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Stealth Prerunner: 1982 Ford F-250 4x4

Posted in Features on November 1, 2012
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It’s not every day you see a clean classic truck off road, let alone one that can rip through the desert at high speeds. Like most of us, Tom Webber wanted a truck he could drive back and forth to work but still be somewhat capable for camping and desert trips on the backroads of Baja.

His wife’s cousin had just purchased an ’82 Ford F-250 4x4 in stock configuration from the original owner. But after owning it for only six months, he lost interest and decided to sell it. Meanwhile, Tom and his wife were looking to upgrade to a larger, roomier, and more capable vehicle with four-wheel drive. It was just what they needed. A deal was struck and for the next four years they drove the F-250 with the stock carbureted two-barrel 302ci V-8 and NP435 manual until it went into storage for three years while Tom and his wife were living overseas.

The initial build began upon their arrival back in the states, with the addition of a custom set of 4-inch lift National leaf springs in the front as well as 10-inch-stroke Sway-A-Way 2.5 remote reservoir shocks all the way around. Tom tells us that suspension worked fairly well delivering 8 inches of travel. But after attending a short-course race at Estero Beach in 2003, he came across a big black ’96 Ford Pickup with coilovers. It was at that moment he decided he needed to build his own coilover front end.

He spent the next seven months designing and modifying the new front beams, extending the radius arms, and boxing the pivot points using a front F-250 frame section he purchased from a truck dismantlers. Tom built the entire front end on a frame jig so he could properly cycle the suspension and check for clearance, tolerances, and proper suspension component placement. He also made sure everything was bolted to the frame for maintenance reasons should he ever need to replace anything. His goal was to build a cut and turned coilover Dana 44 HD front end with uniballs that could reliably deliver 18 inches of suspension travel. Once the front end was ready, he pulled in his truck—affectionately known as the Baja F-250—into the garage and performed the transplant over a weekend and had the truck up and running in time for the Baja 1000 in ’03. Suffice it to say, the new suspension design did not disappoint. The Baja F-250 worked so well that Tom began flogging the truck faster through Baja without any issues and all while sticking to the low-key “sleeper” look.

Here you can see how the 1.75-inch, 0.120-wall DOM cage ties into the frame. Two Optima Red Top batteries sit on either side of the frame rail to provide plenty of electrical power for demanding chase sessions through the desert.

Tom’s initial build plan was to turn the truck into a slightly capable camping/exploration rig for the backroads of Baja but as the speeds increased, the snowball effect took place. One thing’s for sure, he built himself one heck of a stealth high-speed desert monster that can reel in the race trucks like nobody’s business!

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The Twin-Traction-Beam (TTB) Dana 44 HD was stuffed with a Trac-Lok limited slip with 4.56 gears to keep the front wheels moving while hauling the mail through the soft silt beds of Baja. After successfully running a set of custom National Spring leaf packs up front, Tom decided a custom coilover suspension was in order to survive the higher speeds he was encountering in Baja. He designed and built a custom cut-and-turned TTB Dana 44 HD suspension that uses 14-inch-stroke 2.5 Sway-A-Way Race Runner remote reservoir coilovers with Hypercoil dual-rate springs to soak up the whooped-out race courses of Baja. Tom also reinforced the beams with heavy skidplating and trussing to keep them true and straight through their 18 inches of wheel travel.

Tom enlisted the help of Darin at AUTOFAB Off Road Trucks in Santee, California, to build a complete rollcage for the F-250. The 1.75-inch, 0.120-wall DOM cage structure was painstakingly integrated into the cab and dashboard while Auto Meter gauges allow Tom to closely monitor the truck’s vital signs at all times. A Lowrance Baja 540C GPS navigation system keeps the minty green F-250 moving in the right direction throughout Baja while a Motorola Maratrac VHF race radio allows Tom to maintain contact with race trucks when he’s chasing during races. Although the early F-250’s had roll-up windows, Tom added power windows and door locks with custom power window control housings that seamlessly integrate into the custom aluminum door panels.

Tom built the Baja F-250 to drive hundreds of miles through the desert on end while also doubling as a reliable daily driver so he needed a tire that had good road manners as well as a tough carcass that could get him through the grueling deserts of Baja. He decided on a set of 315x75R16 BFGoodrich Mud Terrain KM2s mounted on 16x6.5-inch Centerline HT II aluminum wheels with fly cuts to allow the use of Alcoa flange nuts rated at 140 lb-ft of torque. Not surprising, Tom tells us he has yet to encounter a flat while blasting through Baja.

A Winters gated shifter sits atop a custom fabricated shift tower to allow Tom to row through the gears during hard charging off-road runs. Since this truck sees high-speed desert action, Tom decided a custom set of forest green tweed MasterCraft Safety Sportsman suspension-seats were just the right ticket for those long drives through the desert. The truck can still seat three people comfortably via a late-model Dodge 2500 center console/seat that was covered in the same forest green tweed material as the MasterCraft seats. You’ll notice that the driver and passenger MasterCraft 3-inch five-point harnesses are different colors – Tom tells us his very understanding wife of over 30 years loves Baja just as much as he does and as such he wanted to make the truck as comfortable as possible for her during long trips, camping and chasing. Robbie Pierce, the owner of MasterCraft Safety, helped fit her into one of their Sportsman seats to make it a perfect fit all the way around and when it came time to choose the harness system, she wanted the blue harnesses with the sternum clasp and sewn-in shoulder pads.

