1991 XLT in Alaska | Ford Explorer Forums - Serious Explorations

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1991 XLT in Alaska

Hello all,

I bought a 1991 Explorer XLT, 5spd, manual hubs and transfer case in March. I sold my dirt bikes in Oregon last year to make room and money for my wife and I to move up to Anchorage, AK for an awesome job opportunity for her. I planned to buy another dirt bike when we got here, but a couple months after moving we found out we would be having our first child, so something that can take the whole family out would be a better purchase for now. When we were living in the Oregon desert I wanted to build a super simple, lightweight, go fast Ranger or Bug, but being in Alaska now meant needing something that could handle mud and snow. My budget was pretty slim ($3000, ideally less) with having just had a wedding, a baby, and bought a house. I wanted something that I could modify to do intermediate trails and still be well mannered on the road, including sub-zero temperatures in the winters. A hard top JK or Land Cruiser were high on the list but out of my budget. A Jeep XJ was on the list and there were several in my budget but the unibody was a big deterrent for me. Broncos and Blazers were in the running but I didn't find any in time. I forget what aimed me this direction, but I started thinking about the first gen Explorers. I looked at a couple that were rusted out and falling apart and they were asking $3000. Both sellers offered to go down to $1500 but I would have rather paid the $3000 for something not on its way to the scrap yard. I found a posting for a 1991 with a 5spd, manual transfer case, and manual hubs with a new clutch and all new brakes for $1500. Very little rust compared to the previous ones I looked at and straight and clean for a 30 year old truck in Alaska. The previous owner thinks the odometer has turned over once and was at 98K. I found out it had almost new tires, about $2500 of new brakes and a clutch a year before I bought it, a new windshield, and newer radiator and maybe water pump. Runs good, stops good, shifts good, good to go. I took it home just a few hours after the seller posted it. Here it is the first time in my driveway:

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My long term plans for the build are a lift, tires, gears and lockers/traction devices, and a winch. After some budgeting and time considerations I decided to start with 2" lift coils in the front and 2" lift shackles in the rear and throw on some 31" mud terrains. This would be quick and inexpensive and allow me to get out on the trails sooner than later. First, I wanted to get some tune up and maintenance items taken care of. After getting the Explorer home, I found out very quickly all of the window switches had issues. I forgot to check these during the test drive, and the driver's side rear window would not roll up. I hot wired the switch and the window went back up so I knew it wasn't the motor. I also found the front passenger switch wasn't working so I ordered and installed new driver's and front passenger window switches and all of the windows go up and down, at least from the front controls. Then I found out the windshield washer motor would not pump fluid. I verified it was getting voltage and while trying to remove the pump I cracked the reservoir. So I bought a new pump and reservoir. Now it was pumping fluid, but only dribbling from one washer nozzle. I removed the hose coming from the pump and there was plenty flow, so two new nozzles were ordered. One of the new nozzles was clogged out of the package, so another one was ordered. Now I have two nozzles that squirt fluid, but in concentrated streams at the top of the windshield, not nice even sprays like my other newer vehicles. Oh well, good enough for now. The brake and clutch pedal pads were word through to the metal, so I replaced those with new parts along with a new fan control knob to replace the missing piece. Replacing these worn or missing touch points are important to me, but then I moved to the important things. New spark plugs, wires, air filter, oil and filter change. Thoroughly cleaned MAF sensor, throttle body, IAC valve, and PCV. I don't think any of these made a noticeable difference in performance, but nice to know they are new/clean. I read about the zip tie throttle mod and did that in about 5 minutes and it did make a difference. I was getting the throttle body maybe 3/4 of the way open before and now it opens fully. So now that the basic tune up is done I can order parts for the lift.

After spending too much time looking at the different cheap lift options, I settled on the Skyjacker 1.5-2" springs and some large washers to use as shims for a little extra lift if needed. A couple of places mentioned 2.5" being the max you want to go to in the front before needing drop brackets and such, and the springs and washers could get me there. I ended up putting about 1/2" of washers under the springs and it seems to have settled right at 2" of lift. This all went on about as easy as could be expected. The shackles would have been even easier except for one seized bolt that created a bit of a saga that led me to snapping the 5/8" all thread press a few times that I made for the new leaf spring bushings. I adjusted the front camber bushings about 180 degrees and that made the front wheels vertical again with the eyecrometer. There was some tire chirping around corners and it should probably get an alignment but it drives straight without any wobble. Anyway, here is the before and after with 2" lift:


I also have a 2000 Ford E350 van with a lift and found a nice bubble on the sidewall of the front passenger BFG KO2. I wasn't planning on getting new tires on it until next summer but now I figured I should just buy a set instead of one replacement. As I mentioned earlier, I was planning on just getting some 31s maybe 33s for the Explorer, but after staring at Brian1's trail build with 2" of suspension lift and 1" body lift running 35s, I couldn't help myself and ordered some 35x12.5R15 Milestar Patagonias. I was going to go with BFG KM3s, but since I was unexpectedly buying tires for my van this summer also, I went with the less expensive Patagonias. I knew I was going to have to do some fender trimming, but I expected that in the life of this truck. Gauging off of pictures from Brian1's build I started cutting. First the the rear quarter panels, then the rear of the front fenders and corners of the front bumper. Good enough to get the tires mounted:



Through some street driving and finally a trip on some dirt and rocks I found some tire rub points. Not too bad, just need a little more trimming and maybe some wheel spacers or different wheel backspacing. The 35s with 3.55 gears isn't too painful on flat streets, but starting on the slightest hill is not fun. Regearing was going to wait until next summer but with the 35s I think that will be moved up on the timeline. On a positive note, it works fine in 4 low for now and my wife enjoyed bouncing around it put the baby to sleep.


A little out of order here, but after test driving with the lift I parked in the driveway and smoke was coming out of the engine compartment. I knew the valve cover gaskets were leaking, but it was just a slight odor before. I guess the Costco 5-30W synthetic and Lucas additive made the leak worse. I started calling shops as time is hard to come by with baby and the person at the first place had no idea what they were talking about. They estimated $20-30 dollars, but I would have to go in and talk to a mechanic to get a real quote. It is mainly a tire shop, so fair enough. I called an actual repair shop that has done some work on my van and they quoted $550-600. In my head, my max price before doing it myself was $400, so I bought a FelPro gasket kit with valve cover and intake manifold gaskets and dug in over a few nights for an hour or two at a time. I replaced just the valve cover gaskets and upper intake manifold gasket and it wasn't quite as bad as I thought it was going to be. I also did a good flush of the coolant and filled it back up with anti freeze and distilled water. Here's me and my helper figuring out how to reach all those bolts:

That 1991 Explorer XLT looks neat. Nice find! Good write up of your progress here. Keep it up!

Removed the terrible old tint from the front windows. The rear door windows and rear side windows are purple but at least they are in good shape as far as visibility. The hatch window is bubbled but I'll leave it for now. At least it doesn't look like I'm constantly wearing smudged glasses through the front windows now.



Curious about how it is coming along...