Part 1: Solid-Axle Conversion
For those of you who don't know, I'm the new guy here at the 'zine. Actually, I've been here for a little over six months, but I have a feeling I'm going to be the FNG for a long time! With the feature editor position arrived the opportunity to build a truck for this year's Ultimate Adventure, a trip that I, like so many of you, always wanted to be a part of. But with only five weeks until the Adventure and my little ol' '97 Ford Ranger playing double duty as my wheeler/commuter truck, I decided what the heck, five weeks is plenty of time to build a truck, right?
My plan of action was simple. Slap a cheap solid axle under the front end, lower the transfer-case ratio, and use some suspension which could be conceived as the ultimate bare-minimum package that would haul me, art director Alan Huber, and all of our junk to Texas and back. Remember: trailers are for wussies.
When it comes to low budget and good availability it doesn't get any better than a Dana 30 axle. I grabbed mine for 70 bucks out of a '93 Wrangler sitting in a friend's backyard. Cheap, sure, but more importantly it was a driver-side high-pinion axle that was the exact width I needed. My Ranger came equipped with the tiny 7.5-inch rear axle, so I wanted something a little stronger since I knew I would have to run at least a 35-inch-tall tire. The solution came in the form of an $80 28-spline 8.8 from a '99 Ranger that would bolt in place of the factory axle.
Now that I had the axles, I needed to figure out a suspension package that was readily available and would require the least amount of fab work since time was of the essence. I knew the front end was going to require the most thought, so I did a little research to figure out what would make for the easiest quality setup. The answer came while looking at Rock Krawler's YJ coilover conversion for the '87-'95 Jeep Wrangler. Although it may not be the least expensive in terms of price, it had everything we needed and would require very little fabrication time. Though little fab work is required, it is important to note that this kit is a fully weld-on system that should be performed by a certified welder.
The crew at Diesel Tech lent their time and a bay to me for the five weeks I had to get this project completed, and then Poly Performance worked into the wee hours of the night putting all the finishing touches on the truck getting it ready for the 1,600-mile trip to Longview, Texas.