Tom’s goal was to build a stealthy prerunner that would not attract unwanted attention while driving through Baja so he tried to keep the truck as stock looking as possible. He even had C&H Auto Body & Paint in Santee, California paint the truck in its original Mint Green Metallic two-tone paint scheme. It’s no surprise then that he kept the original front bumper and built the 1.75-inch chromoly tube bumper and 3/16-inch aluminum skid plate around it to continue the sleeper theme. A set of Autofab fiberglass fenders with 3-inch-larger wheel openings and 2-inch pulled bedsides allow the 35-inch BFGoodrich Mud Terrain KM2s to stuff all the way up into the wheel wells while a pair of Hella Rallye 4000s light up the night in case Tom needs to venture through the desert in the dark. Hella 200mm E-code glass-lens headlights were fitted with a BajaHID 4600 K 50-watt conversion kit to provide adequate lighting while driving through dark desert backroads.

There’s no question that lots of thought went into building the bed cage and since the truck doubles as a chase truck, Tom made sure to make accommodations for all the necessary gear. Despite the bed cage being tied into the cab cage, Tom tells us that the camper shell is still removable – although it takes a couple of hours to undo the cage mounts. Any serious desert truck carries at least two fullsize spare tires and Tom made sure to factor this into his design while leaving more than enough room for a large storage box as well as safety and recovery gear. Things like this are important when chasing race trucks through Baja.

Under the hood lives a fire breathing 351W out of a first-gen Ford Lightning. An E303 camshaft along with GT-40 cylinder heads, stainless steel shorty headers and 1.7 roller rockers give the big Ford plenty of power to blast through the desert. Backing up all that power is a Ken Mogi-built E4OD automatic with a Derale oil cooler as well as a TSC Performance 1800 rpm stall torque converter. Although the engine is no slouch by any means, Tom tells us his future plans involve building a high powered 393ci stroker motor... we suspect it’s just in case he decides to nerf a trophy truck or two!


Vehicle: 1982 Ford F-250 4x4
Owner: Tom Webber
Chassis: Stock with rollcage front to rear built by Darin at Autofab using 1.75-inch DOM 0.120 wall tube
Engine: 1994 Lightning 351W V-8, 64cc Ford Motorsport SVO GT40 cast iron heads, Ford Motorsports SVO E303 hydraulic roller camshaft, Cobra R 1.7 roller rockers delivering .529 lift in both intake and exhaust, ARP hardware, Lightning GT40 aluminum upper and lower intake, Lightining SVO stainless steel tubular headers, Ed Hanson 3-inch high flow exhaust
Drivetrain: Ken Mogi built E4OD automatic transmission, TCS 1800 rpm stall torque converter, Darale oil cooler, Borg Warner 1345 T-case, TTB Dana 44 HD front with Trac-Lok limited slip, Dana 70 rear with 35-spline Detroit Locker, 4.56 gears
Suspension: Custom-built 18-inch-travel cut-and-turned TTB front, trussed beams with heavy skid plating and differential reinforcement, 14-inch stroke Sway-A-Way Race Runner 2.5 coilovers with dual-rate springs, 4-inch-stroke Sway-A-Way Race Runner 2.0 hydraulic bump stops, custom National Spring 10-leaf pack with Autofab two-link, 18-inch-stroke Fox Racing 3.0 quadruple-bypass shocks, 4-inch-stroke Marvin Shaw 2.0 hydraulic bumpstops with cross bracing tied into cage structure
Steering: Lee Manufacturing custom Delphi steering box, Lee Manufacturing modified power steering pump with -8AN and -10AN Aeroquip stainless steel lines, power steering inline filter, remote reservoir, Aeroquip -AN aluminum fittings
Brakes: Wilwood tandem master cylinder, Wilwood Superlite II calipers in rear, soon to have Wilwood Superlite six-piston calipers in the front, stainless steel hard lines with stainless steel braided soft lines, XRP -AN fittings
Tires/Wheels: 315x75R16 BFGoodrich Mud Terrain KM2s on 16x6.5 Centerline HT II aluminum wheels, wheels fly cut for Alcoa flange nuts rated at 140 pounds of torque
Interior: AutoMeter gauges, Mastercraft Sportsman seats upholstered in forest green tweed to match color scheme, Mastercraft 3-inch-belted five-point harnesses, Dodge 2500 center seat with fold down center console storage upholstered in forest green tweed, custom forest green tweed headliner, ’96 power windows and door locks with custom door panels, Motorola Maratrac 110 watt commercial VHF race radio with 99 channels, Lowrance Baja 540C GPS navigation, fabricated shift tower with Winters gated shifter
Other Parts: 5/8-inch wheel studs, Autofab front fiberglass fenders and fiberglass drop center hood, 2-inch pulled bedsides, custom fabricated 1.75-inch chromoly front tube bumper integrated with stock chrome front bumper, custom fabricated 1.75-inch chromoly rear tube bumper, 3/16-inch aluminum front skid plate, engine and transmission 3/16-inch aluminum skid plate, rear fuel tank skid plate, rear differential 1/4-inch skid plate, Hella 4000s with BajaHID Xenon HID 4600 K 50W conversion kit, Hella 200mm E-code glass lenses with BajaHID Xenon HID 4600 K conversion kits, Leer bed shell cut, fit and integrated over the rear bed cage and painted to match the rest of the truck
Favorite Off-Road Area: Baja!

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