'98 XLT 5.0 Frame Off Restoration | Ford Explorer Forums - Serious Explorations

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'98 XLT 5.0 Frame Off Restoration


Well-Known Member
June 13, 2012
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City, State
Northwest Indiana
Year, Model & Trim Level
2003 Sport Trac 4x4
Edit on March 30 2013: Oh god, this has gone so far past my initial six month, three grand, do it myself rust fixes. It makes me laugh to see how naive I was in the beginning. The body has been taken off the frame, massive amounts of bodywork done, lots of new panels and sheet metal, and a custom digital desert camo paint job is in the works. She's also getting a 4" Superlift, coilover conversion with Fox shocks and Eibach springs, 3" bodylift, bigger tires, new wheels, heavy duty steering components, a few new skid plates, Eddie Bauer fender flares, and oh yeah, TORQUE MONSTER HEADERS. I warn anyone attempting this in the future: Whatever you think this will cost, increase that by about ten times and you'll be close. But for me, every penny is worth it. I love this truck, and when it's done, it will be everything I could want in Ford's little underestimated powerhouse. And for just slightly less than the cost of a brand new unmodified truck.

Also, if you don't want to scroll through a bunch of pages, here are the latest progress shots:




Ok, so Friday I started my latest long term project: a frame off restoration of my 1998 Explorer XLT 5.0 AWD. I'm guessing about a six month time frame, due mostly to funds and available time to work on her. Very busy summer I have.

So, first, a little background. I bought her two years ago from my uncle, who took very good care of her. She was pretty much rust free up until two winters ago. Pennsylvania road salt corroded away almost all the undercoating. I was going to the WyoTech in Blairsville at the time. Even with the GI bill, I was still pretty low on spending money, so I didn't have the funds to get her re-undercoated. Biiiiiiiig mistake. Even washing once a week did nothing to slow the rot.

Most people who've heard my plans have called me crazy, but I love my old girl. I know you all understand though.

It was a few weeks ago that I decided I was gonna save her. I've been saving up for specialty tools, sheet metal, and paint. Unless I find something else majorly wrong, I'm ballparking between $2,500 and $3,000 for everything.

Now, I'm a professional mechanic, but not on autos. I work as an R&D tech for construction equipment, like loader backhoes and dozers. Very big difference. I've always fixed my own stuff, but I've never done body work or painting before. Luckily, I have an awesome neighbor who was a union welder for almost 40 years. And a good friend of mine who does restorations on old GM muscle cars. So this will be a good learning experience for me too.

I figure the easiest way to do this will be to separate the body from the chassis and roll it out underneath. This will save me from pulling the engine and trans, and make it easier to work with in my small garage. Also, less stuff I have to buy. And if anything needs rebuilt, its a lot easier to lift it off the frame when everything is out in the open.

After everything is apart, I'm going to replace the sections of sheet metal that need it. Then I'll strip the paint from the underbody, prep it, and apply a few coats of POR15, a coat of the POR chassis black, and then finally, rubberized undercoating. That should be enough to protect from road salt, with proper care.

For the frame, I'm going to remove the axles and suspension, prep it, more POR15, then Herculiner. I might go over that with more rubberized undercoating too, just to be even more OCD. No undercoating on the axles though, just paint. And maybe some nice new diff covers.

The fenders, rockers, and door bottoms will all be repaired, painted with POR15, and then Herculined where appropriate. UV topcoated as well.

The hood and liftgate will need replaced; they've rotted too badly in the usual spots to be saved. But they'll last me another year. I also will do cab floors next year, when I have more time again. I may also reseal the fuel tank, depending on how bad it is.

So, even though I know I've missed a few things, I'm going to just show some pictures now. This wall of text is big enough.

Day 1:


Day Three:


Day three (today) was when I almost lost the will to continue, and was preparing to say my goodbyes to her. After getting a closer look, I thought the rust had compromised structural integrity far too much. But, just to see how bad it was, I took a wire brush to a few spots on the frame and body I thought were the worst, and lo and behold! Merely surface rust! The radiator support is too bad though, that'll need replaced. And the RH dog leg. And cab cross members for body mount position 2. And lower control arms. And both bumpers. And the evap canister bracket. Knew that going in though. Somewhat easy fixes


(Just a sample picture of surface rust I took. This wasn't one of the really bad spots, but I was ready to head inside and didn't want to crawl under again.)


So, I know this is gonna be difficult, but I'm gonna do everything I can to save the ol' girl, and keep her running for another few decades.

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best of luck to you.

$3,000.00 in six months is a tight budget and time line ( I feel like I am watching an episode of "Flip This House " )

I do auto body / collision repair if you need any help let me know.

For less than $3000 you could get a rust free Arizona truck.


