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JGRAHAM New Reader
2/20/17 10:36 a.m.
classicJackets wrote: What size tubing is that/ is it bolted to the bed or to the frame? My Courier needs a bed roll bar too, and I'm trying to figure out what to use. It seems like most people go super oversized on tubing diameter.

I used 1-3/4, 120 wall DOM. If I were to redo it I'd use a thinner wall.

Gunchsta New Reader
2/20/17 10:51 a.m.

Love the flares and the slicks. Keep the updates coming!

JGRAHAM New Reader
2/21/17 7:07 a.m.

A full winter's work...

So during the summer of 2015 we hired a young engineering student to join the engineering department as an intern. He came onboard right as we began all the talk of doing a group autocross event. My work involves a lot of mechanical design so in return we tend to hire a lot of “gearhead-minded” young college students that want to get experience in the agricultural industry. Luke was no exception. In particular Luke had huge amount of interest in engines, specifically small block Ford engines. As you could imagine Luke and myself had a number of conversations of what it would take to put a 302 V8 into the Ranger. It’s a common swap for many but new to me. The engine swap was definitely the single factor that took the Ranger from a disposable vehicle (when the engine finally died) to a rather long term project in making it a capable handling truck.

Luke’s summer with the company came to an end rather fast, but we were able to score a donor vehicle, tear down the engine, and get the engine parts to the machine shop before he left to go back to college. Luke has great library of how-to videos on his YouTube channel, ThunderHead289. I followed his own 302 engine rebuild videos to the T when I started putting my engine back together. It made the engine building much less frightening.

A donor Grand Marquis

At this point I’ve rambled on probably way too much, but hopefully you all are still interested. I promise the build will move quicker from now, with more photos to document the process. Really at this point I began to think of snapping more photos of interest, planning that one day I might begin a blog on the project.

So with the advent of doing a V8 swap and investing the needed amount of time I knew I needed to go into the project with both feet. So the winter of 2015 I had a few main goals with the Ranger. #1 being the built 302 engine/trans swap, #2 installing an 8.8 solid axle rear end, #3properly lowering and stiffening the suspension. So the first order was to get the engine and trans spec’ed and built.

The engine was built with a stock block bored 30 over and factory crank and rods. I scored a pair of AFR aluminum heads and aluminum intake manifold. A Holley 600 carb topped it all off. A rather healthy cam compliments the other hardware. Theres a lot of other supporting hardware, but in general it’s a stock bottom end with a set of really nice heads on it. Everything is fresh and well balanced/blue printed. It shouldn’t have a issues revving high as well.

New pistons installed in the fresh block

Checking valve spring pressures on the new/used AFR heads

Heads about to go on the painted short block.

Checking valvetrain geometry

Up too the valve covers now

Buttoned up with distributor and carb

The transmission choice was something I debated round and around. ORIGINALLY I built a Ford C4 automatic transmission. It was outfitted with a manual valve body, heavy clutches, billet input shaft, etc etc. My thought behind doing an automatic was that with a manual valve body I would essentially have a “clutchless” manual transmission. I made a custom shift gate on a Hurst quarter shift assembly that would allow me to shift between 1st and 2nd without any lockouts or safety. The C4 had a 2200 stall converter and it’s own dedicated oil cooler to keep temps down.

Tearing into the C4

Engine and trans together

STM317 Dork
2/21/17 12:56 p.m.

I knew you'd fit in here when you posted pics building an engine inside a room of your house. Well done.

JGRAHAM New Reader
2/22/17 6:08 a.m.

I scavenged a Ford 8.8 LSD solid axle from the same donor Explorer. The differential was completely rebuilt with new bearings, clutches, and a 4.10 ring and pinion. While I was installing the rear end I went ahead and modified the suspension. The springs were flipped to a spring under setup to lower around 5” I also did a common shackle perch flip ranger mod that was good for around 2” With~7” of drop I had to notch the frame and relocated the shock mounts. A few other little tricks involved adding a leaf to each spring pack and the OEM Ford Explorer “traction and sway bars.

The front end suspension was really my biggest nightmare for the winter. Ford used a twin beam setup for the front end in this era ranger. The offroad ranger guys tend to like these durable setups for their baja trucks, but for on road handling and tune-ability they stink. While I was working on other areas of the truck I kept going back and forth in my mind if I should just tear out the complete front end and spend the coin on the ranger specific AJE macpherson strut setup or refine what I have.

