Yep, our project F-150 is done. The fat lady is singing at the top of her lungs. The first installment of the ol' Redhead published in the Jan. '04 issue of Four Wheeler, but new parts actually started going on the truck as early as the Nov. '03 issue. You can see we haven't been in any hurry.
We purchased the truck from Shults Auto Sales in Crystal Lake, Illinois. This is where we met Bryan Cooper. He's a fellow wheeler with an office decorated in all things four-wheel drive. He was more than a little surprised when some dude from Four Wheeler showed up with a creeper and a flashlight, and dove under the bone-stock truck to begin inspecting the important stuff. Age notwithstanding, the truck looked to be in good shape, so we did the deal and drove it home. We figured that since the F-150 was a mega-mass-produced vehicle, it would be an easy build. Um, we were sort of right.
Here's the thing that hosed us: Rust. It added complexity to the build in more ways than we imagined. After more than a decade in the Rust Belt, our F-150 was suffering from this standard Snow Belt ailment. There were days when a simple install didn't turn out to be so simple thanks to corrosion. There were days when Matt Dinelli at the Redhead's Official Buildup Shop, Attitude Performance, had to give us a ride to a rental car office so we could rent a car to get home. There were times when we were all convinced that the Redhead was going to permanently occupy one of Attitude's hoists. We began giving the truck nicknames. "Satan" was the most popular.
In the end, due to sheer persistence, we overcame the effects of road salt and age, and we created a rig that serves us well. One thing we did assume correctly was that the aftermarket has the F-150 covered. If you need it, it's out there. We were impressed at the sheer volume of items available to restore and improve these vehicles. Thanks to the aftermarket, it really is possible to make an older truck like this better than new. Many of the parts and companies we used on this project are available for a wide range of vehicles, so this info probably applies to you.
Our goal was to build a multifaceted rig that could do it all. It had to be capable off-highway. It had to be reliable. It had to look good. We screwed up a couple of things along the way, and there are a couple of things we wouldn't do again. Overall, though, we're happy with how it turned out.
Surprisingly, we never had to touch the internals of the 5.0L V-8. Once we solved some issues with rusty Ford vacuum reservoirs and screwed in some Bosch spark plugs, it ran really well. Thanks to the help of the Bassani headers, dual exhaust, and the K&N FIPK intake, it actually makes adequate power for what we do. Oil changes are easy and rare, thanks to the Performance Products dual oil-filter kit. The Mean Green 200-amp alternator and high-torque starter have worked flawlessly, as has the Wrangler Northwest Power Products Battery Management System and dual battery setup with Optima Yellow Top batteries. We've never once had to worry about overtaxing our electrical system with this setup. We'd definitely install this system again. Power is routed through a Valley Transmission-rebuilt E4OD that has been fitted with a JET Performance pan. The power is then split to the Suburban Driveline-built driveshafts via a Borg-Warner 13-56 transfer case which was rebuilt by Top Gun Racing Automatics using Motive Gear rebuild parts.
Drilling out the factory rivets in the front TTB suspension was no fun, but it was all worth it to get the Rancho 4-inch suspension kit installed. Rust forced us to order two new radius-arm frame mounts from Ford. We've had no issues with this kit, and we dig the adjustability of the Rancho RS 9000X shocks. The team at Custom Differentials rebuilt the front end for us with Motive Gear 4.10:1 gears, Warn Premium hubs, and new ball joints and U-joints from Randy's Ring & Pinion. No problems there, either. They also installed a Detroit Truetrac limited-slip differential, which has far exceeded our expectations. It's a fantastic limited-slip.
The stock 8.8-inch rear axle was rusty worn-out junk, so we swapped in this Dynatrac Dana 60 with disc brakes and Motive Gear 4.10:1 ring-and-pinion. After several years of service (and abuse), it has performed flawlessly. Some may think that it's overkill on a 1/2-ton rig with a small V-8 and 33-inch tires, but every time we tow, haul, and wheel we have the peace of mind that Your Highness brings. We also fitted the axle with a Detroit Electrac electric locking differential (now discontinued and replaced by the E-Locker). We actually like this diff a lot. It's a limited-slip diff that can be locked. We've found that the limited-slip works so well, we rarely need to lock it. One issue we did have is our own fault. We mistakenly wired the locker to a hot connection on the fuse block instead of a keyed connection. The locker solenoid draws power continuously, so we had a dead main battery when the rig sat for over a week (another reason we're sold on the dual battery setup-it gave us a back-up battery). The dead battery left us stymied for a while until we traced the problem and made the easy correction. Finally, in this image you can see one of the MTS Company polyethylene fuel tanks. These tanks are inexpensive and will never rust. We highly recommend them.