I've seen some of your body work posts here, and I gotta say, you're damn good. I'd definitely appreciate the help if I have any questions, thank you.

Rick: I've thought about it. I was stationed in Yuma, Arizona for four years and I know people I could call and ask to look for one. But I can't. Me and this truck have made quite a few memories together, and simply buying another one wouldn't feel right. Plus, this is a great chance to learn new skills and test my mechanical ability. Worst comes to worst, I'll get the Arizona truck and reuse some parts from this gal.

Update Day 4:
I got a few more things disconnected. ABS manifold, power distribution box, air intake, air box, washer fluid/coolant overflow tank, and a few other minor vacuum and emissions stuff.

It's not going very fast. I get two, three hours a day max to work, and half of that is spent labeling wires and hoses, bagging and tagging parts, and taking multiple pictures of every single component before and after disconnection. I'm also writing notes each time something comes off. While this makes dis-assembly slower, it will make reassembly infinitely easier.


Tomorrow I think I'm gonna take a break from the engine bay. I got a nice new American made Bone offroad creeper :usa: coming in that I wanna test out by taking the rear bumper and quarter panel trim off with. My garage floor is terrible, and the only creeper I have right now is a busted up Craftsman. Not even a good one... it's the one that came with the jack/jackstand combo.

Me and this truck have made quite a few memories together, and simply buying another one wouldn't feel right. Plus, this is a great chance to learn new skills and test my mechanical ability.

I completely understand:chug:

good thinking with the labeling, notes, pictures and taging. Usually people dont start doing that until after they say "Oh **** "

So I got my new rocker panel moulding in today :D I'm going to be cleaning up my factory running boards, and those will probably wind up going in the classifieds here. I was thinking about running with no trim on the rocker panels, but it would be a huge hassle to try and weld every hole shut. Plus this gives me a slight protective barrier if I kiss a rock or tree, before it gets to the sheet metal.

It's been slow, still. Got the last engine bay disconnects done yesterday. Rear bumper removed too, that whole assembly is scrap, too rusted to save. I'll be replacing it with a full Westin rear bumper, which includes everything and is about $150 cheaper than what LMC wants too.

The body is almost ready to come off though, just a few more electrical, fuel, and emissions disconnects, then the seats and carpet, then the body mounts. Should have it in the air Saturday. I've been thinking though, and I'm not 100% sure what the best way to raise the body without a lift would be.

I could rent a bobcat with fork attachments and slowly lift each side higher onto railroad ties resting on jackstands, about 1 notch at a time. This is about $280 for five hours, which is the shortest rental time.

I could raise it from the axles, rest it on jackstands under the body corners, lower it down and roll the chassis out, then raise the body again and set it on the railroad ties.

I could use an engine hoist to raise the front while jacking under the cargo area, set it on the ties, and then roll the chassis out.

Does anyone have any other ideas? Also, what are the strongest points on the body for jackstands? Keep in mind that the crossmembers for body mount position 2 need replaced, so I need full access to that area.

you dont have a lift?
*face palm*

you dont have a lift?
*face palm*

Lifting the body without a lift is perfectly doable. Just check out MoabB2's Bronco II restoration thread. Granted, the Explorer body is probably heavier, but I also won't be lifting it with manpower. I've also helped do old truck cabs and muscle car bodies without a lift before too. It's all about taking it nice and slow with a few friends to help watch everything.

And I identified the holding points. Body mount position 1 will be held with jackstands and a 2x4, body mount position 3 will sit on 2x4s on top of the railroad ties, and the same for body mount position 5. This is only temporary, while I work a bit of overtime to get a Summit auto body restoration cart. That'll set me back another $400 or so, but I'd feel safer working with it on that. Made in America to boot. :usa:

And I'm back to work today after enjoying a weekend in Chicago with my girlfriend. Tim McGraw kicked ass :D My previous post should have said next Saturday, as in the 14th. Which is actually going to be Sunday now, since my friend wont be able to help me until then. No big deal.

Day 11:
I started on the interior today so I could begin soaking the body mount bolts with Kroil. Driver's door is off, most of the trim and weather stripping on that side is removed, and the rear drivers side seat is started. I forgot to grab my Torx bit sockets from work today, so the rest of the interior will be done tomorrow and Wednesday.

Bad news is that there are four rust spots and a few bubbles on the cab floor sheet metal so far. This means the whole interior will need to be stripped, and the entire cab repainted. Probably going to set me back another two months or so, since there a lot of damn nooks and crannies.

I'm also going to have to decide if the exterior paint is going to need professionally redone. Close inspection of the doors has revealed rust and small chips that extend to the exterior. Fixing this will leave black paint on places where it won't be covered by the bed liner. Going all black would be the easiest, but I really want that green and black bedliner two tone look.

This was taken about halfway through:

And damn, that carpet gets dirty quick!

