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Project Vulture


Well-Known Member
January 29, 2020
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somewhere in the swamps
City, State
Year, Model & Trim Level
1999 Explorer Sport 4x4
Being that I've been working on my Explorer for three years now, it's time to make a proper build thread.

Vehicle: 1999 Sport 4x4, 4.0L SOHC, 153k on the clock.

I don't have any convenient pics from before the fun started, but here's a good pic of its early days under new ownership.

The first and most necessary modification was to remove the running boards in the name of clearance and appearance, and the second was to add some small but effective lights on the front. Removing the badges just made sense.

Originally, I spent a great deal of time down at the beach; lifting was unnecessary and slow cruising was the order of the day. Part of me knew these days wouldn't last...


So clean. So original. So factory. So... boring?

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Time passed, and so did working near the beach. Money grew more common and time grew more scarce.

It became apparent that the easy life was over for both me and the Vulture. Greatness always comes at a price, and in some cases, it means getting rid of things you want, but don't need.


It's been real, sub box. You will be missed. Some day, you will be returned to your home in the Vulture...

Removing the sub box turned out to be a good decision for two reasons. Firstly, it made room for cargo in the back. Secondly, it made the Vulture a functional work truck. That facilitated this awkward moment:


Loaded about 15 5-gallon boxes of commercial soda syrup into the back. The tires were scrubbing on the wheel wells. Poor single-leaf springs had PTSD after this. (More on this later.)

Eventually came more small details, a K&N intake kit (never bothered to photograph that), 1.5" spacers front and rear, two more small lights on the front. These would become more important in time.


In my mind, the spacers made a world of a difference in the appearance. It wasn't noticeable to the unfamiliar, but I'm sure all of you EF fellas know how skinny the wide flares make the default stance look.

A 3" torsion key re-index and a 2-inch rear shackle lift kit was installed and left to sit there and rot while I saved up money for the real goodies...


Has anybody ever told you you can run 33" tires on a 3" lift? You can't.


I said you can't. What's so funny? Yes, the bumper cover is gone. Yes, the rocker trim is gone. Didn't you hear me? I said, you can't run 33" tires on a 3" lift!

I mean, look at the poor thing!


So, after stupidly attempting to do so any way, I did what I should have done earlier, and had the fenders trimmed. Sadly, this necessitated the removal of my dear friends the fender flares, which shall go back on as soon as possible. (I tried 3M tape. That was not a good idea.)


My wheel wells became a massive abyss, an all-consuming black void. Hooray for ugly fenders!

But the body shop experts did a truly outstanding job removing all the rough/sharp edges and covering the bare metal, and for a very reasonable price. There's something to be said for getting professional work done - they have the tools and experience to do it right. If you don't have a garage, just accept it and get professionals to tackle the job. I can't stress this enough for all those newbies who think they can redneck their way to the top. Yes, it's awesome and respectable to have a project you started and finished completely by yourself. But it is massively more awesome to have a truck done right that will serve you for years or even decades to come, with no "corrective" work needed.

Pretty hefty trimming job, but it's gonna take more lift to make it not rub with 33x12.5's on 1.5" spacers. But I'm working on that!

Hooray, stuck my flares back on. Yes, with more 3M tape. Realized that my own ignorance is what failed my first attempt.


For the lift, I'm thinking to use these Old Man Emu 1.5" lift springs alongside the 2" shackles I've got on already, any reason this is a bad idea?

Also, I haven't found any information whatsoever concerning the potential woes of installing torsion bar keys and lift spacers sumiltaneously. Good idea? Bad idea? Any one ever tried it? Any input would be nice.

That's a great looking 2nd gen:chug:

@Rick Thanks man! She's still a baby as trailing goes, a beauty in spite of the salvage claim status. I never hope to monsterize her like yours, but man, your Great Pumpkin is Explorer Forum's Statue of Liberty... a universally recognized symbol of our values and beliefs! Stay awesome, you're the heart and soul of our community.

I'm a little hung up at the moment, considering what the best options are for lifting the front another couple of inches. On one hand, it seems a shame to lift only a little when so much work is required; but on the other hand, it also seems a horrible mistake to lift more than necessary, for precious COG and other technical reasons of physics. I only "need" 1 or 2 more inches. I can live without it, but the rear end has to come up no matter what, and I want the front to be at least level with, if not higher than, the rear (because torsion bars). There shall no body lift ever touch my Explorer.

I have at my disposal the services of one metal fabricator who specializes in suspension, who can do whatever I want him to do, for the right price; but I would like any and all input before spending a dime on something that might be a mistake.

Ball joint spacers are generally not a good idea, what about a drop bracket? Would my torsion bar re-index have to go in order to facilitate either of these? I can't seem to find any information about this here or anywhere else. The well-worn path seems to be the Ranger 4" Superlift, but I was kinda digging the idea of keeping the majority of the factory parts on it, because I really like how it handles now.

I know sacrifices do have to be made, but I don't want to sacrifice what I already like (low COG and excellent handling characteristics) in order to achieve what I don't want (rough ride and high COG).

