Ford Ranger Solid Axle Swap, Part 2

    Short Range

    Project purgatory, that seemingly inescapable place your 4x4 build ends up in when your ambitions outweigh your available time and/or funds. If you've been messing around with 4x4s long enough, you've had a project parked there. With no shortage of that experience to benefit from, and with a solid axle swap plan that's easy to replicate in your garage or driveway, our aim with Short Range was to keep progress rolling with a realistic, attainable, and comparatively simple build plan. It worked . . . kinda.

    Our axle and suspension plan for Short Range, a weathered but reliable 1995 Ford Ranger (which we mistakenly called a 1998 in Part 1—whoops!), is a relatively small, easy, and affordable undertaking in the grand scope of 4x4 projects. That was precisely the point. There's no triangulated-four-link geometry to make sense of, no coilovers, no bypass shocks, no hydraulic steering, just a simple recipe to create a reliable and capable truck for tight New England trails. Sometimes working with what you've got and following the rule of thumb S.I.G. (simple is good) results in a straight path to quick project completion. But as with any project, everything doesn't always go according to plan. Truth is we shot a few holes in the budget and (consequently) the timeframe while building the axles in Part 1, but if we can chalk that up to how the cookie crumbles, Short Range still serves to prove that a champagne budget and an exorbitant amount of free time are not prerequisites to having fun out on the trail.

    With our early-Bronco Dana 44/Ford 9-inch axle builds ready to be slung under our 1995 Ranger, we could now marry our new solid axles to our factory IFS-equipped Ranger. The rear-axle install is fairly straightforward (we will get to in Part 3), with the most difficult part being locating the leaf-spring perches on the axletubes and burning them on with a welder. The front, however, required a little more work and a helping hand from the aftermarket. That helping hand came from James Duff, one of the premiere resources for anything early Bronco, fullsize Bronco, Bronco II, and Ranger. For anyone tackling a similar project, James Duff carries everything you need to stab a solid front axle under your 1983-1997 Ranger. From coil buckets and radius arms to radius-arm mounts, track-bar brackets, and on and on, James Duff can be considered "the easy button" for a project like Short Range. We took full advantage of it.

    Our plan of attack for the suspension—which included dual-rate Bronco coil springs and Deaver leaf springs for the rear (also sourced through James Duff)—will net us a conservative 3 1/2 inches of lift and help keep Short Range low and stable on its new 35-inch Dick Cepek Extreme Country tires. We will be tackling the rear suspension, as well as all the lingering loose ends (steering, track bar, various other bits and pieces) in the next installment, so stay tuned.