Popularity of rigs isn’t always determined by capability. Often it depends on marketing, aftermarket support, and perception. Consider how much more common the Toyota FJ Cruiser is on the trail than the Hummer H3, despite a lot of similarities on paper between the two vehicles. Similarly, we see dozens of Jeep Cherokees and Toyota 4Runners on the trail for every Ford Explorer. Mitch Bergsrom recognized the potential in the Explorer platform though.
After wheeling a Bronco II, Mitch upgraded to a 1992 Explorer last year. These vehicles are cheap and abundant, with great factory parts like a 4.0L V-6 engine, a fully boxed frame, and a 8.8 rear axle. The downside to Explorers, particularly when compared to Cherokees and 4Runners, is the lack of aftermarket support. There aren’t dozens of suspension and bumper options for Explorers. That doesn’t mean they can’t wheel; it just meant that Mitch and his buddy Lance Morgan had to break out the welder and get creative. Mitch was rewarded for his hard work with a capable wheeling rig that is unique without breaking the bank.
The front axle is a Dana 44 from a 1970s Ford F150. It has a high-pinion centersection and has been upgraded with 5.13 gears, a Spartan locker, and Ten Factory chromoly axleshafts to withstand the spinning Creepy Crawlers without spitting out parts.
First-generation Explorers came with twin traction beam (TTB) front suspension and radius arms from the factory. Mitch Bergstrom tossed those parts for simple leaf springs, using Ruff Stuff spring hangers. The springs are Alcans intended for a YJ and work in conjunction with Skyjacker shocks and Timbren bumpstops that keep the tires out of the fenders.
Recovery is handled by a Smittybilt XRC 9.5 Comp winch mounted on a custom bumper with a Smittybilt winch plate. The “Comp” designation on the winch refers to the use of synthetic cable and the aluminum hawse fairlead. EBay budget LED lights flank the winch and provide plenty of illumination for night wheeling.
Power comes from the factory 4.0L V-6 that has 180,000 miles on it. The “Cologne” OHV V-6 was rated at 155 hp, making it comparable to the 4.0L engine used in Jeeps and more powerful than four-cylinder Toyotas. The engine is mated to the original A4LD transmission and BorgWarner 1354 transfer case.
Ford 8.8 rear axles are universally appreciated, and many of them have found their way under Jeeps over the years. These axles are comparable in strength to a Dana 44, with 8.8-inch ring gears and 28- or 31-spline axleshafts. Mitch’s Explorer has the 28-spline axleshafts and drum brakes, but the diff has been upgraded with 5.13 gears and a welded differential under the Riddler diff cover. Wheel adapters change the bolt pattern from 4-on-4 1/2 to 5-on-5 1/2 to match the front axle.
From the factory, Explorers come with leaf springs under the rear axle. Mitch used the age-old trick of relocating the leaves above the axle to provide enough lift to fit the 37-inch Maxxis tires. The springs were flipped from end to end to stretch the wheelbase and Chevy S10 bumpstops on custom mounts that keep the tires out of the fenders.
Mitch built a rear bumper out of 2x3-inch box tubing with a receiver hitch. While he doesn’t do a lot of towing with the Explorer, it is a useful recovery point. The bumper does not wrap around the corners of the Explorer, but Mitch did cut the rear fenders to maximize ground clearance.
The interior of the Explorer was left stock, leaving Mitch with more money in his pocket to spend on wheeling trips. He did add a double DIN head unit and a Baofeng handheld ham radio for communications on the trail.
The rubber meets the road with 37-inch Maxxis Creepy Crawlers mounted on 15-inch steel rims. “I have been really impressed with these tires. This is my second set,” Mitch says. “They work great everywhere—mud, rock, even snow.”
1992 Ford Explorer
Engine: 4.0L V-6
Transmission: A4LD 4-speed automatic
Transfer Case: BW1354
Front Axle: Dana 44 with 5.13 gears, Spartan Locker, and Ten Factory chromoly axleshafts
Rear Axle: Ford 8.8 with 5.13 gears and a welded differential
Springs & Such: Alcan leaf springs and Skyjacker shocks (front); flipped and sprung-over factory leaf springs (rear)
Tires & Wheels: 37x12.50R15 Maxxis Creepy Crawlers on 15x8 Pro Comp steel wheels
Steering: Factory steering box with 4-inch drop pitman arm and Ruff Stuff 1-ton Y-link steering kit
Lighting: LED lights bought on eBay
Other Stuff: Custom bumpers and rock sliders, Smittybilt XRC 9.5 winch