Chain Lightning - 2003 Centennial Edition | Ford Explorer Forums - Serious Explorations

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Chain Lightning - 2003 Centennial Edition

This is my 2003 Explorer, Centennial Edition. I found it at a tiny dealer way up in Sedro-Woolley, WA, on January 21, 2022. I was on a plane to Bellingham, WA, the morning of January 22. 4.6L, AWD, every option except the rear DVD. She had 195,000 miles when I got her, and I immediately drove her almost 1000 miles home to Sparks, NV.

With some exceptional help from one of our members, I was able to determine the following...

Out of the 4000 planned Centennial Edition Explorers, 3167 were built.

Of those, only 304 are all-wheel drive.

Of those, 272 are equipped with the 4.6L engine.

This one, as optioned, is one of thirty-seven.

The first set of photos are how I got her.

I've been after one of these for over ten years, and now I have one.

Engine - completely stock
Transmission - completely stock
Rear differential - Detroit TrueTrac
Suspension - QA1 Coilovers
Tires - Michelin Pilot Sport All Season, 275/40ZR20
Wheels - Adrenalin/late 4th Gen factory 20s, chromed by California Chrome
Infotainment - Atoto S8 Premium Android head unit, Rockford Fosgate Punch 6x8s (P1683) and 8" shallow-mount sub (P3SD2-8), with Kenwood 5 channel amplifier (X802-5)

Mustang-spec Coyote 5.0 &10R80 swap (3rd Gen)
Better brakes, TBD

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Interior. About as clean as could be, with minimal wear on the driver's seat and steering wheel.

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Current status...

Ever since I decided I was going to own this one day, I wanted to lower it and install Adrenalin wheels. So I did.

Wheels were chromed by California Chrome, and I would not hesitate to use their services again. Tires are Continental ExtremeContact in 275/40-20.

Sound system is in progress, with an Atoto Android head unit, Rockford Fosgate Punch 6x8s and 8" sub in the factory box, and a Kenwood 5 channel amp.

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We ran this in the Nevada Open Road Challenge last weekend. Open road racing, 122 miles total, in the 110 MPH average class.

Full southbound run -



What's the top speed of your explorer? I'd like to do some open road racing.

We hit 121 (our class has a max of 124 before we get disqualified, so I didn't want to push it).

I used a tuner to yank the speed limiter out, and lowered the rev limiter a bit. At 120 MPH in 5th, I was turning about 3500 RPM.

Made another run through the Nevada desert, this time in the Silver State Classic Challenge, 100 MPH class. Video below is from one specific part of the course, which we ran 15-20 MPH faster than last time. Truck setup is the same as before.


Made our third Open Road Racing run a couple weeks ago, with some upgrades (see next post), and won 1st Place in our class (Touring Division, 100 MPH). Full video of the southbound run is below.


One major change I made to the truck before our last event was the suspension. The Bell Tech springs are great for lowering the truck a bit, but they're in no way performance-oriented. I had thought they were too soft for spirited driving, but I was surprised to find out just how soft they were (380 lb/in, as it turns out).

So I contacted QA1 and worked with their tech staff to get set up with double-adjustable coilovers, and properly-rated springs. This setup allows adjustment of ride height and compression/rebound on the shocks themselves, and makes an unbelievable difference in how the truck performs. Part of that process involves getting corner weights from the truck; I was surprised by the results, which is in one of the photos on this post. Ford did a nice job on these things.

These are the QA1 parts that are now on the truck:
Front shocks: DD902
Front springs: 12HT600 (12" uncompressed length, 600 lb/in rate)
Rear shocks: DD602
Rear springs: 12HT550(12" uncompressed length, 550 lb/in rate)
Thrust bearings: 9010-101 (two sets required, one under each coil; makes adjustments a lot easier)
Top stud mount conversion: SS100SD (one required for each shock); these allow you to use the stock upper mounts from your factory coilovers, or new ones (Amazon, Rock Auto, eBay, etc.). See note #2 below.

Required modifications to the truck:

1) The rear shock/spring assembly will not fit inside the upper mount from the stock units, because the spring diameter is too large. I solved that by getting two more rear upper mounts, cutting the tops off, and welding them to the inside of the other mounts, which lowered the upper mount location (see photos), then cut some of the top off to allow for the bushings to fit. You could use only two rear mounts to achieve this; I ended up using a total of four, as I didn't know exactly how they'd turn out beforehand.

2) The adjustment knobs for the front shocks will not clear the opening in the lower control arm, so that opening needs to be expanded about 1/2" or so. Pretty easy work with a die grinder and carbide bit. One photo below shows the stock opening, the other is modified with the coilover installed.

This setup, along with the tires, has the truck about 4" lower than stock. I have the adjustment knobs currently set at 12 and 12 (adjustable from 1 to 18). Ride is a tiny bit harsh, so I'll probably dial the compression back to 10 for normal street driving; we ran the race at 12/12.

Check out the weight bias on these things! Who would have expected near 50/50 weight distribution?






Race ready. And this event happened to be on the truck's birthday.




One more mod I forgot to mention...

Ever since I got the truck, the rear end has had a grinding noise and vibration at low speeds when the oil was warm. It got progressively worse, so I replaced the factory limited slip with a Detroit TrueTrac. Cured the grinding, and the rear hooks up a LOT faster on snow and ice now. It's a very worthwhile upgrade for a street truck; I like it so much, my Thunderbird and Ranger will get the same treatment.