Flex! Jeff Van Den Hande’s Homebuilt, Cantilevered 1997 Ranger
“I was hell-bent on making this truck a personification of myself—functional, cheap, and odd.” Jeff Van Den Hende delivered on those promises, and then some, when he built his ’97 Ford Ranger. It was 2006 when he discovered the truck in San Diego, California, serving as a utility repair mule, without a single modification on its buildsheet. Jeff quickly succumbed to the bite of the “off-road builder bug,” and he began outfitting the Ranger to suit his needs.
The first combination of a 4-inch lift kit, 33-inch tires, and Jeff’s right foot left a trail of obliterated spider gears in the Ranger’s wake. Staying true to the promises of “functional” and “cheap,” Jeff decided to stave off future axle-related woes by going big early on in the project—with Dana 60 axles front and rear. The front axle came from a damaged Dodge 3500, the remainder of which was sold to finance the rear junkyard-picked Dana 60. The birth of Jeff’s two kids kept the truck project in the garage, gathering dust for five years; however, Shasta, Jeff’s wife, knew her husband’s project would never recover from such a hiatus without her help. She fed him a steady diet of Four Wheeler magazines and off-road videos until his fabrication flame flickered back to life.
When we caught up with Jeff and family in the California desert, we were flabbergasted by what had become of the formerly bland-as-potato-pudding ’97 Ranger. Read on for more details on the suspension sorcery beneath Jeff’s rig and more.
It’s come a long way since the days of being an IFS utility work truck, and with the help of a wrecked Dodge 3500, Jeff’s rig now has a Dana 60 filled with 5.38:1 gears. For traction, he employed a never-slip set of welded spider gears. The truck’s original suspension is long gone, and it has been replaced by a set of 54-inch Ford Explorer rear leaf springs connected to the frame with GM lowering shackles. Jeff took the tie rod, bumpstops, and rear shocks from a scrapped ’05 Super Duty and mounted them to the Ranger via a pair of shock towers from another F-Series pickup. The front suspension boasts 10 inches of travel and is kept centered beneath the vehicle with a custom track bar.
At a Glance
Vehicle: ’97 Ford Ranger
Owner: Jeff Van Den Hende
Stomping grounds: Crestline, California
Build time: 12 slow years
Engine: Ford 3.0L V-6
Transmission: 4R55E automatic
Transfer case(s): BW1354E
Low range ratio: 2.48:1
Crawl ratio: 33.0:1
Front axle/differential: ’97 Dodge Ram SRW Dana 60, custom-painted stock diff cover, 5.38 gears/welded
Rear axle/differential: ’02 Ford Excursion Sterling 10.5-in, custom-painted stock diff cover, 5.38 gears/welded
Front: Ford Explorer 54-in leaf springs; GM lowering shackles; stock Ford Ranger spring and shackle mounts; Ford F-series stamped shock towers; tie rods, bumpstops, and 10-in-travel rear shocks from an ’05 Ford Super Duty; custom track bar w/JK Wrangler ball bushings
Rear: GM 64-in re-arched leaf springs, GM lowering shackles, Kartek Off-Road drop/flip shackles, custom-built cantilever w/16-in F-O-A shocks, custom anti-wrap torque arm, custom leaf-hinged axle mounts, and Paragon brake line
Tires: 37x14R16 Interco Super Swamper IROK Bias-Ply
Wheels: 16x8.5 Black Rock steel
Steering: Stock Ranger steering box w/custom-built tie rod and ’05 Ford Super Duty tie-rod ends
Armor: Custom front bumper w/1.75-in-diameter, 0.120-in-wall DOM tubing; custom rock sliders w/1.75-in-diameter, 0.120-in-wall DOM tubing; 2-in, 0.250-in-wall square tubing; and dimple-died 0.125-in steel plate
Cool stuff: Smittybilt XRC 10,000-lb winch, KC roof-mounted lightbar, KC grille-mounted 6-in Daylighters, NRG Innovations steering wheel, Cobra CB radio