There’s no such thing as the perfect vehicle. The more tasks you expect from a rig, the more compromises you have to make. Jesse Coss realizes this is true, but that didn’t stop him from building a truck that is very, very good at hauling across the desert and crawling over rocks. Is it a Trophy Truck? Nope. Is it a rock buggy? It’s not. But Jesse’s truck does a great job of just about everything.
He started 10 years ago with an inexpensive 1997 F-250 diesel with 630,000 miles on the clock. These trucks have TTB front ends, so the first thing Jesse did was replace the Dana 50 with a Dana 60 solid axle from an F-350.
Jesse drove it like that for years, but then over the last few years the truck has been upgraded with more horsepower and bigger shocks. Front coilovers and rear trailing arms with coilovers and bypass shocks allow the diesel rig to blast across the desert with reckless abandon, and while they weren’t inexpensive, the low entry price allowed room in the budget to add the high-end Fox shocks. The solid axles and 40-inch Pro Comp Xtreme MT2s, combined with the torque of the diesel engine, allow the Ford to crawl anywhere that the sheetmetal fits. That might not be perfect, but it’s pretty darn close.
Power comes from a warmed up 7.3L diesel with a 6.0L intercooler, turbo with a billet compressor wheel, 238cc injectors, a Super Duty 17-degree HPOP, and custom tunes from JeliBuilt. It makes enough power that it killed the E4OD transmission during our photo shoot, so we know what Jesse Coss’ next upgrade is going to be.
The interior of the truck is relatively stock, although Jesse plans to add a full cage soon. The custom center console holds a race radio, plenty of USB and 12-volt outlets, and switches for the front LED light bar and Eaton E-Locker.
When he cut off the back of the frame, Jesse cut the sides off the bed and shortened them to 3 feet long. The 128-inch wheelbase is still plenty long for the desert, and the shortened rear sheetmetal results in a better departure angle in the rocks.
The 7.3L has been marking its territory on the front axle, which is a ball joint Dana 60 out of an F-350. It still has the factory 4.10 gears, but they are now wrapped around an Eaton E-Locker that routes power to 35-spline chromoly axleshafts.
The front suspension is a three-link that uses an Artec truss to mount the 2x0.250-wall DOM links that are fitted with 1 1/4-inch rod ends from RuffStuff Specialties. The 2 1/2-inch-diameter, 16-inch-travel Fox coilovers are fitted with 300- over 350-lb/in coil springs to handle the weight of the diesel engine. Jesse wants to add bypass shocks to the front, but for now the Fox air bumps keep the suspension from bottoming.
The original Sterling 10.25 axle was retained, right down the 4.10 gears and the factory limited-slip differential, which Jesse admits needs to be replaced with an actual locker soon. RuffStuff Specialties brackets allow the use of Chevy brake calipers with discs from a Ford van.
The rear suspension cycles 26 inches of travel from 2 1/2-inch-diameter, 16-inch-travel Fox coilovers and 3-inch-diameter, 18-inch-travel four-tube bypass shocks. The shocks are mounted on box tubing control arms, and the tubular uppers are triangulated and tie into an Artec axle truss.
Jesse said that he added the huge 1 1/4-inch, 48-spline Nexgen sway bar after his first trip to the desert. He claims that it made a night-and-day difference in the stability of the truck at speed.
The secret to going fast in the rough is to transfer weight to the rear so the front suspension floats over bumps. This is why you often see race trucks with huge rear fuel cells, dual spare tires, and engines pushed way back. In Jesse’s case, he put his fuel cell, batteries, jack, and fullsize 40-inch spare tire in the back of his truck to balance out the diesel engine.
1997 Ford F-250
Engine: 7.3L V-8 diesel
Transmission: E40D 4-speed automatic
Transfer Case: BW4407
Front Axle: Dana 60 with 4.10 gears and Eaton E-Locker
Rear Axle: Sterling 10.25 with 4.10 gears and factory limited slip
Springs & Such: 3-link with Fox coilovers and bumpstops (front); trailing arms with Fox coilovers and bypass shocks (rear)
Tires & Wheels: 40x13.5R17 Pro Comp Xtreme MT2s on 17x9 KMC Machete beadlock rims
Steering: Factory steering box, RuffStuff Specialties tie rod and drag link
Lighting: Amazon LED light bar
Other Stuff: JeliBuilt tuning, electric fuel pump, 6.0L intercooler, shortened bedsides, trimmed factory front bumper, Artec trusses