Redneck XLT – Zero to Hero

ranger_stock_01When I came back from a day, or multiple days of riding/camping, I found the last thing that I wanted to do was clean up the daily driver. To make matters worse, for day trips I preferred to take my wife’s SUV because it gave me a way to lock up the riding gear. Needless to say, she was never very happy about that. After checking the market for a Jeep Cherokee and becoming frustrated with what I was able to find for the money I was willing to spend– less than $2k including any repairs to make it road worthy –I decided to branch out a bit. In the end, I found a 1993 Ford Ranger XLT with a pretty cool shell that opened on the sides (and the back). The owner wanted $2,200; we settled on $1,900.

The tires were not great, it leaked oil, the speedometer bounced like a flea with ADD, and it had on heck of a pair of dents on the right side. Still, it fired up, went through the gears, and even worked in 4-wheel. The locks on the rear of the shell were bad. Given the significant amount (hundred$) needed to replace them, I installed a locking hasp that was secured to the glass frame and tailgate with sheet-metal screws. Fortunately, the side locks worked!


After several years and about 10k miles, I decided it was time to find a different desert rat and picked up a 2008 Silverado. The Ranger would be kept  with the expectation that my son would drive it as his first vehicle. He was not that fond of it (not sure why, it was a thing of beauty!) and consequently, it sat for the better part of 18 months with only the occasional ‘learner permit’ drive – having to learn to drive a stick made it less of a draw to him. Still, I expected that he would come to appreciate a manual (he now hates automatics), better gas mileage than a v8, and the ability to desert pin-stripe the heck out of it without concern. Turns out some of those expectations took longer to mature than others…

ranger_teardown_02ranger_old_engine_05About 8 weeks before Quintin got his license, I decided a few things on the Ranger needed to be fixed. The speedometer had always drove me crazy, and I certainly did not want a ‘bad speedometer’ to be the blame for a speeding ticket (I know, fun killer). The the wipers would not always park themselves when you turned them off, and it also leaked oil pretty bad. Unfortunately, to fix the leaks around the oil pan you need to pull the engine. Figured we may as well do the clutch while we were at it.

Come to find out (yeah, regular ah-ha moment), 21 years of less than stellar maintenance makes things a bit of a pain to take apart. The exhaust had to be cut off below the manifolds because the bolts were too corroded and in a spot that a torch was only going to cause more grief. We also found much the wiring harness was crumbling. The oil leak has now gone from replacing a few gaskets at around $30, to needing an entirely new exhaust (including cats and Y pipe) and at least a couple hours of reworking the engine wiring harnesses.

With the engine and transmission out and the cleanup from the Exxon Valdez complete, and the parts list growing, what else should we have done at this point you ask? Open up the engine and take a look, of course! Oh, such a very bad idea indeed.

Unbeknownst to me, the Ford 4.0L Cologne V6 engine had an oil starvation problem at the top of the pushrods. This was rather evident by the freshly sharpened pencil look that every pushrod had at the rocker end. This engine is also known for leaky intake manifold gaskets that are tricky to fix – pretty sure the prior owner did not get the memo on that one.


Zoom in for sure!


Faced with the reality that the option of a cheap way out simply did not exist, it was time to have a heart-to-heart with my wife. It went something like: Me: ‘Honey, this thing is going to cost some serious money to fix it right, or we are going to have to buy something else and possibly fix that one, too.’ Wife: ‘Okay. It will be good for you guys to spend some time together working on it.’ Sure, spending time with my son is always great– it is actually the norm –but this is going to be some high pressure stuff.

The next conversation was with Quintin. I needed to know that he would hold on to this thing for at least a couple of years if I in fact decided to fix it. For him it pretty much came down to yes, but as long as the color got changed. We talked about spraying the whole thing with bed liner. He was nearly on-board until I, for some now forgotten reason, decided it was a bad idea. In other words, we could be painting this thing. GAK! Well, if I am painting this thing its going to need to be a heck of a lot cooler than some tired old Ranger. Time to make a list.

My natural tendency was to get the price of a decent engine rebuild kit, send the block and heads out for a refresh, and then do the assembly. Unfortunately for me, my tried and true machinist had retired several years ago so I now had to call around and get prices. Insane. Thousand$ just for the head work! New plan – find a reman. As luck would have it, Ford sells a factory reman long block for less than the machine work, plus they include a 3 year, unlimited mileage warranty. I figured we had better do the body and paint before buying the engine. No point in buying an engine that I could not return if we ran into something really nasty body wise that could not be easily fixed.

ranger_body_05ranger_body_07We are now about 6 weeks away from this thing needed to be on the road. It was pretty evident that this was not going to be my best paint job, and I did not see much point in replacing the badly damaged door skin, rocker, or bedside. Besides, my son needed the experience.

