If you’ve been a longtime subscriber to 4-Wheel & Off-Road, this 1997 Ford Ranger may look familiar, so don’t worry that your memory is playing tricks on you. It was once a project vehicle that first hit the pages of the magazine in 2007. I originally built it when I was feature editor. Over the decade, this regular-cab shortbed has seen quite a few adventures. In fact, it has been rolled and rehashed a few times since it last graced these pages in 2012.
After it was sold to the current owner, Kelly Baucom, the Ranger went back under the knife at Low Range 4x4. There the 1-ton axles and massive 39.5-inch-tall Pit Bull Rockers would find their way under the battered sheetmetal that lines the truck. We were fortunate enough to catch up with Baucom as he was testing out a new shock upgrade on the truck. We were able to check out the evolution of the build and everything that’s been done since it left the magazine spotlight.
Possibly the most surprising thing about this truck is that the original 3.0L V-6 still resides under the hood. It’s not the most powerful engine by any stretch, but thanks to serious gear reduction it works well for the type of wheeling Kelly Baucom enjoys. Yes, the Safari Snorkel is still functional as well.
Backing the original five-speed manual is a gear-driven Atlas II transfer case. It uses a 5.0:1 low-range gearset and gets power to axles thanks to a set of 1310 series, 0.120-wall drivelines from Tom Wood’s Custom Drive Shafts.
Replacing the Twin Traction Beam (TTB) front that came with the Ranger are a custom three-link suspension and a kingpin series high-pinion Dana 60. Inside the 1-ton front, 5.38 differential gears were paired with a Detroit Locker. The custom 1.5x0.250-wall steering links work with a hydraulic-assist steering system from PSC Motorsports.
Sitting in the fabricated coil perches are 3-inch-lift Jeep Wrangler TJ coil springs from Rusty’s Off-Road. These work with a set of Bilstein 5100 series shocks and a Currie AntiRock sway bar. Trail-Gear limit straps keep the suspension from overflexing, while Daystar bumpstops moderate uptravel.
Out back, you’ll find a GM 14-bolt axle stuffed with a Detroit Locker and 5.38 gears. The original drum brakes were ditched for a disc conversion, while a heavy-duty cover from Solid adds protection. Suspending the setup are 6-inch-lift springs from Skyjacker Suspension, along with a set of adjustable lift shackles.
To increase the departure angle, the bed was trimmed at the bottom and a custom 1.75x0.120-wall rear bumper fabricated. In order to make room for the massive 39.5x16.5 Pit Bull Rocker tires, the truck’s fenders were extensively trimmed. These knobby treads are bolted to 17x9 ATX Slab beadlocks.
The stock bench seat was swapped for a set of bucket seats from a Ford Explorer. The assortment of storage bins come by way of a few military surplus store ammo containers that fit nicely behind the shifters. The Auto Meter fuel gauge on the pillar is for the 15-gallon RCI fuel cell, which is bolted in the bed.
With limited interior room, an exo-cage comprised of 1 3/4-inch DOM tubing was built for the truck. Up front, a custom winch tray holds a Smittybilt XRC 9,000, while a high-clearance 0.120-wall custom bumper creates an unobstructed path for the tires to climb.
The Trail-Gear rock sliders were modified to work with the Ranger’s frame. You can also see custom frame-side suspension brackets, which secure the 0.250-wall control arms, each fit with Currie Johnny Joints.
1997 Ford Ranger
Engine: 3.0L Ford V-6
Transmission: 5-speed manual
Transfer Case: Atlas II, 5.0:1
Front Axle: High-pinion Dana 60, Detroit Locker, Warn hubs, 5.38 gears
Rear Axle: GM 14-bolt, Detroit Locker, 5.38 gears
Springs & Such: Custom 3-link with track bar front with 3-inch-lift Rusty’s Off-Road TJ coils, Skyjacker 6-inch-lift leaf springs, and Bilstein 5100 shocks
Tires & Wheels: 39.5x16.5R17 Pitt Bull Rockers 17x9 ATX Slab beadlocks
Steering: PSC Motorsports hydraulic assist
Other Stuff: 15-gallon RCI fuel cell, custom exo-cage and bumpers, Rough Country LED lights, Optima YellowTop battery, Safari Snorkel, Smittybilt XRC 9,000 winch, Trail-Gear sliders, Tom Wood’s driveshafts, Solid diff covers, Warn hubs