Al Maurine’s 2001 Ford Explorer—DIY and Minimal Aftermarket Parts
Explorer becomes explorer.
So, you bought a Ford Explorer for four-wheeling and overlanding. Now you're wondering: Was that a really bad idea to decide to build one? Yes. Well, no. It's not the vehicle that's the problem here; it's the lack of aftermarket parts, if you ask Al Maurine, whom we met on our 2019 Four Wheeler Overland Adventure. He'll tell you, "Do not build a Ford Explorer! Actually, I've had this conversation with all three of my sons. It's way easier to buy a newer vehicle that has aftermarket support." And that's precisely what makes his '01 Explorer a solid example of customization by way of mother of invention.
Why a Ford Explorer?
But don't read into any of this as negativity; Al calls his 4x4 a "tough machine." On that note, it's also the question he's most asked: "Why an Explorer?" He said the SUV hasn't needed much, for starters. "I try to get that across to those who ask that off-roading doesn't require a Jeep Rubicon. A simple pickup with a mild lift and tires can go places you wouldn't believe."
Four-Wheeling an Explorer
Al started camping when he was a kid, then he spent four years in the Navy. "That gave me wanderlust, and fortunately, I've passed it on to my sons." He'd owned two Unimogs for work. He also was in the Air National Guard for 22 years as a communications cable splicer, so he became accustomed to being around 4x4s and winches. Nowadays, he tries to get away from it all as often as he can, with local two- or three-day trips; longer trips are for places like Moab or the parks. He's particularly fond of travels through the Southwest desert area. "I'm not into terrain that will break my rig," he says. "It's not a rockcrawler, but I've pushed it over some stuff that really surprised me."
Speaking of Moab: "A few years ago, I was getting gas, and a group of 4Runners pulled in and they ran over to my rig exclaiming that they had never seen a two-door before. 'Where did it come from?' 'Was it a Japanese model?'" Al recalled. "All went quiet when I told them it was a Ford. For some reason, everyone thinks the Ford is a 4Runner."
Getting his hands on this $8,000 Explorer was an accident 16 years ago. "At that time, I never intended for it to become what it has today. Since I bought it, I have put roughly $10,000 into it in mods and the like," Al explained. "So, the Ford has cost me about $1,200 a year—not bad!"
Work in Progress
It remains a work in progress. "I found that the Explorer was a very capable machine with a few mods, like tires and suspension," Al noted. "There is no aftermarket for the vehicle, but in the long run, I have fit the Ford to my needs—and it's fit me."
Advice from Al Maurine, owner of this '01 Ford Explorer: Don't buy an Explorer. However: "If I croak, one of my sons will more than likely keep it going. I'm 75. If this was 1878, the Ford would be my favorite mule!"
Al bought his '01 Ford Explorer with 87,000 miles on the odo, and today, it has 251,000. It gets 16-17 mpg in town and 18-19 mpg on the road with the factory 245ci 4.0L engine. "I put a fresh tranny in it two years ago—a Jasper rebuild, and my mechanic has a Jasper engine priced if this one goes. I'll not buy a new vehicle. I'm spoiled," he adds. "I've built this one to suit my needs, and it does well." Also under the hood: Airaid intake, Optima YellowTop battery, and LiveWires from Performance Distributors.
Al has reworked the suspension a couple of times during his ownership. "Again, the biggest challenge is finding somebody that makes something for the Ford. It was ARB-AUS that helped me out with part of my suspension by telling me that Ford had all kinds of different-rated torsion bars for its vehicles. Nobody in the USA seemed to have known that," he says. By using heavy-duty torsion bars and Rancho shocks, he squeezed out a 2-inch lift. There's also an extended-shackle situation in the rear. For performance assistance, Al's Explorer has an exhaust system comprised of 2 1/2-inch-diameter pipe and a MagnaFlow cat and muffler.
