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BPlein's 97 XLT

Latest Update: March 6, 2006: Powertrax Locker and BTF diff protection
I've not been that active on this board for a while, but I decided to set up a page here before I start doing any real modifications, which start tomorrow (read on!)

My name is Bill Plein, and after my day job, I also run Squad Engine , a site that specializes in hosting home pages for online teams/squads. It doesn't pay, but it's fun. I also run PerfectUnion.com, a site for firearms enthusiasts. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and you can reach me for runs via webmaster@perfectunion.com

My Explorer started out life as my wifes grocery-getter. I took it over and put a bunch of miles on it, and since October it's been our 3rd vehicle (I bought a 2005 Mustang GT, hoooah!)

1997 Explorer XLT
4.0 SOHC V6 4WD
Automatic, 3.73 limited slip

Here it is, dirty and starting to get some surface rust on the roof, in my front yard today:

The truck was 100 percent stock and driven primarily by my wife until 2001, when we got her a new car and I sold my daily driver and took over the Explorer. I always had a desire to use it, and I didn't care that it had about 70K miles on it. Oh, yeah, we did put ART front rotors on it, because after running through a set of rotors every 35K miles, you sort of get tired of it. I have 75K miles on the ART rotors right now, no sign of warping.

Late that year, in October 2001, we went to Yosemite and during that trip, the driveline started acting up. I had eaten the tranny and damaged the transfer case (actually, probably in the reverse order). I had to get both rebuilt at a cost of about $2500 installed.

Early 2002 I decided "What the heck, enjoy life" and swapped out the stock sized tires for 31x10.5-15 Goodyear MT/Rs. What an improvement offroad! For the 2nd Gen Explorers, 31's are great, don't sweat the upgrade.

I put a bunch of miles on the MTRs and after about 50K on them, I could no longer just rotate them to cut down on the noise. With my long-ordered Mustang soon to arrive, we thought the wife was going to take the truck back, so I put on some Big-O A/T's (still 31's, though) for running around town, Costco and Home Depot runs, going up to Tahoe, etc.

By time the Mustang arrived, we decided to keep the wife's Sable! So this truck sits, ignored mostly, in my front yard.


Aside from my day job and a few sites I run, I keep the servers running for Pirate4x4 BBS. I'm Lance's geeky sysadmin.

We're going to do a product review of the Superlift 4", complete kit, including rear springs (SUA), shocks, front lift, and optional skid plate and front drive shaft. Installation is schedule for tomorrow, and an initial product review should be posted on Pirate4x4 (and here as well) shortly thereafter.

After that, we're going to try and review a number of other modifications.

The 2nd Gen explorers are plentiful, and cheap, and while the aftermarket parts aren't what they should be, people on this board have shown that you CAN make a capable off road vehicle from an Explorer. At PBB, we're hoping to run a series of articles, a build-up if you will, over the course of the coming year.

Most of what I'm doing to this vehicle I researched HERE. I'll give back to the board by posting as much about this as I can back here.

Edited May 30th
Superlift 4" Suspension Kit

I will do a full write-up and post it here and on Pirate4x4.com, but for a taste of it prior, here are some pictures.

Below: Before lift, with 31's

Below: After Superlift 4:" Suspension lift

Below: Before lift, with 31's

Below: After Superlift 4:" Suspension lift

I got the truck back from the installers, but I discovered a new vibration in the front end that wasn't there prior. It is subtle at low speeds, and increases under power and with speed. It's pretty bad at 70mph.

Turns out it was a loose hub cover! Kicked it back into place, I'm back in good shape.

A quick and dirty (very dirty) glance at my front suspension. You'll see that the angle of the steerting rod isn't that bad. If you take a picture of it at full extension, when it's up on a lift, it ;ooks worse.

Here is a shot of the left side torsion bar drop bracket. My torsion bars are dirty but you will have a clear idea of the drop bracket, and you can also see the Superlift double-carden drive shaft. The torsion bars are very exposed with the setup, it's the nature of a lift on a torsion bar suspension.

Edited July 1st

Update: March 6, 2006

Powertrax for Explorer with L/S carrier installation:

(Complete writeup at Pirate4x4 )

I needed to replace my 8.8", it was dying a slow death from a bad pinion bearing (symptom: whining from 35-75mph, very loud!). I sourced a used 8.8 with the same 3.73 gears on this site, it happened to be a limited slip as well. I wasn't 100% sure at the time that I bought it that I'd upgrade it with a locker.

When I got the axle, it was initially very ugly looking. It had lots of surface rust from Washington State winter road conditions. But it looked to be "dry", no leaks, so I was hopeful. It was also advertised as a pull from a wrecked fleet vehicle, I was hopeful it had been well maintained. Sorry, I forgot to take pictures of this very red rusty axle.

I took the bulk of the rust down with a wire wheel and my Ryobi electric drill. It really did a good job cleaning up the pumpkin and the axle tubes. I further neutralized the rust with Loctite Extend Rust Neutralizer. This turns the rust black, so it must be acid-based (I guess?), but it also has a paint component that locks in the acid, reducing or eliminating the need for you to seal it with a primer before painting.

I then painted it with Hammerite Rust Cap hammertone finish in black, which is really a dark graphite gray. This product warns against use with an acid-based neutralizer, but I tested it and it seemed to be fine.

The results were fantastic!




With that complete, a couple of weeks or so later I was invited to haul it up to Placerville and we had an installation party.

First we put it up the "new" axle on a couple of tall stands so I could work on it while my buddies tore out the old axle. Here is what a trac-loc looks like while it's draining:

Then I took out the pinion shaft, C-clips clutch spring, clutches, and gears. The Powertrax comes with excellent documentation, there is no need to know much about axles at all when attempting this, you just need common sense, you need to know how to use your tools, and having someone near by to help from time to time is good too (never know when you will need help grabbing tools, rags, etc.)


Old parts out, new parts ready to go in:


After much work (see full write up for details), I finally got it together and could check it for proper clearances with a small piece of bar stock they give you:

We put the cover back on, put it under the Explorer, and function checked it and added some Redline 75W/145 gear oil. It was a shame, my Blue Torch Fab cover hadn't come in yet.

I got the new diff cover a few days later, and had to R&R the old cover.

The BTF cover is designed to protect your diff, not cool it or make it shiny. It comes unfinished:

and is made of 1/4" plate steel with a 3/8" ring, this isn't going to break!

I painted it with a gray hammertone paint, and it contrasts nicely to the dark axle.


next upgrade: 33" Interco TrXus on some killer wheels..... (soon, I have them in hand!)


Well-Known Member
May 9, 2005
Reaction score
City, State
North Myrtle Beach, SC.
Year, Model & Trim Level
2005 Ford Explorer XLT
Looks Good, keep us informed!!!