Got a lot done this week. All that's left is a few more electrical connections, park brake cable, doors and liftgate, fuel filler, removing the radiator support by drilling the spot welds, removing the driveshafts, and then removing the body mount bolts. Should be all done by Saturday. I don't think I'll be able to get it in the air this weekend though. I have to drive out to Chicago Midway to pick my girlfriend up on Sunday.

So I'm ahead of schedule by about two weeks; I had planned for five weeks to fully disassemble and lift. And that cab floors aren't nearly as bad as I'd feared, rust wise. Very dirty, but I'll POR the rusted spots, treat the rusted threaded holes, and then scuff it and Herculine the whole tub. Carpet will need professional cleaning though. Driver's side was just dirt from work, but the passengers and rear seats had food and crap. Filthy passengers.

Finished the interior today... Maybe. I might decide to pull the dash and check under there for rust as well:



And I'm not sure what caused it, but the factory jack was severely corroded:


Took one of the body mounts out to see how it would go. This one wasn't bad, my cordless Craftsman Pro impact got it out:


Oil changes are so much easier now! Maybe I should just run with no radiator and air cool everything ;)


And this is why I need a new Radiator Support:

Does anyone know a good place to get A/C Hose and tube fitting caps and plugs? I've got the hoses and lines covered with plastic bags for temporary purposes, but I don't think that's good enough for long term storage.

For the caps, you could always try a major hardware store - they have all kinds of stuff. Or at an auto parts store the HELP brand might have just what you need. If not, and it's just for storage, a blob of RTV can be used in a pinch. Another thought is checking a local A/C shop; when they install new hoses and A/C components, those usually have plugs in them and they probably just throw them away or have a big bin of them that they'd give you some for free.

Thanks for making this thread, it's really interesting to see this happen and with all the pictures. Good luck to ya! :thumbsup:

Thank arco, I'll try and find a local A/C shop that's willing to deal with me.

I tried getting it ready for Sunday anyways; I figured that I could get it done early before I had to leave. But the drivers side body mount bolt 4 (the one over the gas tank) had the lower bushing seperate. I might have to drop the tank, but I have one trick yet up my sleeve. I just need some clever jacking work.

The biggest problem though is with the cheap ass chinese harbor freight spot weld drill bit I bought. I went there just to get one super tall bottle jack for the rear end, and saw them. This is the first tool I've ever bought from harbor freight, aside from their socket trays. It drilled the first spot weld out perfectly. Went to the next and it wandered all over the place. Ok, maybe I just need to pilot drill this hole. Tried it again, wandered still. So I might have to wait a few days to get some quality USA :usa: bits. Hopefully next weekend it'll finally be off.

Until I get the body cart, I'll start off with fabbing new brake, fuel, and trans lines. I'll be using the AGS PolyArmour lines for everything. I've used them before and they're great. They bend easy, flare easy, and hold up well to road salt and snow.

After that will be removing the engine, trans, transfer case, axles, and suspension. I'll sandblast the frame where I can't get the wire wheel or brushes at, and then start prepping it for the POR15 and Herculiner. I'm guessing, as long as I can keep getting enough overtime, that I should have the frame done within a month to two months from when I start.

I also got the notion that with the firewall and underbody and frame all getting painted black, how nice would it look to have the engine, transmission, and transfer case all painted Ford Green? It's not an exact match to my exterior paint, but I think it will look good contrasted against the all black. I'm doing a top end engine rebuild anyways, so I might as well rust treat and paint the block too.

It's a great start man! I know how you feel. I love my 98 Ex and I couldn't even think about letting her go! Good luck!

The biggest problem though is with the cheap ass chinese harbor freight spot weld drill bit I bought. I went there just to get one super tall bottle jack for the rear end, and saw them. This is the first tool I've ever bought from harbor freight, aside from their socket trays. It drilled the first spot weld out perfectly. Went to the next and it wandered all over the place. Ok, maybe I just need to pilot drill this hole. Tried it again, wandered still. So I might have to wait a few days to get some quality USA :usa: bits. Hopefully next weekend it'll finally be off.

Sucks that those aren't a decent product:thumbdwn: I would be hesitant to buy them, unless it was just to buzz a few spot welds.

Finally got some progress again! I'm behind schedule now, but it's ok. My niece was born two weeks ago and she's the most adorable baby girl I've ever seen. Then I got hurt at work last week, which slowed me down. Sprained rib muscle. It sounds lame, but damn it hurt. I'm pretty much recovered now though.

So turns out it wasn't the drill bit. My cordless drill was wandering bad, enough to throw the spot weld bit off. Grabbed my other one from work and everything went smoothly today.

