Good timing is sometimes everything. Bad timing is, too. We first caught sight of Andy Stephens’ 1992 Ford Explorer at a desert cleanup event in Barstow, California. The Explorer was a clean prerunner, still sporting its original square-style grille, and still powered by the factory 4.0 OHV V-6. Hoping to schedule a photo shoot, yours truly placed a call a few weeks later. Too late: The dust was newly settling from a major Sawzall session. “I just finished cutting it up for a major rebuild,” Andy disclosed. We decided to keep in touch and possibly shoot the truck later on.
By pulling the powertrain and slicing the sheet metal, Andy had cleared the way for bigger and better components—a bigger engine, longer-stroke shocks, bigger tires, and a full-race rollcage. The leaf-sprung rear suspension was going by the wayside, too, and would be replaced with a long-travel linked rear suspension.
The 1992 Ford Explorer was primed for a major performance infusion. It was also on the edge of a giant abyss. Have you ever bit off more than you could chew? Many would-be truck builders do exactly that. Big plans lead to a big teardown, which leads to big-time frustration when time, cash, and motivation run short. The anticlimactic end comes when the project gets parted out.
Working in his garage after hours, Andy plugged away. Time was divided between the truck and his wife and son. Done right, this balancing act results in a completed truck and a happy, supportive family. Done wrong, everyone’s angry and the truck gets parted out, or the truck gets completed and the family gets parted out, not good!
Andy did it right. Three years after the Sawzall session, the rebuilt 1992 Ford Explorer was a reality, and his family was harmoniously intact. Andy emailed an update, saying the rebuild was complete and the Explorer was functional again. Confession time: I was a slacker about responding to the email.
About a month later, we happened to park next to each other at Milestone MX Park. Andy was there with his son, getting a newly acquired KTM 65SX dialed in. I was attempting to storm the Vet track on my KX125. Coincidence? More like a second chance served up on a silver platter. It was meant to be.
The depth and breadth of the rebuild is astonishing. The factory frame is still there, as is the Explorer’s body shell and front doors. Virtually everything else was re-worked, ditched, or replaced. A less-tenacious builder would have parted out the project six months in.
The 4.0 OHV V-6 is long gone, replaced by a well-built Ford 302 V-8. The front suspension is a stronger, longer-legged version of its former self. Out back, you’ll find a custom three-link rear suspension system that uses BTF trailing arms and Radflo shocks. A bow-to-stern rollcage connects it all.
Were all the late nights worth it? That can only be answered from inside the ’cage. Andy’s Explorer flies far and lands smooth. It erases nasty whoop sections and plasters smiles firmly on faces. Yes, it was worth it.
Got big plans? It’s good to aim high, but it’s criminally easy to slice off a bigger build than you’re equipped to complete. Andy’s skills and determination meant that the rebuild was never Mission Impossible. There is, however, no doubt it was Mission Difficult. Now, it’s Mission Accomplished.
Vehicle: 1992 Ford Explorer, four-door 2WD
Owner/Hometown: Andy Stephens/ Riverside, California
Engine: Explorer-model Ford 302 V-8, displacement increased to 306 cubic inches, custom-ported GT40 upper and lower intake plenums, ECU mods by JuanCo, custom-ported Ford Racing 306 cylinder heads, Ford Racing E505 camshaft
Transmission: Ford C4 built by Steve Culhane, reverse-pattern manual valve body
Front suspension: Custom J-beam and crossover steering built by Andy Stephens, C&D Fabworks steering knuckles, Pro-Am hubs, 14-inch stroke 2.5-inch diameter Radflo coilovers and bypass shocks, Radflo 2-inch stroke bumpstops
Wheel travel: 19 inches
Rear suspension: Three-link with BTF trailing arms, upper wishbone built by Andy Stephens, 14-inch-stroke 2.5-inch diameter Radflo coilovers, 16-inch-stroke 2.5-inch diameter Radflo bypass shocks, 4-inch stroke Radflo bumpstops.
Wheel travel: 25 inches.
Rear Differential: Secondhand Ford 9-inch trussed and tabbed by Andy Stephens
Tires & Wheels: 37x12.50R17 BFGoodrich Baja T/A, Method model 101 non-beadlock machined, 17x8.5
Other stuff: Rear-mounted radiator, three Beard seats, extensive Dzus-mounted paneling between the rollcage tubes, Rough Riders’ paint scheme by Jay Maglaya, shock tuning by AP Fab Prep & Shock Tuning