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1993 Ford Explorer Buildup
& Transformation

by Rick Horwitz

November '93 - October '00

click for larger image
October '00 ----

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Stage Two Mods!

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In 1993 I was looking for a vehicle to replace my '90 Mazda B2600, 4x4. I needed something that would allow me to carry all of my photo gear and my clients into the backcountry of Arizona. I decided that the 1993 Ford Explorer XL fit my needs and would make for an extremely trail worthy vehicle once a few well planned modifications had been performed. The criteria I had was to keep it simple so I started with a base 4-door Explorer XL equipped with manual locking hubs, manual transfer case and a 5-speed manual transmission. 

After purchasing my Explorer I drove it completely stock for 3000 miles making sure everything worked as it should. I turned the broken in Explorer over to Torrey Porter, at FLY-N-HI Offroad Center in Phoenix, Arizona to install an ARB Airlocker in the rear and a limited slip differential in front. 4:56 gears were also added at this point. Also installed at this time was a Trailmaster 4" suspension lift with arched rear springs (instead of blocks).

The first time I took the Explorer out to the desert to see how it worked I had problems. I took the truck on a trail that I was very familiar with and took some moguls fairly quickly. After running the moguls and putting the suspension throughClick for larger image it's full travel, the drop brackets for both front snubbers bent and deformed. I went back to FLY-N-HI and told them that the stock brackets weren't going to be strong enough for my needs. They directed me to their custom fabrication shop FST (Fabrication Suspension Technology).  At the Fab shop, Torrey Porter, who now appreciated my bonzai driving style, built a pair of snubber brackets that were welded and braced to the frame. At the same time Torrey fabricated an upper mounting point for an additional shock on each front wheel. The lower shock mount is the stock mounting location for the swaybar, which has been removed for less restricted wheel travel. The dual shock setup really made a lot of difference in offroad drivability with the TTB front axle.



Just about ready to leave the shop after the installation of a reverse rotation Dana 44 Solid Axle.
Rear cargo area
FST rear bumper/tire-carrier carries a 33x12.50-15 BFG MT. Locking toolbox from Simpson is securely bolted to the floor. Also visible is the SGC antenna tuner which will tune the whip antenna automatically from 160-10 Meters.

FST fabricated a tire carrier /rear bumper which holds my 33x15" spare tire. The front bumper/winch mount is also a custom FST piece designed to handle the 9000 lb. Ramsey winch. 

An Advances Adapters Atlas II transfer case was also added for it's ultra low 4.3:1 low gear ratio. Crawl ratio with the 4:88 gears and 35" tires is great. The truck performs awesome on all types of technical trails. 

The mileage and changes have come very quickly over the past seven years, there are now over 140,000 miles my the truck. I have changed just about everything since the initial modifications were made. This year I decided it was time for some major changes. The stock Ford TTB (Twin Traction Beam) suspension was scrapped in favor of a solid Dana 44 front axle and accompanying 4 link suspension. The latest changes are described in this article.

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Many people complain about the lack of power with the 4.0 liter Ford but I think it’s well matched to the 33x12.50 BFG MT’s and the 4:56 gears. The engine doesn’t miss a beat and short of towing I don’t see a problem with the stock motor. I did add a Hypertech Power Module which extended the rpm range of the engine, improved the overall drivability and eliminated the spark knock I was getting during the 100+ degree days in Phoenix. A K&N airfilter and a custom "catback" exhaust from Pro Dyno in Tempe, Arizona helps the engine breath freely. 

The only Ford related problem I have had with the truck is the transmission. Like many others I have had problems with the Mazda built 5 speed. The transmission never gave out, but became increasingly difficult to shift. Ford rebuilt the tranny once at 36,000 and again at 59,000. At about 90,000 miles I installed a factory new 5speed. I kept the original tranny so I could rebuild it for future use. 

Many people have had their Mazda 5speed manual transmission fail when the rubber plugs sealing the shift rails dry out and allow all the fluid to escape suddenly. The rubber plugs can be replaced with metal plugs of the correct size. Synthetic transmission fluids seem to extend the life of this transmission as well. I have had good luck with Redline. Most importantly stay with the Mercon/Dexron III type fluids and DO NOT use standard gear oil.

At about 85,000 miles I noticed cracks occurring in the floorboards where the floor meets the firewall. The Explorer has an extremely flexible frame with a large inflexible body. The Ranger, which uses the same chassis design as the Explorer has the benefit of a separate cab and bed assembly. This allows free movement of the frame without overly stressing the body. 

The floor is not the only thing that has cracked from the constant flexing. I have also cracked two AC evaporators. The aluminum tube which enters the housing cracked in half two years in a row. The rubber hose which extends from the compressor to the accumulator is not flexible enough to handle the twisting of the engine and frame. I am looking into having a longer custom hose made which would allow for more flex and hopefully prevent the problem from happening again.

Living near Phoenix, we usually get to take the truck out on the trails at least once a week for some serious wheeling. It's only a short drive from my house to some great trails in the Bradshaw Mountains and other excellent trails north of Phoenix.

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