In order to run 33-inch tires, Al re-geared the axles to 4.10s and put an Eaton Detroit Truetrac in the rear. "Not too much else I can do and keep it streetable. I'm still looking to get a locker in the frontend—but how is the question," he adds. "Nobody makes anything for a Dana 35 IFS, and I'm not into a straight-axle swap. Not for what I do."
BFG Tires and Steelie Wheels
The Explorer currently has 285/75R16 BFGoodrich KO2 tires paired with 16-inch steelie wheels from Desert Rat, with 1 1/2-inch spacers. The future might bring a set of BFG 255/85R16 KM3 Mud-Terrains to get a little taller than 33s. The rock sliders were built by Justin at Leon's Muffler Shop in Tucson, Arizona, and were welded to the frame.
Converting the Explorer for Sleeping
The Explorer's overall theme is to keep things as simple as possible. Al had traveled approximately 400,000 miles by motorcycle, and he's camped and tented during those travels. "At 75, laying on the ground is no longer an option. Over the years, I found I could sleep in the Ford during bad weather. Eventually, I removed the rear seats and built storage and a sleeping area. It's a really mini RV," he says. He's 6 feet tall, so if he can do it, you can, too. Underneath the mattress is recovery gear and tools, and there's also a 108-quart hard, plastic container for all cooking gear and food that gets chucked outside for more living space. "After much research, I found that my Little Buddy heater was safe in close quarters as long as you have a window cracked, but I also run a CO detector to be safe," he adds. Modifications to the sleeping platform and storage are ongoing because he always has new ideas. Creating living space—aka bed and storage—"made the Ford a real multipurpose vehicle, more so than a lot of other rigs. It's really good for bivouacking."
No aftermarket, no problem—sort of. The bumpers, skidplate, bull bar, and tire carrier had to be custom made. James Callahan at rlcweldfab.com fabbed them for Al, who "had a hard time finding him as it was." James is out of Kentucky, and then they were installed in California. "I loaded up the metalwork and drove from Tucson to Merced, and my friend Mark and I got the bumpers painted and installed. No easy task for sure," Al said. "We installed the winch at the time, too." The 12,000-pound Badlands winch has 85 feet of synthetic line.
The roof rack is quite a few years old and pretty generic, according to Al. "I had to modify the brackets that came with the rack, as it would move around on the roof. I made my own mounts and they became the mounts for my tube carriers, too." One tube carries things like the whip antenna and trekking poles. The longer tube is his 4-gallon water carrier. Odds and ends: The Explorer's lower plastic panels were removed and sprayed with bedliner. Desert Rat was where Al got the 20-inch lightbar.
Vehicle: '01 Ford Explorer Sport
Owner: Al Maurine
Stomping grounds: Tucson, Arizona
Build time: 14 years
Engine: Ford 4.0L SOHC V-6
Transmission: 5R55E 5-spd automatic
Transfer case: BorgWarner 13-54
Low range ratio: 2.48:1
Crawl ratio: 25:1
Front axle/differential: Dana 35, 4.10 gears/open
Rear axle/differential: Ford 8.8, 4.10 gears/Eaton Detroit Truetrac
Front: Independent, torsion bars w/keys for 2-inch lift, Rancho RS5000 shocks
Rear: Leaf springs, extended shackles, Rancho RS9000 XL shocks
Tires: 285/75R16 BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2
Wheels: 16x7 steelie, 1 1/2-inch spacer
Armor: Custom rock sliders, skidplate, bumpers
Cool stuff: MagnaFlow catalytic converter and muffler, Airaid intake system, Performance Distributors LiveWires, Optima YellowTop battery, power converter, roof rack, rebuilt transmission, bedliner, Badlands 12,000-pound winch w/synthetic line, Desert Rat lightbar, Kenwood stereo unit, Garmin GPS, Titan tire carrier, Little Buddy heater, Rugged Radios radio, Canyon Coolers cooler