Cheeser96's 97 Explorer project - Ol' Purple | Ford Explorer Forums - Serious Explorations

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Cheeser96's 97 Explorer project - Ol' Purple

Hello Everyone! Been on the forums for quite a while now, and have never actually made a post relating to my explorer! I've owned 2 explorers so far, bought both not running and fixed them up over time. My previous explorer was a white 99 and my current is a 97, both 5.0L and both have alot of hours and work into them, but this thread will be mainly about my current build the 97






Current Mod List (Will be updated as much as possible):
-3" PA853 Daystar body lift
-1.5" Torsion bar lift with adjustable rear shackles to match front
-Custom built retrofit headlight housings with blue halos and switchback LEDs
-20x10 Gear Alloy Armor wheels with 33x12.50 Ironman All Country M/T tires
-Aftermarket Grill insert with custom Ford lettering courtesy of Buggman Mods on Facebook
-2004+ Ford Ranger mirrors (needs revisited)
-Tinted tail lights (didn't like the aftermarket options)
-Rebuilt front suspension with TTX parts and Rancho shocks front and Monroe Load adjusting rear shocks
-Blue LED rock lights
-All new Exhaust parts with true duals all the way back with OBX Headers and Magnaflow Hi-Flow front Cats and deleted rear cats
-Pinstriping removed as well as factory badges
-HO Mustang camshaft, Rebuilt GT40-P heads with stiffer springs and new valves, polished upper GT40 intake, and CAI
-LED Pillar pods for Voltage and Coolant temperature

Parts Waiting to be installed and upcoming projects:
-Removing rhino liner from lower sections of doors and body matching with the OE color
-Modifying and installing Ford Ranger aftermarket pocket style fender flares
-New chrome grill and removing the aftermarket front bumper and re-installing OE style bumper
-New Rocker panels, dog legs, and undercoating body
-Removing body and sanding rust off frame and coating with POR

About 2 months after rolling my white explorer, i found this poor thing on the Facebook marketplace. The owner was asking 400$ for it, had a bad axle seal and bearing in the rear end, ABS light was on, The check engine light was on, the radio didn't work, and neither did the sunroof. Still being injured from the accident i was in, i didn't honestly think that this was going to be an overnight transformation, but i knew that this was going to be a fun and slow build that my daughter and I would both enjoy! So i messaged the seller, and the next week i signed the papers at the bank for a loan of 1500$ to pay for the explorer and get started on the build knowing id have it paid off in a few months anyways, and the following weekend me and a coworker drove to pick it up nearly 2 hours away from where we lived. When we got there, the vehicle was obviously neglected, the paint was sun faded and filthy from sitting in the sun, it was filled with rotting food (still yet to get rid of the smell), and sure enough the bearing on the rear end was bad, ABS light, Engine light, blah blah blah. Paid the lady 500$, 100$ extra since she was nice enough to hold it for 2 weeks after contacting her, and her allowing me to pick it up at a time that was convenient to us as we had to drive a while to get it. Surprisingly enough I was able to drive it up on the trailer without the wheel falling off the Right Rear as the bearing on that side was completely gone.

Fast forward to the following weekend, I was still in a lot of pain so working on it was very slow, but i started diving in to the tons of ideas that i had for this build. I started with coating the fender flares and lower doors with Rhino liner as i hated the Gold/Purple two tone paint, and installing the body lift and removing the factory running boards. Second time around on the body lift so installation was a breeze, had it done by Sunday, and the Rhino liner was finished up waiting to dry.


Taken in the middle of installing the body lift

After the lift was finished i got the new wheels and tires mounted up, and prepared to try and pull the rear end out of my wrecked explorer to swap under the new one. Installed the aftermarket bumper that i built for my white explorer, some vent visors, and some other oddball parts here and there for a couple days while i mounted and took home a tire a day. Wheels were easy, just mounted them after work one day and took them home in my car, NOTE: 33s don't fit well in the back seat of a Pontiac G6 lol. The rear end proved to be a major pain in the ass, it was 10 degrees outside, snow on the ground, and i was still injured from the accident so i couldn't do anything too strenuous. After a couple weeks of doing a little bit here and there i was able to get the rear end out and under the new explorer! Built new brake lines to go across the axle, and also from the axle to the master cylinder as it broke while bleeding the brakes after building the line across the rear axle. Got the new wheels tossed on and got it ready for its maiden voyage to the backyard to wash the filthy pig.