Somewhat to my surprise, we were able to get things fairly straight. Sure it was going to be cheese city, but it was not too deep and the oil-can effect was tempered. It was around this time that Quintin decided the wheel flares and badges needed to go. Any idea how many holes you need to weld up to disappear the flares? 160. I better get some gas for the mig. We also found the core support was a bit rusted out on lower front, most likely from a bad repair after a previous accident. The rust was contained to the outer layer– the reinforcement was still good –so we would just weld this up as well. Even though it was an after-work slam job over the course of 1 week, including a weekend, I am pretty sure my son learned a few things about body work.

ranger_body_12ranger_body_21ranger_body_22ranger_body_23ranger_body_14We have now reached the point where some key decisions needed to be made: Color; where we would prime it; how many rounds of block sanding; where we would paint it; and how we would transport it. Color was narrowed down quickly – a light grey. We then decided that because of the color, and the expectation that the desert brush would provide plenty of detail later, we could get away sanding the factory paint and some careful feathering on the bondo. Sure it would mean a friendly body for life, but it would also be less painful when the dents came and would for sure save both time and money.

ranger_body_17The decision on where to paint it was much harder. We could borrow a booth at a local shop (connections), but the shop was extremely busy which meant we would run the risk of not finishing before we had to pull it out of the booth. To make matters worse, the shop had already switched to water based. They would let me shoot solvent, but it just did not feel right. The next option was to rent a booth some 25 miles away. It would be a long tow that traversed a major Interstate so the doors and the bed would need to go back on, surely a pain. The last option was one that you should NEVER do – paint it in the garage. This was also the option my son favored, so things were going to get even more interesting. I had to figure out how I was going to keep from ruining my garage, blowing up the house (and us with it), all while keeping the area above 70F when it was in the low 40’s during the day. Did I mention you should NEVER do this?

paint_booth_02ranger_paint_04I did some research and found that other ‘creative minds’ had managed to paint things in the garage. None of the examples had the to address the problem of offsetting a 30 degree temp deficit. If it was summer I would have built a negative pressure booth, likely in the backyard. Because I had to pump heat in, the booth would need to be a less efficient positive pressure design. I decided that having 2 furnaces in the house turned up full-blast could provide enough heat for the garage. A well planned forced duct system would blow the heat from the house into the booth, and an open window on the second floor would keep the house pressurized to avoid negative pressure in the house, and thus a loss of air traveling past the fan.

paint_booth_08I will try to write an article on the details of the booth in the future, but the basics were: completely clean the garage from after the body work, protect the floor, build a frame, create a sealed booth using automotive painting plastic and duct tape, and create a filtered inlet and outlet with sufficient length ducting to allow over-spray to settle before it leaves the garage.

Things would certainly have been easier if not for the color change. Space quickly became a issue when laying out where everything would fit inside the booth. We ultimately decided that so long as we were both in the booth, with my son managing the hose and warning me before I bumped into anything, that we could get this done. Admittedly it was far less than ideal, but it worked out.



At this point we have declared victory over the paint job. Mind you we did this in a cold garage over a very short period of time, so the paint is far from perfect. I like to call it a 20 mph paint job, because it looks great rolling past you at that speed. It also looks great under florescent lights. Seriously folks, this thing is going to get dragged through the desert and it almost looks too good to do that. It certainly looks nice enough to call it worthy of some decent parts.


maf_housing-01ranger_chip_01The reman 4.0L was ordered up from Ford. Performance parts for the Cologne v6 are limited. Hedman has a decent header/y-pipe kit, Jet makes a chip, a 70mm MAF housing can be bolted up using the stock sensor, and Gibson (along with others) makes a 2.5″ exhaust. The complete exhaust and chip claim power increase upwards of 15 hp each. We would be happy with that. so those mods were put in the shopping cart. The next power gains would need to come from modifying the engine internals. Between warranty issues and the need to fix the oil starvation issue if we made major changes, we decided to pass. The only option I found for correcting the oil starvation problem was a roller rocker kit. You can get roller rockers for about the same price as a new engine!

ranger_new_engine_01The A/C had already been converted over to R134A, but the hoses and dryer were looking pretty old, and the condenser had suffered from years of bug smashes and small rocks. With some vigilance, I found that we could replace the entire A/C with new (not reman) parts for less than some shops charge for a complete A/C service. The last tune-up was not that long ago, but the new engine was worthy of some better parts (plugs, wires, injectors, etc.) so we put them on the list as well. The years of oil seepage had also taken its toll on most of the engine sensors. The steering gear had some slop that warranted replacement especially since the unit was fully accessible with the engine out. The pump and lines were replaced to eliminate the possibility of contaminating the new gear.ranger_new_engine_03

The front springs and all 4 shocks had been replaced just a few years ago, but a close inspection of the fronts shocks revealed that the upper posts were bent. A complete set of Gabriel’s were ordered up. During the process we discovered that one of the outer axle seals had started to leak, so the rear axle was rebuilt and the rear brakes replaced. The parking brake cables were on the way out, but we decided to leave those for another day.

