Does life imitate art or art imitate life? Neither Stu nor Vince Ackley was asking himself that question upon reading OFF-ROAD’s “$3K Thrillrides” story several issues ago. Instead, they both liked the budget-vehicle concept and decided they’d take it from our pages and make it into rubber-and-steel reality.
“We decided we wanted a cheap four-wheel-drive that got reasonable gas mileage and was either a Ford or Jeep,” Stu reveals. “If we got a Ford, we wanted the old-school Twin Traction Beam front suspension, and if we went for a Jeep, we were after an XJ Cherokee.”
After scanning the classified ads, Vince found a ’94 Ford Explorer Sport 4x4 offered by a private party in Brea, California. It was bone stock, humble, and amazingly clean. The Ackleys picked up the Ford for a paltry $1,300. In addition to the Twin Traction Beam (TTB) front end they were after, the Explorer had Ford’s tried-and-true 4.0 OHV V-6 under the hood and a five-speed manual transmission. This made a solid starting point.
The $3K Thrillride budget was taken seriously, and expenses were tallied and carefully planned to come in under the wire. The cooling system needed some attention, so a new radiator and fan were procured for $150. The original locking hubs were shot; the replacements set the budget back $300. A fresh set of BFGoodrich All-Terrains cost $720. The frontend was freshened up with a set of Napa’s blue-booted ball joints for $105. Completing the list is a quartet of Bilstein 5100 monotube shocks to the tune of $320. All told, the Explorer reached our photo shoot with a price tag of $2,895.
As for life and art imitating each other, the decision to create a 3K Thrillride after reading about it was a clear case of life imitating art (if you can call OFF-ROAD “art”). Now that the Explorer’s built and photographed, the circle comes about and art begins to imitate life.
“This thing’s over the top,” Stu comments. “It was dirt cheap to build, it’s a blast to drive, and you can beat the pulp out of it all day long. It’s way better than I expected it to be.”
We’re stoked on this $3K Thrillride. The Explorer, dubbed “Ron Burgundy” for obvious reasons, is proof positive that fun in the dirt can happen sans big suspension and deep pockets. Go, Ron!
|Vehicle:|| 1994 Ford Exporer Sport 4x4|
|Owner/Hometown:|| Stu and Vince Ackley/Yorba Linda, California|
|Engine:|| Ford OHV 4.0 V-6|
|Induction:|| Stock EFI|
|Transmission:|| Stock five-speed|
|Transfer case:|| Borg-Warner 1354|
|Front end:|| Dana 35 Twin Traction Beams|
|Rear end:|| Ford 8.8|
|Front Differential:|| open|
|Rear Differential:|| open|
|Suspension:|| stock front coils with spacer, stock rear leaf springs, Bilstein 5100 shocks, McKenzie’s limit straps in front|
|Tires:|| 32x11.50R15 BFGoodrich All-Terrain|
|Wheels:|| Stock Ford 15x7 alloy|
|Estimated Value:|| $2,895|
Ford Explorers from ’91 to ’94 are plentiful and rugged. Many lived pampered lives on the pavement. The body-on-frame construction is strong and long-lasting, and the front Twin I-Beam or Twin Traction Beam front suspension is a winner at producing big suspension travel at a low investment. If you’re looking for a budget build, it’s hard find a better base.
Bilstein’s 5100 shocks are a monotube design with custom valving for each application. They cost more than generic twin-tube shocks but are worth every penny. McKenzie’s limit straps aren’t mandatory unless you drive hard and occasionally air out your truck. With this truck’s owners at the wheel, limit straps are a must.
The front Dana 35 Twin Traction Beam front suspension has a 7.5-inch reverse-cut ring-and-pinion set as well as 1/2-ton-sized 297-X U-joints. If you use longer-than-stock shocks, it’s possible to get 12 inches of travel from a stock-width TTB assembly even with stock-length radius arms. This front end delivers bang for the buck in spades.