For the sake of time, trying to do a V8 engine & trans build and swap, rear chassis work, AND a front end redesign was just too much to bite off in one winter. Not to mention like most of you all, keeping a balance between work and family life…..

The front end upgrades included new DJM drop beams. These move the steering knuckles up ~3 inches. I swapped out the 1990 spindles/hubs in place for the newer 93-97 setup. This is a common ranger mod to get dual piston calipers and the ability to run a 12” Ford Sport Trac rotor. The beams were resprung with OEM F150 w/ the snow plow option springs. These springs fit the upper ranger spring bucket and had a significantly higher spring rate. I believe I cut ~1 coil of each spring to give another ~1” of drop. I used Belltech Nitro shocks for damping.

appliance_racer New Reader
2/22/17 12:26 p.m.

I've had a few rangers and loved every one of them. I always had something like your project in the back of my mind. When ford switch to the SLA I understand that the frame was also widened in the front. So by my logic (probably flawed) That leaves a little extra room for longer control arms. Maybe help with geometry changes as the truck rolls and such??? I was thinking the SLA spindle with tubular control arms for proper race car stuff.

I see you've already spent $$ on the twin beam, I'm just thinking out loud and wanting another ranger. I'm off to craigslist now damn it!

JGRAHAM New Reader
2/22/17 1:08 p.m.

Yeah the twin beam setup has its limitations. SLA is by far the way to go as far as total performance. I feel that even the AJE kit, with its MacPherson setup is far better than the twin beam. When I added it all up a ~$2000 dollar AJE setup just was too much money particularly since I have the resources to fab an SLA setup. You will see soon as my blog catches to current project status and where the front end design is headed. Thanks!

appliance_racer New Reader
2/22/17 3:23 p.m.

I've played with a few Macpherson cars and find the geometry functional but very frustrating. For a TTB truck other than weight and maybe some adjustability I dont see an advantage, especially for $2k!!

I'm excited to see your project progress.

JGRAHAM New Reader
2/23/17 5:57 a.m.


JGRAHAM New Reader
2/23/17 6:15 a.m.

Along with all of the major tasks there was a large amount of smaller projects as well.. This included weight reduction, upgrading the fuel system, incorporating a number on various electrical items, etc. etc. Below are photos of the work.

Weight reduction

Shortening the driveline

"custom" hood scoop

Gauge and switch panels than were made

Fabbed some aluminum covers for the trans cooler and rear end/fuel cell

Interior shot with further roll cage work, racing seat, hurst shifter

pav5069 Reader
2/23/17 6:24 a.m.

wow this looks awesome!!!!!!!! keep up the work and keep on posting.

APEowner GRM+ Memberand Reader
2/23/17 9:51 a.m.

I'm enjoying this build. You're probably way past this point but for what it's worth the trick to getting the twin beam to work well is exactly the same as the trick to getting a strut system to work. Stiffen it up so much that it hardly moves and rely on the tires to act as springs.

Dusterbd13 PowerDork
2/23/17 10:27 a.m.
APEowner wrote: I'm enjoying this build. You're probably way past this point but for what it's worth the trick to getting the twin beam to work well is exactly the same as the trick to getting a strut system to work. Stiffen it up so much that it hardly moves and rely on the tires to act as springs.

This is how we are getting the amc suspension to work.

JGRAHAM New Reader
2/23/17 12:35 p.m.

Yeah I've gone past the ranger twin beam, but I'll definitely keep that in mind for the future.

JGRAHAM New Reader
2/24/17 6:23 a.m.

So engine swap day has finally came.....

The original 2.9 was finally ready to come out of it's home of 24 years. It was a greasy ugly mess, but had serviced the truck well. Just prior to pulling the motor a couple of co-workers and I installed some rather large jetting in the nitrous system and let it eat. We're all kids at heart I guess! The result was quite impressive with the nitrous backfire.

Nitrous Ranger Blow Up

Old vs. New

302/C4 Setup weight

2.9 combo

I was really happy with the weights. +6lbs for + ~150 HP sounded good too me. I was also concerned the weight distribution shifting even more to the front.

I spent a lot of time getting the engine pushed as far back and as low as possible. This involved alot of cutting and customizing the motor mounts.

Somehow, I guess with all the excitment of the engine install I didn't take alot of photos. The next round of photos was of the truck on the corner scales. 57% front weight bias with the new setup. I was hoping for better but I'll just have to take what I can get.