Taken after mounting the last wheel onto the vehicle and waiting to finally drive it for first time


Taken after driving for the first time, around the corner of my garage to the back yard

This picture was exactly 1 month after initially purchasing the vehicle and i was extremely happy with the results thus far, but still had a lot of work that needed done. The next thing that I wanted to do was wash it, you can't really tell from the pictures but the paint was very neglected and filthy. I spent a long time washing it and then pulled it back into the garage where i spent the next 5 hours Clay barring the paint, waxing it, cleaning the windows and making it revealing all the paint blemishes that would need buffed out. Underneath the layers of dust and grime, was a very pretty color that i honestly would never have thought would look as good as it did.


Drivers side after Wash, Clay bar, and Wax


Passenger side after Wash, Clay bar, and Wax

As i did away with the Gold on the trim pieces and the running boards, i also wanted to do away with the pinstriping, was a very long process as i didn't want to damage the paint any, and didn't have the proper tools to do it. The following weekend i was actually able to drive it 30 minutes to the shop that i work at, where i got to experience all the fun new problems that i needed to address. About 5 minutes away from the shop, the truck started to act up, bogging down and losing power. Lucky i was able to limp it to the shop, to find that the alternator was not charging, and my battery was now shot. Replaced the alternator, accidentally stabbed a hole in my radiator, replaced the battery, and low and behold, the alternator still wasn't charging. Thanks Fuse. After that, it was on to installing the dual exhaust from my wrecked explorer, as well as replacing all the front suspension parts, headers, adjusting the rear bumper to the correct spot, replacing the rear diff fluid and installing the new cover, changing the oil, tranny flush, full coolant flush, and then finally driving it back home without any hiccups. Since then i have done alot of work here and there, including the Ranger mirrors, Cam install, new wheels, and am currently preparing to do alot of body work


Taken just 5 minutes before taking it home

Headlight Build:
After a few months of it sitting at home i was ready to start throwing more money at it, so i started looking at headlights. On my white explorer i had a set of Anzo USA projector headlights and absolutely loved them, but decided that i wanted to go a different route with this one so that i didn't feel like i was building the same explorer again. Did a lot of research into Retro fitting, and decided that i loved the different look.
The parts i used for the Retro fit were:
-Nilight 2.5" mini HID Bi-Xenon projectors
-Autoxon 23" dual color LED strips
-EverBright 70mm Blue LED halo rings
-Innovited H1 HID 8000k Bulbs
-Innovited 9007 HID Conversion kit
-HeadlightDepot Black chrystal halogen housings

I will not go into exact details as to how i built the lights, but as of right now i plan on going back in and replacing the strips with a more flexible LED strip and adding some RGB demon eyes. The build was fairly easy over all, did require a little bit of trimming but i would definitely do this build again as the light output is a lot better than most of the aftermarket projector housings I've bought. I had to purchase the 9007 kit to use the plug and play ballasts, and then use the H1 bulbs for the projectors, only costed an extra 20$ for the extra bulbs but i think that it made the process alot easier.



Ranger Mirrors:
I bought the Mirrors thinking that it would be an easy process, but taking apart the ranger mirrors without breaking them was a royal PITA. The Ranger mirror bases are nowhere near the right size, and making an adapter plate would have made them look absolutely ridiculous. I ended up taking the bases off the explorer mirrors, and the tops of the ranger mirrors and using 2 self tappers to fix them into place, which makes it so that you cannot pivot the mirrors. I will be snagging another set of both and dissecting them again to figure out a more stable and functional way to make them work, but as of right now the mirrors hold up ok, do not move with wind, and are surprisingly sturdy. I will update this section of my thread when i get around to redoing these mirrors so that if anyone decides they would like to do it, they will have something to go off of.

Camshaft Install:
About 6 months ago i began looking into putting a different cam in the explorer, and was absolutely torn on the cam i should choose. The cam i decided on was the H.O Mustang Cam, this cam was a lot cheaper than the other options and required the least amount of supporting parts and work. I found the cam on Ebay for about 150$, and it was at my doorstep in 2 weeks. While i waited for the cam to get here i started tearing the engine down, and thinking of what parts i would use from the white explorer which had a GT40P engine. I ended up sending the GT40P heads to a local machinist who installed new springs, valves, seats, etc. I unfortunately started this progress before winter had fully set in, and my garage is not insulated, so when it dropped below 20 degrees outside i began to lose motivation and it took me about 4 months to finish the project. I ended up using Carquest Timing components as i install those on the vehicles i work on at the shop, as well as new water pump, thermostat, thermostat housing, Ford Racing Lifters, OE rockers, Sealed Power OE push rods, Summit Racing Intake spacer, and a lot of other new parts that im sure i'm forgetting. It seems to be running very well without a tuner, so i don't know exactly when i will buy it but i am currently looking at getting a SCT X4 tuner.



Here are some updated pictures of the explorer since i bought it. It has definitely been fun building, and i don't plan on stopping any time soon! Thank you to anyone that reads this, i will always do my best to answer any questions about the build so far as quickly as possible!





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Forgot to add that i also have a BW4406 transfer case ready to go in also, just waiting to get it to the shop. Aiming to get it there within the next few weeks. What I'll be doing once i get it there:
-Install the 4406 and driveshafts
-Install the new dog legs and rocker panels
-Body match the lower part of the doors
-install the OE nerf bars that i bought for my white one a few years ago
-Hopefully by then i will have the fender flares from the ranger that i can install
-install the OE front bumper and rhino line it to match rear
-Pull body off to scuff and POR frame and cross members


The HO camshaft is really close to the stock Explorer camshaft is it not?
I love the headlights, well done. May tasteful mods on the 97!
you will LOVE the 4406
Consider Chassis saver for the frame/crossmembers, etc
POR15 does not have UV protection and will turn a dull grey, chassis saver is cheaper and better!


The HO camshaft is really close to the stock Explorer camshaft is it not?
I love the headlights, well done. May tasteful mods on the 97!
you will LOVE the 4406
Consider Chassis saver for the frame/crossmembers, etc
POR15 does not have UV protection and will turn a dull grey, chassis saver is cheaper and better!
Thanks man! And the HO cam is a little taller and little more duration but it's nothing wild. And I will look into that Chassis saver, I want what ever will work best!

Very nice, I think Ive seen this truck before?

Starting the work tomorrow, going to pull the fender flares and doors off to start, paint will probably come first. Once the doors are painted then I'll start doing the rocker panels and then I'll get the front bumper and new fender flares on!

Started peeling all the rhino liner off the doors this morning. Ran into a small, 6 year old problem. My daughter came out to the garage while I was working and saw that the lower doors were gold, her favorite color. Update: Leaving the bottoms of the doors gold for the time being lol. Removing the fender flares later and not sure what I'm doing from there

Little update. Started to cut the corners and rocker panels out last weekend, and that was about as far as i got. The weather started getting colder again and no insulation in the garage meant that it was freezing there too. Body work may or may not continue depending on if i can snag this local explorer for the right price. Finding a rust free 2nd gen in the Midwest is NEARLY impossible, but there is one available 1.5 hours away from me and id be silly to not go get it for 500$, the labor alone would be worth it. Would going through with the original plans of sanding and coating the frame, fixing rear main seal, and swapping the 4406 in, and having the body off would make it 100% easier, and slapping a clean rust free body on top of that would make the most sense. Here is a picture of it, and unfortunately like all my projects start, i can already picture it in my garage lmfao

At first i was unsure about the color, but that's how i felt about the purple before i bought it and have grown to love it. And someone showed me a picture on Facebook of how the paint can look very good when properly maintained. Looking forward to see what comes of the situation and will post updates when more decisions and progress is made. Heres to the potential future: Big Red

Little update which is actually a pretty big update. The new Explorer was delivered today! The guy drove it to me as he started to actually need the money. I was a little worried about buying it basically sight unseen, but im very impressed. He was very honest about all of the damage which is basically a small dent in Passenger front fender and hood, and some minor paint chips on back hatch and rear wheel wells. The underbody is almost completely rust free, which is a huge improvement over the body on Ol Purple, and the no rust on the rocker panels is absolutely amazing to me. Big red will be towed to my buddies house this week where we will begin preparations for the body swap, and Ol Purple will be also be heading there this week or next. Already super excited for the outcome, as i know it is going to be fun and it is going to be awesome, and not to mention ill be freeing up alot of space with all the extra parts gone LOL. Attatched are some pictures from when i got it unloaded off the trailer.






Update: Monday after the explorer was dropped off at the shop it was then picked up by another tow truck and taken to my coworkers house where the project is being done. Finished rounding up some parts, Coating for the frame, some brake line so i can redo all the lines with the body off, and some other odds and ends. Wednesday he told me he finished clearing out the space for Ol' Purple so we set up to have it towed to his house this morning and everything went perfect! Today i stopped out for a couple hours after i got off work and got some stuff moved around his shop and got Ol' Purple into the shop and started working on it. Today i got the front fenders and hood removed, which isnt alot but i didnt want to spend all night there, and then have to spend another hour driving home after, especially after working all day. Will be heading back out there tomorrow to pull the doors off, finish unbolting everything off the body and pulling the body mount bolts out, and then hopefully Sunday i will be pulling the body off and starting the rest of the work that needs done. Hoping to make good progress this weekend and have the project wrapped up in 3 weeks, but i dont think he minds however long it takes. Couple pictures from today, will probably update again Sunday with more pictures of the progress from Friday and Sunday.


This morning i went over to my buddies at 8:00, and by 4:00 the body was off. Started by pulling the doors off, which was fairly simple, 4 bolts per door, and with the exception of the Passenger front door, 1 Connector per door. Then i began working at pulling all the body mounted pieces off the inner fenders. Pulled the entire engine wire harness, PCM, Coolant/Washer fluid reservoir, E-Brake cable [which was already broken, just had to unclip from the frame mounted hole at the drivers floor body mount], Master Cylinder, and Transmission shift cable. All of this was fairly straight forward, no hidden bolts or anything, just a lot of connectors and body retainer clips. Next i removed the front Driver and Passenger seat to access the 2 body mount bolts under the seats, and removed all body mount bolts, as well as the exhaust hangers that mounted to the underbelly. We then pushed the explorer out to the yard and used a Bobcat with Fork attachments and some home made fork extenders and drove the forks through the door cavities. The body just lifted straight off, right after i remembered to detach the steering shaft LOL. The frame is now ready to be prepped for coating, the transfer case is ready to go in, my cats are ready, as well as the rear main, and whatever exhaust system i chose to go with. Will not be back out until Thursday night as my mother goes back in for Chemo on Monday and i'll be staying with her for a few days to make sure that she doesn't need assistance with anything. Will probably start updating weekly as work is starting to slow down over the course of a week as i can only go out there a few days a week. Thanks for reading thus far, and here's to the future of Big Red! Attached are a few photos of today's progress, and my newly acquainted work buddy!







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Been a long couple weeks, and haven't had nearly enough time to go out there and work as i'd like to. However, over the past couple weeks i have:
-Ground and Coated frame with POR and Rustoleum Rust converter
-Installed and drained 4406 as well as had driveshafts coated and balanced
-Installed new Magnaflow high flow upper cats, and cut out rear cats. Exhaust is almost finished just have to cut of the old pipe and clamp new stuff on
And thats pretty much it. As i said it has been a long 2 weeks, and a very slow 2 weeks. Hoping to get alot more done in the next 2 weeks, and possibly have it done in 3 weeks. Attached are some updated pictures, will update again maybe next weekend depending on how much i get done, if not the weekend after.







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Getting closer to being ready to pull the body off Big Red. Didn't get to spend a lot of time out there this week like i needed to, but i got a lot done nonetheless.
-New coated brake lines ran and installed
-Cut off old bumper and installed stock bumper brackets
-Raised exhaust up so it doesn't sit so low, and finished running pipes, ready for welds.
-New o2 sensors as i snapped one off in the cat, after heating with the torch for a couple minutes.

When i first swapped the rear axle out i ran a brake line going from the rear axle to the ABS module, and then afterwards i installed my new leaf springs from my white explorer. Started having issues with the rear brakes afterwards, never really looked into it as it mainly sat in the garage and i only drove it maybe 50 miles a year in town. Yesterday when i cut that temporary brake line out, i found the problem! Apparently when i installed the rear leafs, i pinched the brake line between the bolt and the frame, stopping all fluid from reaching the rear calipers..........oof. However i did not make the same mistake when installing the new brake lines lol. I do very much like the coated brake lines also, unlike most coated lines these are thin enough to allow a brake line fitting to fit over them without having to peel or strip any of the coating off. Look forward to seeing how durable they are, and testing the longevity of the finish. The exhaust didn't work exactly the way i wanted to, i was hoping to use only exhaust clamps so that if i wanted to change anything later on down the road. However the pipes ended up being a little to short on the tailpipe end, and the pipes at the front cats had some weird bends that wouldn't allow me to use only clamps. That will be finished tomorrow morning, as well as welding the bumper brackets into place. Hopefully after tomorrow i will be finally ready to start taking Red apart, and then the following weekend i will actually be swapping it over. Attached are some photos of this weeks progress
exhaust 1.jpg

exhaust 2.jpg

Brake line 1.jpg

The above photo is the brake line pinched in between the frame and the bolt for the leaf spring. Very hard to see, but its near the center of the photo
bumper bracket.jpg

Will be updating again after next weekend when i get the chance.

UPDATE: Made a lot of progress this weekend! Got Engine harness removed and discovered that the previous owner installed a remote transmission filter kit, which i am definitely keeping. Removing the engine harness was a PITA, The body lift makes a hell of a difference in that department. Installed the second new fuel pump in the tank because i was having a fuel level sensor issue with the brand new pump i installed last year which resulted in me running out of gas on the way to work. Also ended up removing the transfer case again because i didn't install a new transfer case/transmission adapter gasket which was my own fault, and it leaked quite a bit of fluid onto the shop floor. We then wheeled Big Red outside, and finally, FINALLY removed the body off the frame. We then wheeled the frame from Purple outside and after about 45 minutes of aligning the body just perfectly on to the lift pucks, shes sitting pretty! We are on the downhill slide now, will be going back out to the shop maybe Wednesday and installing the doors, and then again probably Thursday to install the engine harness. This weekend i'll be out there Sunday to try and get done as much as i can, but hopefully i'll be transporting it home within the next three weeks. Below are some pictures of the progress that was made over the past week, Will update with more photos maybe next weekend depending on the amount of progress made in the week, maybe the week after. And i just wanted to say that if anyone ever has any questions on the build or needs any advice or tips i am always willing to answer any questions to the best of my abilities!
Big Red Engine right.jpg

Big Red Engine Left.jpg

Big Red Tranny Filter.jpg


Big Red Right.jpg

Big Red Left.jpg

Big Red Left Rear.jpg

Big Red Rear.jpg


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Update: Got some more work done over the past couple works, Not completely finished yet but i am getting very close. Got the tail lights installed, 3rd brake light installed, Headlights, Grill, and a few other small things. Will include the part numbers of the parts installed at the bottom of the update. Had a little mishap over the couple weeks also, i was unaware of the fact that 95-97 Explorers had an ABS Module on the inner fender underneath the battery tray. This was problematic because Big Red is a 98, and unfortunately i did not notice this difference until the body from Ol Purple was in the scrapyard. Luckily i found a used part on Ebay, and it got here 3 days before it was supposed to arrive, and got it installed this afternoon. Attached below are a few new pictures with the grill, lights, and bumpers installed. Hopefully i will have the rest of the engine harness installed this week and will be bringing it home in the next 2 weeks.
Big Red Left Angle old.jpg

Big Red Right Angle old.jpg

Big Red Back Right Angle.jpg

Big Red Rear Left Angle.jpg

Big Red Front clip Left angle.jpg

Big Red Front Clip Left Angle 2.jpg

Big Red Right Angle 1.jpg


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