And thanks for all the words of encouragement fellas. :thumbsup:


Day 28:
Radiator support is off! Had to get creative with my angle grinder to cut off some sections blocking the lower inner fender spot welds. Had a seized drivers side body mount too. So I had to bend my upper inner fender a bit to remove it, but with come careful heating and tapping everything should go back together again just fine.

This give me more than enough room to clear the engine and trans when the chassis rolls out, so pretty soon here the separation should begin. I've been going crazy waiting on this part so I can start the body repair and painting process.

Body cart came in from Summit too. looks nice, but I haven't got the room to put it together yet. I'm gonna need to rent a storage unit for a while to store all my seats and trim stuff. All that crap is taking up half my garage right now.

So when I'm done with this gal, I think I'll make a nice "How-To" writeup and post it here to help out everyone else who wants to tackle a project like this.

And I'm trying to decide if I wanna wait on some of the sheet metal to pick up a set of Torque Monster Headers when they go back on sale again, supposedly here soon. I'd hate for them to go on back order again right when I'm about to put everything back together.

Nice work! Keep going at it. I am looking to modify mine... its to far gone to care so maybe possible chop top...


I've asked a lot of people and it's pretty much split 50/50. I think it would look great, others not so much. My girlfriend says she'll never ride in it if I do. But then again, she also hates my lift and tires so her opinion doesn't count.

The exterior paint is bad in enough spots to require a paint shop if I want to stay with the factory color. I don't have the equipment, facilities, or skill to do an actual Ford style paint job. But, I'm pretty damn good with a rattle can.

I was thinking about going with a digital pattern, similar to this (Not Mine):

except closer to Marine Corps colors:



(^This one would look better, I think. Especially with the black bedliner around the bottom)

I like the look of the larger blocks better. The small blocks seem to cram too much detail, and make the paint look crowded. And the ultra-flat color would kinda hide the small dings and dents in my doors, fenders, and quarters. Those are all thanks to a semi that decided to bounce off a construction wall, head into my lane, and throw debris at me while missing me by about three inches on the highway.

Not worth the amount of money and time to fix those dents properly, since it doesn't bother me too much. I don't mind character dings. I just hate rust.

And Aervoe sells kits complete with stencils that I can use as references, plus the paint. Here's the Desert Kit. I'll probably need two or three, but the price isn't bad, especially compared to a professional job.

I like that idea.
Kinda like a tribute to the troops :)

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So I think I need a sandblaster...

10 AM:

3 PM:

That's after a bunch of paint stripping, scraping, sanding, and washing. :mad:

There's still a bunch of paint in the corners and all up in the little nooks and crannies on the inside. I got most of the exterior paint stripped from the other fender, and was gonna start on the inside later.

The good news is, I got all the paint I ordered from KBS coatings in today.

I got:
1 Gallon Paint Stripper
1 Gallon AquaKlean
1 Gallon RustBlast
4 Quarts RustSeal (2 Grey, 2 Satin Black)
1 Spray can Self Etching Primer
3 Little Spray Bottles for the paint
5 Paint Spouts for the cans

This stuff is supposed to be just as good as POR. I went with KBS because they're based out of Valparaiso, Indiana. That's only about half an hour from me. Doesn't hurt that they were a little cheaper than POR too. American Made to boot :usa:

I've got a few spray cans of the Aervoe Digital Camo paint coming in too. I got 4 cans of the base coat for now, #1079 Light Tan. I'm gonna go with the digital desert camo scheme, but I'm not gonna do it all at once. I'll get everything done, get the base coat applied, and over the course of a few months I'll do the patterns. And I've still got plenty of my old cammies around to reference the pattern from. I'm really stoked about this, I think it's gonna turn out amazing. And since it's desert, I won't have to worry about losing my truck when I park it in the woods :D

I also found a bedliner that I'm interested in. Rather than going camo/black, these guys have a Safari Tan color that will go with my paint scheme really well. I like their texture too, it's basically everything I'm looking for.


One kit of the Aromatic Safari Tan has 1 Gallon and 1 Quart, plus a UV additive. It's a bit more expensive than the Herculiner, at $111 for the smallest kit and $132 for the biggest kit. They also have both coarse and fine textures. I'll do coarse for the body, and fine for the underbody and frame. The frame and underbody I think I'll do in Santa Fe Brown, which is a darker color.

I'm done for today though, since it's supposed to storm pretty badly. I'll probably have to treat the surface rust that's gonna start, but that won't be bad or take very long.

All in all, everything's going pretty well. I really have no idea when I'm going to get the body off now though. Everything except body mount bolt 4 on the drivers side is done, but trying to find time that me and my buddy are both free isn't happening so far. And before I do, I also wanna get the glass pulled. The Gerber Collision and Glass right down the road from me said they would come out to my house and pull all the glass for only $150. I'll probably get that done next Saturday.