I was happy with the total weight though.

and I imagine the next blog update will be of some actual racing from last season.....stay tuned!

STM317 Dork
2/24/17 7:46 a.m.

The weight difference between the two engine combos is pretty surprising to me, but great for you. The aluminum heads must help a decent bit.

I'm also more than a little jealous of the low weight the older squarebody trucks had. Ditching the I-beams and their associated bits should only improve that.

Chadeux Dork
2/24/17 8:20 a.m.

57% front seems really impressive to me for a V8 mini truck.

JGRAHAM New Reader
2/24/17 12:42 p.m.

Yeah I can't remember the weight of a set of iron heads, but it was quite a weight difference going to the AFR heads. What does your ranger weigh roughly?

We will have to see what the SLA front end will do for weight distribution. I pushed the engine back a little more this go around and moved the front wheels forward ~4 inches.

Fitzauto Dork
2/24/17 12:44 p.m.

Now I want a v8 mini truck...

Very impressive build! Cant wait to read more.

STM317 Dork
2/25/17 7:08 a.m.
JGRAHAM wrote: Yeah I can't remember the weight of a set of iron heads, but it was quite a weight difference going to the AFR heads. What does your ranger weigh roughly? We will have to see what the SLA front end will do for weight distribution. I pushed the engine back a little more this go around and moved the front wheels forward ~4 inches.

I've never had it properly corner weighted, but the local truck stop says it was 3260lbs when I drove it across their CAT scale. That was before the supercharger was installed, and it still had an automatic transmission. I really need to get back over there with it in it's current state.

Sounds like your approach is very similar to the Rolling Thunder ranger. Good stuff.

CLynn85 HalfDork
2/26/17 9:17 p.m.

Great work! This really makes me want to take the F100 autox'ing. I've only run with the Tidewater group once and it was at Pungo, they seemed like a good group, but wish the venue was bigger (racing surface apparently used to extend a lot further but is crumbling by the day).

JGRAHAM New Reader
2/27/17 6:51 a.m.

Thanks for the continued interest from all with the blog! I've enjoyed writing about what I've done over the past few years with it.

I'd love to see an old F100 out on course. I've always had a soft spot for the 60s-70s models. The only places I've ever autocrossed were Pungo and ACU4 so I don't have a lot too compare, but ACU4 is far better than Pungo.

So onto another blog update.....the 2016 autocross season with a V8 Ranger.

The big work for the Ranger was done by March, but there lots of small things that really nickel and dime'ed my time. Getting the engine and trans broke in and tuned took quite a few weekends. Again I'll have to give thanks to Luke the summer intern with his carb and ignition tuning YouTube videos. I really learned a lot about what it takes to have a PROPERLY tuned carbed engine. The main battery cables had to be redone with a larger gauge. I miss calculated the amperage draw with the higher compression engine. I also added a few dummy warning lights and buzzers for oil pressure and high coolant temp.

All back together....finally

A DIY alignment, with the help of a friend that had experience

Craigslist scored a pair of 10" wide wheels for the rear

Getting rid of the red numbers in place for flat black

loaded up and headed out for the maiden event, with rain

What a nasty day it was for autocrossing. This was TSCC's test and tune at ACU4. I was so excited to run this first event, it wouldn't have even mattered if it was during a hurricane though. Talk about a hand full on a wet course. The ranger spend most of the day skating around, but the rainy event did teach me a lot about throttle control.

A coworker's Fiero and Ranger

Event #2 had MUCH better weather at ACU4.

A few GoPro videos onboard the danger ranger that day.

In Cab

Under Truck

Just before the next event I fabbed an aluminum wing for the trunk/tailgate.

Event #3 was at Pungo with ODR-SCCA group.

Staged, ready to run

And that event was it's last for the 2016 season. My work gets hectic in the fall and I rarely get any weekends until after autocross season is over. In the next post I'll recap and discuss what I learned and have planned for this, the 2017 season.

Mad_Ratel Dork
2/27/17 7:18 a.m.

This car right here, it hits ALL the right spots for me.

STM317 Dork
2/27/17 7:24 a.m.

What's your thinking behind running in XP vs a CAM class?

Sky_Render SuperDork
2/27/17 7:59 a.m.

My personal experience has been that CAM classes are more fun, and Prepared classes are more for serious or "hard core" competition.

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