The u-joints were original and may as well have been welded in place. I should have just taken the drivelines to a shop and had them swap the u-joints for me, but I was tired and in a hurry so I proceeded to cut the u-joints apart and hammer out the caps. It was pretty obvious that I was not going to be able to get the new u-joints back in, but again, I was tired. Things went very bad in a short amount of time. First, I nicked one of the bearing cap seats on the shaft side of the rear driveline. Then, I destroyed the yoke on the front driveline. The front was obviously toast so I just ordered up a new assembly. The rear looked to be repairable so I took it the the driveline shop. The were able to put a new end on the shaft and re-balance the rear, along with pressing in the new u-joints of course. I could have bought, I don’t know, maybe 4 presses for what my stupidity cost me in replacement and repairs? Translation, don’t do drivelines at home without a press.

Okay, back to the power plant. As mentioned, the harnesses were falling apart so they were re-worked. The intake manifold assembly (upper, lower, fuel rail) was de-gunked and blasted with walnut. We cut the wire management tabs off the valve covers, along with cleaning and painting them. It would have been much easier to buy replacement valve covers, if we could have found them. Some used ones were available, but they likely would have needed the same attention. It took a couple of hours to clean out the baffle plate on the left cover – we should have just cut it out, cleaned it, and then welded it back in! The good news is that from this point all we really needed to deal with was getting the engine back in and putting the front clip back together, or so we thought.



ranger_new_engine_05ranger_assembly_03ranger_assembly_05ranger_assembly_07Here we are, 7 weeks into a marathon build. It is just before midnight on a Saturday. The engine compartment is completely assembled, and the engine simply needs to have the oil primed and the air purged from the fuel line before firing it up. We have 2 choices: call it a day, or wake up the neighbors with the open headers. Okay, so the first one was not really a choice. We primed the engine and got fuel to the injectors, then let’r rip. The Ranger easily came to life, but alas it had a major tick [sigh]. Not an exhaust tick, it was a lifter. Okay, its a new engine so the lifter will pump up if we let it idle, right? Better wait until tomorrow for that one.

ranger_assembly_08ranger_complete_01Next day comes. We bolted up the exhaust to keep things civil, and then fired up the engine once again. The tick was still present. Some quick diagnostic ruled out injectors and put the blame squarely on the number 1 lifters. We let it idle some more, no change. We changed the engine oil viscosity and let it idle again, no change. Is this really happening? Do we really need to replace a lifter in a new engine? Yes, of course we do. With only 1 week to go, it looks like we are going to miss the deadline. We had to rip the head off, which of course requires taking the intake off. Figured we may as well pull the left side valve cover and check those pushrods for play as well. All that was found was the one collapsed lifter on number 1. I called Ford to start the warranty process. They told me I could have just taken it to the dealer and they would done the work under warranty. It took less time to dig into it than it would have to tow it, so not a big deal. I took the old parts to Ford along with a write-up of what was done to diagnose the problem. They had me pay for the new parts and said they would cut me a check after the warranty was processed. I never got the check! Hey, at least it is out of the garage on an the road, right? Almost.

The Ranger made it less than 1 week before it developed a sound that I can only describe as what you get when you break the bolts that hold your torque converter to the flywheel. Now this thing is a manual, and it sure does not make enough power to brake bolts on the pressure plate, but that is what it seemed like. Having already had our fill of working on this thing, we elected to take it to a local transmission shop for repair. What they found was pretty lame – one of the flywheel bolts had backed out and was hitting the trans by the input shaft. Obviously we missed a bolt, or used the wrong torque specs. Either way, since the transmission was out yet again, we had the shop do a rebuild on it, less the clutch and slave of course. The shop was great on price and quality, but it took forever at nearly 2 weeks.

ranger_bearing_01Once the truck was back it was touch and go for about another 6 weeks as Quintin got to experience the beauty of dealing with the after effects of a nearly complete rebuilt. Clogged vacuum line on the fuel pump, leaking front caliper, leaking return power steering fluid return hose, a bad multi-function switch (yes, it had already been replaced once),  etc. He handled it well and got it all worked out, but not before getting sick and tired of driving the Silverado.

