Late-model Ford F-150 trucks remain ever popular and have proven themselves to be reliable. We chose a 2WD 2006 Ford F-150 as the base platform for a prerunner build meant to serve duty as a daily driver, camping vehicle, and weekend off-road rig for exploring and desert running. The goal was not to go too radical on the truck project, but to build a vehicle that could be highway-driven anywhere we wanted to go, then take us to some of our favorite off-road areas to play.
Our truck is equipped with a 5.4-liter V-8. It started life with a solid powerplant backed with a four-speed automatic transmission. We added power with a Banks Power intake and exhaust components along with an engine tuner. What followed were front and rear suspension installations, fiberglass body components, custom bumpers, 37-inch rubber, and a wider rear axle with lower gearing to turn our new tires.
The big enabler is the JD Fabrication long-travel front suspension with Bilstein coilovers and bumpstops. Sixteen inches of travel makes a huge difference. Out back, we stayed with a spring-over configuration using custom Deaver leaf packs and Bilstein shocks handling the damping chores.
The 37-inch tires mean edged obstacles are more easily absorbed and the larger tires roll over whoops and holes better. The truck corners and handles well on the street, being just a bit firm. The long-travel front soaks up the whoops great, but our limitation in the rough stuff comes from the shorter 12 inches of travel in the rear. We were warned the spring-over wouldn’t keep up with the capabilities of the front, but we opted to go that route due to simplicity and cost. Is a spring-under swap in the future for our truck? Possibly, but for now we wanted to keep as much of the bed usable as possible. In any case, our 2006 Ford F-150 is now capable of covering rough dirt and whoops far better than it ever did in stock form. Let’s take a look at our progress so far.
The factory 5.4-liter V-8 in our 2006 Ford F-150 is a solid engine, but we wanted to up the ponies a bit. We installed a pair of Banks Power stainless headers and its tuned stainless cat-back exhaust system. Intake air enters with greater ease through a Banks intake kit with a large, oiled-type element. Finally, the engine management program was retuned with a Banks tuner to take advantage of the engine upgrades. These mods offered us noticeable power gains, and we have the option to use fuel-saving, normal, or high-octane power-tune settings.
With the added Banks power and the knowledge that we were headed towards larger, heavier tires, we chose to upgrade the factory disc brakes. We swapped to Power Slot performance rotors and Centric brake pads on all four corners to slow our truck more quickly. While we were working on the front components, we also installed a Centric two-piece rotor-hub retrofit kit to replace the factory one-piece unit. Now, rotors can be removed and replaced separately from the wheel hubs, as needed. Stopping performance is greatly improved, and it was an easy upgrade without having to resort to a complete brake system replacement.
A good front suspension is key to performance on a truck like this. For this part of the build, we turned to the guys at JD Fabrication. Jesse Nelson and Dave Dinsmore have created high-quality long-travel kits for a number of popular trucks, and their F-150 kit offers 16 inches of travel. The kit comes quite complete with 4130 chromoly boxed lower A-arms, billet aluminum or steel boxed upper A-arms, custom lift spindles, heavy-duty tie rods, quality FK rod ends and uniballs, and shock mounts with an over-the-engine crossover tube. We fabricated the front bumper from 2-inch DOM tubing and topped it with a Rigid Industries 30-inch SR-Series LED spot-flood lightbar.
The JD Fabrication front suspension was combined with 10-inch travel Bilstein 9100 Series 60mm coilovers, with Eibach springs, using a combination of an 18-inch 700-pound coil and a 4-inch 500-pound coil. Final suspension halt is handled with a set of 2-inch diameter, 3-inch travel Bilstein bumpstops, while limit straps catch the drooping A-arms before the shocks top out. The front suspension is firmer than stock but well paired with the heavier tires. The 4-inch per side wider stance and the coilovers keep the truck stable in the dirt and still comfortable on the street with good cornering manners.
We addressed the rear axle as well. We took a salvaged F-150 9.75-inch axle housing and widened it about 6 inches to arrive at a width that more closely matched the front track. We populated the housing with OEM Raptor axleshafts, a Yukon Dura Grip limited-slip, Yukon 4.88 gears, Nitro differential cover, and Crown Performance stainless brake lines. We retained the factory upgraded brake components, driveshaft, and vehicle-speed sensor. To address the housing weakness where the axle tubes enter the center section, we used heavier wall tubing and added a truss to the housing. This gave us a wider, stronger axle with gearing matched to our larger tires.
Deaver long-travel nine-leaf spring packs were installed on the rear of the truck. The factory packs are budget components that perform poorly. The new Deavers offer a supple ride that we paired with upgraded dampers. Those came in the form of Bilstein 9100 Series 60mm smooth body shocks. We wanted good travel from the springs but didn’t want to eat up a lot of our bed space with a large shock cage. With a few cuts in the bed sheetmetal and some tubular shock-mount fabrication, we found a way to stuff 14-inch travel shocks under the bed with some crafty sheetmetal rework.
With the 37-inch tire choice and the widened suspension stance, we opted to swap the factory sheetmetal fenders and bedsides for lighter, wider pieces from Glassworks Unlimited. The fenders were a bolt-on affair with some minor trimming. Factory bedside removal required drilling the factory spotwelds and riveting the new bedsides in place after they were trimmed to fit. We mounted the bedsides in such a way that it allowed us to keep the factory tailgate intact.
The tail of the truck was enhanced, too. First, the factory bumper was shed and we fabricated a replacement from 2-inch tubing. Hidden behind the flip-up license plate is a Factor 55 Flat-Link tethered to synthetic winch cable spooled on a Rugged Ridge Extreme Heavy Duty 8.5 winch. This sits in place in case we get ourselves in a little too deep going forward, hopefully, we can pull ourselves out backwards. If that should happen at night, a pair of KC Hilites C-Series LED floodlights can shine the way rearward. The little 3-inch cubes throw out considerable light at the flip of a switch.
Rubber rolling stock on our 2006 Ford F-150 is now a set of BF Goodrich Baja T/A tires. We’re running the 37x12.50R17 size, which is well proportioned for a fullsized truck. They’re wrapped onto 17x9 Weld Racing T52 forged wheels. The lightweight but strong Welds go well with the relatively light Baja T/As. Each wheel-and-tire combo weighs in at a very reasonable 104 pounds. The performance of these tires in loose sand and decomposed rock is impressive, beyond almost any other tire we’ve used.
A fifth Baja T/A rests in the bed over the rear axle, mounted to a custom hinged tire carrier. Recovery gear is supplemented with a Harbor Freight 2-ton aluminum racing jack mounted and secured to the floor with a DMZ Fab aluminum skid plate. We also use a Smittybilt 2781 portable air compressor to reinflate tires before getting back on the highway. Here you can see the wheelwells that were modified to fit the new shocks. Once the sheetmetal work was complete, we finished the bed with DIY roll-on Durabak bedliner.
Our custom tire carrier was designed to hinge from a horizontal position to vertical in order to recover bed space when we want to haul camping gear, cargo, or dirt toys. We can retain the security of hauling a spare, while making room to transport other stuff. We use straps and hardware from Mac's Custom Tie-Downs, to secure the tire in the upright position, and can go from one position to the other in under a minute.