1999 Ford Ranger on 42s with Coilovers and 1-Ton Axles
Tim Nichols and his 1999 Ford Ranger aren’t scared of a few hard knocks.
Tim Nichols had his 1999 Ford Ranger cross-rutted, stuck in two-wheel drive, and he was banging on the limiter. First gear, reverse, first, reverse, thinking, "No way am I getting pulled out by my buddy's Toyota," as he tried to rock his way free of the muddy mess. That's when reverse exploded. But that's the middle of the story.
Back in his high school days, Tim's 1999 Ford Ranger sported the closest-to-stock running gear it would ever see. After he purchased the truck he did some engine work to get the 4.0L V-6 running and lifted the truck's independent front suspension 4 inches. Out back he swapped in an 8.8-inch axle from a Ford Explorer and put a Detroit Locker in the differential. The front diff got an Aussie Locker, and the Ranger sat on 35-inch tires. This setup was plenty of fun, but it had a nasty habit of blowing CV 'shafts and rack-and-pinion assemblies. Tim's senior year of high school found him in the garage trading his independent front suspension for the Dana 30 out of a Jeep Cherokee, which performed fine until the ring-and-pinion met its demise on its first trip into the dirt. "So, I wheeled in two-wheel drive for a while," explained Tim, which brings us back to the crossed-up muddy rut. If you think the sudden loss of a cog kept him from the trails, think again. "I was smashing through some mud (in two-wheel drive), and I hydrolocked the stock V-6. Now the tranny's bad, front axle's bad, and the motor's messed up." Sidelined, Tim plotted his next swaps.
Tim's Ranger Is Breakin' Parts
He sourced another Ford Explorer and mined its 5.0L V-8, used Artec's Dana 60 swap kit to stick a 1-ton axle under each end of the rig, and traded his stock transfer case for a Dana 20 from an early Bronco. More problems ensued. Tim's driving style twisted rear axleshafts in half like they were smoked sausage sticks, and he pulverized the rear output of his Dana 20. As his ever-evolving project became more interesting, he elaborated, "I didn't like the characteristics of the Jeep-style radius arm suspension." Tim proceeded to reimagine the Ranger from there, and the list of upgrades included a three-link front suspension, coilovers, a bobbed bed, plated frame, and enough hard-core modifications to get him over and through some of the grisliest trails west of the Mississippi. Tim told us his future modifications could include ironing out some of his dents, four-linking the 1999 Ford Ranger's rearend, and adding rear coilovers, a fuel cell, and some additional ponies for the V-8. Keep reading for more details on Tim's battle-tested Ford Ranger.
After his V-6 met a watery demise, Tim lifted a 5.0L V-8 from a 1997 Ford Explorer. The new powerplant received upgraded headers, Screamin' Demon ignition, SCT tuner, and a 100-shot of nitrous. Behind the engine is the 4R70W transmission out of the same 1997 Explorer.
Power is divided between the axles at Tim's Advance Adapters Atlas two-speed transfer case where the 4.3:1 reduction gears give him the slow-speed crawling capabilities he needs. Power gets to the axles via front and rear driveshafts from High Angle Driveline, which Tim tells us haven't failed yet despite being dragged and smashed against more than their fair share of rocks.
Whether it was the 35-inch tires or his driving style, Tim's original Dana 35 IFS had a knack for spitting out CV 'shafts, so he swapped in a Dana 30 from a Jeep Cherokee. "I blew that up pretty quick," he told us, and he then opted for a Ford King Pin Dana 60. Tim looked to Yukon Gear & Axle for Super Joints, chromoly inners and outers, Hardcore hubs, and a Zip Locker. Reid Racing knuckles and bronze bushings and an Artec truss kit add additional brawn up front. Ballistic Fab is the name on the diff cover protecting the 5.38:1 internals.
Tim gets help aiming the big tires from a steering box harvested from a Toyota truck and a PSC Motorsports 8-inch hydraulic ram kit complete with a pump and reservoir. "I always keep two of these steering boxes in my rig, drilled, tapped, and ready to go," Tim explained, after previously snapping a sector shaft in the middle of a trail and relying on a friend to wheel back out to the trailhead, and back, to fetch a replacement.
Tim's rear axle progressed from a Ford 8.8 to a Dana 60, but that 1-ton rearend had a habit of snapping chromoly 'shafts. He settled on a 14-bolt from an 2001 Chevy 1/2-ton.
Inside, you'll find spider gears welded solid and a ring-and-pinion delivering a 5.38:1 reduction ratio. Tim looked to RuffStuff for his traction bar and pinion guard.
Simplicity reigned supreme for the rear suspension where Tim employs 63-inch Chevy leaf springs, relocated hangers, and 2.5-inch lift blocks to locate his axle and support the truck while Fox 2.0 shocks damp movements. For the minimalistic approach, he took to the rear suspension and the heinous situations he's put it through. Tim told us he is impressed with how it has held up.
After finding his Jeep-style radius arms to be undesirable, Tim built a custom three-link for his Ranger's frontend. F-O-A 2.5-inch coilovers mounted to custom towers allow for 14 inches of suspension travel, and F-O-A 2-inch bumpstops prevent the harsh bottom-outs he was once used to. "Now I can really smash 'em. When the axle hits, the bumps absorb everything!"
Wheels and Tires
"Can't lose on 42s" is the slogan for the 42x15R17 Pit Bull Rockers under the 1999 Ford Ranger. Battle Born Bootlegger beadlocks measure 17x9 inches and keep the rubber in place into Tim's single-digit tire pressure ranges whether the adventure contains high-horsepower pushes through snow or sticking to vertical waterfall obstacles.
"There just isn't room in the 39-inch bed for a 42-inch fullsize spare," is how Tim put it. Before building the Ranger's tire mount, he resorted to dumping all air pressure out of his spare to make it fit between the bedsides and tailgate. He's since deleted the tailgate and mounted the carrier to the frame to both increase rigidity and allow him an attachment point for the tire's ratcheting tie-downs.
PRP Comp Elite heated seats and 5.3 five-point harnesses keep Tim and passengers secure while inside the cab.
The Ranger has a full rollcage from Tranzition Engineering Designs, which is made from 2-inch-diameter, 0.120-inch-wall tubing, tied to the frame in 16 places and bolstered with dimple-die plates.
Tim fabbed the front bumper to house his Warn XD9000i winch, a pair of LED light cubes, and an LED lightbar.
The structure ties into the custom radiator skid and swings wide to shield the headlamps from danger.
Tim's rock sliders are custom-fabricated and are welded straight to the frame. They serve alongside the boatsides and bellypan in defending the Ranger from attacking trail obstacles.
Out back, a Smittybilt 8,000-pound winch hides under the tire carrier for rear recovery duties.
With all his modifications, onboard gear, and the spare tire, Tim's Ranger weighs in at around three tons. "Sometimes it helps me stick to stuff. Other times, lighter buggies go right up something, and mine just doesn't wanna do it." Tim took 13 inches out of the bed and the frame and added extra brawn to the Ranger with 3/16-inch plating throughout the frame with extra reinforcement on the outsides of the framerails.
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