hold off until they've collected a pile of upgrade parts. Others dive in headfirst as soon as they realize they want something smoother, stronger, and faster.

Shawn Cassel, of Folsom, California, falls into that last group. "I went to Glamis a few years ago with my truck, and I thought I'd do pretty well," he recalled. "At the time, it had a bolt-on lift kit, long-travel leaf springs, and a bed cage for the rear shocks. Instead of dominating, I got chewed up and spit out." Shawn decided it was time for a major change. "I bought my '03 F-150 Supercrew new, and I cut it up with only 9,000 miles on it."

Fortunately for Shawn, the F-150 platform is supremely popular and well-supported by the aftermarket. The front lift kit came off and was replaced with a long-travel H&M Motorsports suspension system. The Supercrew's hindquarters received similar treatment: the leaf springs were set aside in favor of H&M's 4-link suspension.

Purchasing and installing the H&M components was the easy part. Connecting the dots front-to-rear with a full roll cage was tougher. Instead of taking his truck to a SoCal shop and handing it off, Shawn plunged in and built the `cage in his garage, supported by the helping hands of his wife, Lisa. The two cut, bent, notched, and welded a triangulated maze of 1.75-inch .120-wall tubing that surrounds all four seats and reinforces the entire chassis.

There's a similar story under the hood. The 5.4 Triton is a good engine and the E4OD is a good tranny, but this combo isn't as tough or as off-road proven as a 351 Windsor and a C-6. The '03 drivetrain was set aside and was replaced by a 351 bored and stroked to 422 cubic inches. The stroked 351 is backed by a C-6 three speed with a manual valve body. Aft of the C-6 you'll find a Gear Vendors overdrive unit. "That's actually my favorite part of the truck," Shawn told us. "The Gear Vendors lets me go all the way to 110 mph even with the three-speed tranny and the low gears in the axle."

After first talking to Shawn in late '05, we were finally able to catch up with him during a Glamis trip in late '08. There's plenty to gawk at (and photograph) on this truck, but a bit of seat time was mandatory for a proper evaluation. With Shawn at the controls and all four five-point harnesses cinched into place, we motored through the dunes at warp speed. How does it ride? It's buttery smooth. It flattens the bumps and soaks up the landings. The 1.75-inch `cage tubing ensures safety and inspires confidence. We're glad Shawn didn't wait to put his Supercrew under the knife.

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