The last real issue happened in October ’14 when a front wheel bearing (that a shop replaced not so long ago) had cracked. As we started to pull the front end apart we realized that we had to deal with the elephant in the room. At no point during the main build did we want to tackle the front axle u-joints. To get the axles out meant we needed to pull the diff housing off the beam. Oh joy! It was however a good thing. All 3 axle u-joints were bad. One had slop, another was nearly frozen, and the final was stiff in one direction. Not wanting to make the same mistake as with the drivelines, I took the axles and the differential to the shop and had the u-joints replaced along with the diff bearings.

ranger_lift_02With the Ranger just being so-so because if its short stance, a birthday coming, and the front end partially torn apart, my wife and I decided we would get Quintin a lift kit. Because the kit had to be ordered, it also meant the Silverado would once again be used as a daily driver [sigh]. We went with a Skyjacker 6″ (236RHKS-AN) lift that included new radius arms, springs, nitrogen filled shocks, and all the hardware. We also augmented the lift with an FA600– in place of the FA400 that came with the kit –pitman arm to get the steering linkage back to near level (another tip from, and a single shock steering stabilizer. Both the tire shop (Discount Tire) and the parts store (4WheelParts) said we should go with 33×12.5R15 tires. More on the tires later. The wheels that were currently on the truck were fairly new (bought while we were painting it) but the tires had seen better days. Unfortunately the wheels were both too narrow and the wrong offset for oversize tires. I figured I could recover most of the money by selling them (I eventually got 65% of my money back, ugh).

ranger_lift_01ranger_lift_04The stock auto-locking hubs were replaced with a set of WARN manual hubs, and we dropped in a set of EBC pads to help stop the larger tires. We also stiffened up the seemingly feeble Skyjacker transmission crossmember. It looked like it would hold the transmission well enough, but we also thought it would collapse if it took hit on a rock with or without a skid plate. The front brake lines were replaced with longer braided lines, and the rear lines were replaced from the master cylinder to the wheel cylinders while we were at it.

A couple of major snags prevented us from getting the lift done the weekend after the kit arrived. First, the left radius arm was hitting the axle beam at the access hole for the left axle shaft. We had to slowly grind away at this lip until the radius arm could swing far enough to center to not only bolt up the the crossmember, but also have enough extra to allow the arm to pivot properly as the suspension moved. It was much more than expected. The second major problem was the u-bolts that came with the kit were for a different vehicle. The were long enough, but the radius was for a different rear axle; the radius was larger than we needed. Although Six States was able to make me a set the next business day while I waited, it still cost money. I could have waited for Skyjacker to send me the correct ones, but the truck needed to be on the road.

ranger_lift_03After the lift was complete we sent it out to get aligned. The shop (Russ’s Alignment) did their usual awesome job and got things straight without have to use adjustable bushings. It was shortly after that we realized the tires ‘almost’ worked. While the truck looked good from the side, the 33’s made it look very narrow from the front. We also had a larger problem with the tires rubbing on the radius arms despite the -19 offset on the new wheels. Both 4WheelParts and Discount Tire said the tire/wheel/lift combination should have worked. The only thing I can think of is that Skyjacker changed the design of the radius arms a couple (I think) of years ago from a round bar ladder type to a fully boxed arm. It must have been just enough of a difference that it was chewing up the inside of the tires when turned lock-to-lock. Discount Tire did the stand-up thing and swapped the 33’s out for 31×10.5R15’s – awesome!

Some things were left out of this write-up like the stereo, alarm, interior mods, etc., but maybe we will cover those in some other posts. So that’s about it, for 2014 and likely the first quarter of 2015, anyway. The year is ending and Quintin has a ’98 VW Jetta project going. I am pretty sure the Ranger will be held to required maintenance only, at least until the VW is done, and possibly beyond.

Specifications as of the writing of this post:
1993 Ford Ranger XLT, Long Bed
Complete color change (from factory green) to Porsche Marble Grey, with Slate Grey grill, hood stripe, and mirrors
4.0L, Factory reman long block (rebuilt in 2014)
JET Performance Chip
70mm MAF housing
Stock air filter on dusty days, K&N Air filter (direct replacement for OEM style) for other days
Hedman headers/y-pipe with Super8 locking bolts
Magnaflow dual cats
Gibson 2.5″ stainless cat-back exhaust tubing
Thrush glass pack
BW1350 electronic (control unit relocated under passenger seat)
WARN manual hubs
Manual locks and windows
Factory A/C, Power mirrors
Swapped carpet for vinyl flooring
Skyjacker 6″ (236RHKS-AN)
Skyjacker steering stabilizer
Skyjacker FA600 pitman arm
BM Wheels Razor 15×8 -19
Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac 31×10.5×15
EBC pads front, 10″ factory rear brakes
Braided front brake lines, new hard lines from master to rear wheels
GPS Heads-up display speedometer
Bucket seat mod (cut down 60/40)
Smittybuilt security center console
Rear slider, tinted windows
Full alarm including windows + access point pins
CB with dual 5′ whips
Stereo – 7 speaker
Anzo head/tail/marker lights
24″ light bar
Gul-wing style toolbox
Spray-on bed liner
“REDNECK XLT” tailgate lettering

Recent photos: