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My 97 Exploder Pre-runneresk Project...

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Active Member
November 16, 2010
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City, State
Bellingham WA
Year, Model & Trim Level
97 XLT
Hello, for those that have seen my other projects this is what I would call a medium undertaking. For those that haven’t, I hope this thread entertains you and maybe inspires you to undertake any project you have been putting off because you just can’t pull the trigger on it for fear of failure. Some of you may think this project is one of the best things you have ever seen. Others may think I am an idiot and I am wasting my time and money. In the end I hope you all enjoy.

So about a year ago I bought a 97 Explorer from the Wife of my boss. It paid 500.00 for it and it runs and shifts like a top. 113K miles V6 RWD. I bought it to use in the winter months so I could garage my other car. Bought some new wheels, and tires for it and did a torsion twist on it to get the front end up a bit. I have never worked on an off road type vehicle before. All my past projects have been street cars with lots of HP so I was excited to dive into a new world. I started by making some steal bumpers, pre-runner style light bar, and a luggage rack with snowboard attachments. I have always wanted to build a pre-runner style truck.




Anyways… a year has past and one bad bearing and blown shocks have taken there toll on the suspension so I have decided to upgrade.

I wanted to make a truck that had a lot of suspension travel and ground clearance. I didn’t want to lift it needlessly unless it was going to increase travel. However I also don’t need any heavy duty long travel pre-runner style kits because I am never going to jump dunes, or run at 70+ in the dessert, but I do want to go play in the dirt and if I am going to keep up with the 4wd guys then I am going to need momentum… So I have come up with what I think will be the best setup for me. It’s going to be a front long travel kit that utilizes the OE style torsion/ shock setup. This entire setup costs less then any long travel coilover kit w/o the coilovers. Total budget for this is about 2500.00 w/ tires.


Here is the parts list:

3” lift spindles
Adjustable Upper Control Arms
OE Lower Control Rods
OE Inner/ Outer Tie Rods
New Bearings
Front OE Spec Universal Fox Racing Shocks
Rear 2” Spacers

Not Pictured:
Type “1” Stiff Torsion Bars
305/70/16 Goodyear Duratrac Tires

I got these from Air Bag It. They are an all new heavy duty cast piece that they look great. Major plus points is the spindle itself un-bolts from the knuckle (OE is all one piece). The spindle itself also uses a stronger outer bearing from the F150, retains Stock Brakes, and ABS sensor. Also being a lift spindle it drops the spindle for instantly 3” of added ground clearance.

Upper Control Arms:
Also came from Air Bag It. These pieces are nice. They have a grease able ball joint and polly bushings on the inside. They are adjustable for easy camber/ caster adjustment and the best part is that they are made from bent steal tubing. (more on why later)

Fox 2.0 Performance universal shocks. After a bunch of research I opted for these over any Explorer specific parts because they are more heavy duty and the mounting points allow for a much wider range of shocks if I want to upgrade even further in the future. Almost identical to the OE shocks for extended and compressed length and custom valved for the type of driving I want to do.

OE Parts:

All Aftermarket with upgraded joints and bushings based on what I could find on the internet for quality parts. I could have just reused the original Lower control arms but getting new ones made it so I could do the fabrication and continue to drive the truck for less down time.


$60.00 of ebay with lifetime warranty. These are for the rear to space the rear wheels out to help with stability.

Okay so on with project description:

Using these parts I am going to cut and extend the Inner Tie rod, Lower, and Upper Control arms 8” to make a wide track, long travel suspension kit. By extending the arms I should have OE ride quality and an additional 8” of ground clearance (9.5” overall with the new tires) with an additional 4-5” of travel. I’ll get 16” of added wheel track for better stability (18” overall with new tires).

The Lower Control arms will be cut and then extended with thick gauge sheet metal. Then reinforced I beam ribbing on the inside it should make for a much stronger then OE piece. Also a new shock mount will be added to fit the new shock.

The Upper Shock mounts will be cut off and a new custom piece will be made and welded to the frame rail

The Upper Control arms and Inner Tie Rods will be cut and extended by welded a solid rod to the cut pieces and then sleeved using a piece of tubing that is cut in half. The first half will be seam welded to the original and new rod and then the other half will be welded to other half. This should make for a strong durable extension.

I have started with the lower control arms which are going to require the most work.

First I cut them in half:


Then I welded two 4” wide pieces of steal together to get the desired 8” of extension and then welded them to the cut OE pieces.


Then a 3” wide piece in the rear and a 2” wide piece on the front for the side walls.


Tomorrow I hope to have pics of the finished control arms so more to come. Once the pieces are finished the truck will come in and they will be installed. From there I can check the ride height so I can figure out how much I need to lift the rear. Also new fenders will need to be made to work with the wider stance and larger tires so ones the suspension is finished I’ll be fabing those out of sheet metal as well. And finally to finish things off the truck will be getting a couple updates to the bumpers, some additional plating to the doors for bashing, custom running boards, and some custom mesh covered window frames in case 2012 brings about a zombie apocalypse… LOL But seriously if it does happen a zombie proof vehicle will be in high demand…

I hope you have enjoyed what I had to offer so far.

Johann @ Girodisc

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first off: awesome truck! i love the roof rack set up you have going. second: awesome design on the lower control arms! never thought of just extending the current ones... cant wait to see how it all looks on the truck when your done

Awesome project. With the wheels sticking so far out with spacers and longer control arms(interested to see the results), do you plan to run flares or fiberglass fenders?

Thanx. I was going to try and finish them last night but I had a couple other cars that took longer then I was expecting. I am hoping the ride will be the same as stock with the extended arms couple with the stiffer torsion bars. Also going to run it without a front sway bar.

Got the wheels off to have the tires swapped today. Took off some 31x10.5x16 BF Goodridge Mud- Terrans (For Sale) for some 33x12.5x16 Goodyear Duratacs. Also ordered up some Superlift 4" Lift Leaf Springs, and some Skyjacker 8" longer SS lines. The lift springs should get me in the ball park and if I have to I can go another couple inches by making a longer shackle and lowering the front perch and bump stop so the springs don't flex past their recommended specs.

I am thinking once its all settled out the front will be about 8" and then I will make the rear around 5" so I have a bit of angle.

I hope to have at least one arm done tonight or Monday night. Got to get the other car ready for a big Subaru show so I might be on that all night.

Yes I will be making some custom all metal flares for the front and rear that match the styling of my bumpers. After the arms are complete before I install the torsion bars I am going to let the truck drop to the bump stops and build the front flare to be a perfect fit. The rear I am just going to make one that flush with the outside of the tire so it will tuck if the rear bottoms out.

This is a concept I made of what I want it to look like in the end with the added door and window armor. Don't mind the hood mounted guns, that was just for fun.


Johann @ Girodisc

I like your enthusiasm and willingness to do it yourself, but 8" extended arms are going to put WAY too much leverage against the torsion bars. My guess is when you set it down, it will fall straight to the bumpstops.

Maybe I got the stiffest ones so I am hoping that dosen't happen. I think it might feel really soft and go up and down a lot but I think I can fix that with dampening. I don't think when the truck settles out that it will be that bad. I guess we'll see.

If so the universal style mounts the a-arms are getting will make is easy for me to swap to a coilover if I have to.

I can also clock the Torsion bar over a click and do a really aggressive twist on them to get it back up and while they ware out save for coils haha. I have about 1" of droop after it settles on my "L" bars with the a medium twist. The "1" bars I got are almost 1/8" larger in diameter and made from a different type of steal so I think they will do the trick. I am a V6 2wd so there is far less weight then say a V8 4wd.

Johann @ Girodisc

nice x

Subscribed. I'd like to see how this turns out. Good luck to ya man! Nice ex!

I like your enthusiasm and willingness to do it yourself, but 8" extended arms are going to put WAY too much leverage against the torsion bars. My guess is when you set it down, it will fall straight to the bumpstops.

Exactly what I was going to say. I am running the 1 torsion bars cranked all the way on stock-width suspension and I don't think I have much, if any, more lift than my 3" lift spindles gave me. I've only had them on my truck for a couple of months and they are already sagging.

Check out danwaters build. He extended the stock lower arms I think only 3", and he had to use an air shock as a supplement for the torsion bars because of the added leverage. I think you're going to find that 8" is too much to extend them once you see them on the truck. But good luck with the build! It'll be interesting to watch.

Otherwise, it looks like you have a pretty good parts collection. I've never seen those upper arms or those spindles before with the stronger snouts. I will definitely have to look into those more.

X3 on the torsions not being able to hold that kind of leverage. And at 8" wider per side youre looking at a track width in the 90s which might cause lots of issues on small narrow trails.

Like stated above your enthusiasm is killer. You overall width extension is far too extreme. Even without the stock or aftermarket torsion running a coilover on that would put far too much stress on that weak arm to even worry about the amount of added stress and torque on your lower control arm mounts. Id take one of the 4" extension plates out of those LCAs and make sure you run vertical gussets the length of the arm. This things as is will just snap guaranteed. I am trying to give you constructive positive criticism so please don't take it the wrong way. We extended my LCAs by adding a 1" uniball cup to the end of the ball joint and plating it in. Cutting the middle of the arm you just sacrificed any structural rigidity the factory arm held in the first place. At 3 inches wider per side my stock torsion (whether fully cranked or not) and came nowhere near supporting the added weight due to leverage so I added an air shock and pumped if full of 375 psi nitrogen. That did the trick. If you are interested in the future at all my front end is for sale. It would be much safer than what you have going on currently. Good luck with your build. My advice. Do much more research.

The stock lower control arm is basically going to be a new piece when it is finished I really only used the stock arm to get all the points for the suspension bits. I have always worried about the leverage issue (I just couldn't really find anyone else attempting to do this) which is why I decided to use the universal type shock so that by making new lower and upper mounts if I needed I could just do a coilover. Also, if this project turns out to be a bit of a flop the damage to me is pretty minimal. My original lower control arms are fine (they just need new bushings), so I can take them out of the extended ones, keep the lift spindles, shorten the upper control arms back up and get a new inner tire rod. I can keep the same shock and just not run the wide setup. I know that this type of project has not been done really before and its an experiment for me so in my initial planning I used parts and made a procedure to test out the limitations of the suspension and I worked so that I could back out and salvage parts if need be with small collateral damage.

Once I finish the lower control arms I am going to pull the front suspension and swap just them in with the new torsion bars and then I will set the ends on blocks to see how much sag I am going to get. If they drop to the floor I will find come coilovers close to my specs and keep going. If I opt not to then I will just swap the bushings from the new extended arms into the old ones and just assemble the suspension with unmodified parts and rock it out.

I will be working on the lower control arms this week in tandem with swapping the intake manifold in my Legacy to get ready for an Auto X. Progress will be be a little slow for a few days but I am hoping that I can have them finished and test them this weekend so I can figure out what changes I need to make if any for the weeks ahead. The rear suspension is ordered and on its way along with new extended lines so they will work on ether wide or stock with setups. The only thing I have left is weather or not I will need to have my driveshaft extended and I will know ones the rear lift is finished.

Johann @ Girodisc

Bad ass dude keep up the good work.


Lol. If any of you have seen any of my previous builds on my street cars then you would know that I am constantly trying new things and doing things that are often questioned but that's just me as a person.

Here are a couple for reference if any of you are interested:

Legacy GT:

Toyota Celaru STi:

Subreal Atom:

Anyways I contacted the dealer that I got my shocks from and I found they make a coilover that's almost Identical to the shocks I bought and that they have spring rates available to use the torsion spring in tandem or remove it all together. Once I figure out if I will even need it then I will make arrangements. Looks like the front coilovers are going to run around 700.00 for the pair so that will put me at 3200.00 for the entire project including the tires. I would still consider that a win over just buying a standard long travel kit that is way more then what I need and this is upgrading the front and the rear w/ tires and fender flares.

Also to comment on the strength of the lower control arm. It will be heavily re-enforced to the point that it will be unrecognizable. Its not just going to be extended and boxed in like that the pics are showing. There is much more to do on these since they are the most important part of this setup. And the wider track and small trails I could care less about since this truck is never going to see any tight crawler type trails. Manly wider open areas and gravel roads with some mud here and there. Lots of snow and higher speeds...

Johann @ Girodisc

osteologation I wasn't hating. I myself have extended my factory lower control arms by adding a 1" uniball to the end then plating them with 1/8" chromoly plate. I extended mine about 3 inches total perside. I think anything more than that is a waste of time and you might as well make new ones from scratch. Extending arms whether factory or new ones from scratch 8 inches is pretty ridiculous. I mean why so wide? You're not going to get a rear end under that thing to match a track width of the front. You're going to be around 90-92" wide depending on wheel size and offset. The longer you make the arms the more leverage is put on the LCA and UCA mounts. I have seen the lower mounts tear out in the front and fold in at the rear mounts...these cases were extended around 5 inches per side. I am just trying to save you time in making a huge mistake that may not have cost you much to build but damages could be fairly large. As a recommendation for a spring rate i would say around 600-650 Lb spring depending on how far out on the LCA you mount the shock. You're torsion will not support 8 inches over arms. Mine had a difficult time at 3 inches which is why I added a 2.0 air shock to work with my bypass shock. The air shock really helped the torsion out so another thing to look at. Good luck with your build. I am very interested in seeing the final outcome of this.

I destroyed my lower arm mounts at roughly 5" per side. youll need to connect the lower mounts with a brace and alose gusset the upper mounts. Spring rate will probably be 700#, or maybe more depending on mounting. I run a #700 main spring and it gives me a good ride height with some preload. The few guys who have posted arent talking down on your build, we just have built desert trucks and have put them through the paces and know whats gonna work and what isnt.

They bring up a good point, that it isn't just more leverage on the spring, but there will be a lot more lateral leverage on the frame and A-arm mounts, wanting to twist the wheels backwards. They both had that problem with extended arms, and I'm still on stock width arms and even I had that problem too of bending the rear lower arm mounts inward.

Bad ass dude keep up the good work.


Desert trucks, or prerunners, see A LOT of abuse, and any weak link in a truck can cause big problems. All of this advice is coming from people who know the weak links of these trucks and have seen what can happen if these problems aren't dealt with correctly. Ya he may not be driving in the desert but who's to say that he still won't have the same problems. We're not hating 'cause we're haters.

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Yeah it might work it might not. I am going to try it anyways.... And I haven't taken any of your comments as talking down by any means. They are all valid points and I hope that when this is finished I will have addressed them all. Like I said my truck is not even going to see half the abuse your dessert trucks are going to see because all we have here is gravel roads and some mud pits. The Lower arm when finished will be very stout and it may or may not be enough but I guess I won't know till I give it a try. I plan to add some metal to help ass some bracing to both the lower crossmember and the upper control arm mounts. The shock mount will be an all new thick gauge steal piece welded to the rail. As I said before, if it dosen't work I can use the stock lower control arm and shorten the upper one back up and just run it in the stock orientation.

I got a set of coilovers coming to run in tandem with my shocks.

I know many of you are telling me this won't work, I'll break something, etc and I am sure you have experiences that tell you so but I am still going to do it. I have been told over and over again that its not going to work, or that I am going to fail, on many of my other projects and so far I have been lucky. Maybe this one will prove to be a failure, I still have parts that I can use which is why the parts that I am modifying are on the cheaper side in case it dosen't Sit back, relax and let this project take form. I would prefer this thread not be filled with people just going off what another says, reiterating the same thing over and over again. I get it, I knew the risks when I started this. I believe that this will work and I am not going to stop till I am done and if I fail this will be a good thread to others not to do what I have done and if it works then I will be happy and maybe it will give others inspiration to try something they have never done before.

So with that said, in a couple days after I finish my Subaru I will get back on this and finish up the extended pieces. My rear leafs, and extended brake lines should be here any day and the coilovers I just picked up will be here mid next week. Should have all the fab done so in a couple weekends the truck can get all of its parts. Once the suspension is done I will do a couple practice runs at a logging site about a mile from the house to see if the welds hold or if any problems arise. I don;t want to make new fenders if I don't need to.

Johann @ Girodisc

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