Having expended a great deal of time researching, and accumulating a sufficient amount of money, I have decided to move forward with the Superlift kit. My ball joints are wearing out, front wheel bearings are screaming, and the springs are sagging so badly that the tires scrub when I jump the curb. A rebuild is becoming more necessary with each passing mile, and for the price of labor, installing the lift kit in the process just makes sense. Got to replace T-bars and leaf springs, so it's gonna be a full tear-down no matter what. Might as well save the labor and only take it apart once.

Any comments or concerns before buying the parts and taking the old Vulture to the garage would be greatly appreciated.

(Note: My stupid taped-on right side fender flare came off again... Might drill some holes to stick the flares on with the original clips. Don't want to lose the little fella on the trail!)

Nice looking Sport.

Sometimes a lightly modded Ex is better than a highly modded Ex.

Thanks man. I really liked the look it had stock, with the wide fender flares and gray trim, but I couldn't learn to like the low ground clearance and tiny wheel wells. Thinking of regearing to 5.13's eventually, though, to handle those fat rubbers. I'm a torquemonger. Making one modification requires another, and if you don't keep it basic, you got to go full blown. But the Vulture must remain basic enough to daily.

Ford made a product that lasts 300k with literally no maintenance other than oil changes, so I figure the less I change its core components, the longer it will last. But at the same time, when it does come time to replace parts, replacing them with bigger and better just kinda makes sense, for "us" people.

On note of "us" people, you've got one mean looking rig yourself! No single part of it receives all of the budget, it looks like a purist's truck should. Kudos!

Welp. Having done my diligence to research, re-research, cross reference and price check, last week I ordered one Superlift 9637 front box kit and received... one pair of steering knuckles. Not exactly what I was expecting from the item description. Spent the rest of the week going back and forth with the parts dealer concerning the return, and was informed that several buyers have bought these so-called "box kits" thinking it is the front end lift, and returning it because it is in fact mislabeled steering knuckles. I also checked other distributors for reviews, and, unsurprisingly, found that they also had customers in my exact situation. How these types of reviews eluded me during the weeks I spent searching for such information before buying the parts, I will never know.

The representative was understanding enough, and provided me with the Superlift part number K358 (which is designed for Rangers), and of course the related items K494/495/496 (for Sport Tracs) came up in subsequent searches. So, I have been presented with a new question, for which the Internet at large does not have a simple yea or nay answer: Does the Superlift K358 fit the 1999 Ford Explorer?

And a better question, for all the time I spent searching and reading countless lift threads on Explorer Forum, how is it that I don't already know this?

Will make a point of updating when the answer is found, exactly which kit is to be used for my 1999 Explorer 4x4 and why. Perhaps a call to Superlift would also be beneficial, although with their lousy parts descriptions, their representatives may end up being as baffled concerning the answer as us buyers seem to be.

The good news is, I got my 5.13's, and they're going under that sucker whenever the lift gets installed!

Back to the drawing board for now, I guess!

Situation update: I got my refund and WILL NOT be buying from that company again. However, the way the ball bounces, I also ended up with a slightly damaged 2003 Dodge Durango with the 5.9L Magnum V8, which will make for some good fun to be had once I'm done with the Explorer. So many cars, so little time.

Wait, who am I kidding? You're never "done" with an Explorer!

Now, to grind out the holidays and order the CORRECT lift this time. That's what I get for listening to other people's recommendations. If I had just done what I was going to do in the first place, and order through my dealer's service center, I could have gotten the right parts the first time, or at worst, had them to blame for the wrong parts being bought, and they would have dealt with the return.

The moral of the story: You have the right idea. Don't let anybody else tell you how to do stuff. If your right idea is wrong, you have taught yourself a lesson that you couldn't have learned any other way.

In other news, the East Coast has nothing short of glorious sunrises. All you west coasters out there have my sympathy; although I'm sure your sunsets out there are just as epic!




A south FL sunrise.

Yes you can run 33s with 3” of lift.

Just 10 1/2s not 12 1/2s.

I’ve had torsion keys in mine for 5-6 years with no issues.

In the rear I have one ton ranger leaf springs with Warrior shackles and coil spring helper shocks.

I got 4 1/2” that way.

@MAS Tequila Yeah, that's what I'm talking about! Gotta love those sunrises.

Nice Mounty, too; looking pretty clean, there. Cramming the skinny tires under there really hides their height. But you said you're running 3" front and 4.5" rear? That's an extreme rake. It hides that pretty well, too, in the pic.

I still want to know, is it possible to run the Superlift + keys? Since the Superlift is essentially just a tower that extends a copy of the original mounting hardware farther away from the body in so many places, I don't see why you couldn't; but I haven't had a good look at an installed Superlift. I'll have to check it out.

Haven't updated in a while; the Superlift is on the way, and the only remaining parts to buy are the front drive shaft and the rear springs (still fairly set on OME 1.5" + 2" shackles vs. hyper leaf or AAL, and I don't want to run SOA). Then, it's time to start putting things on!

Also tore into the Durango project; taking stuff off is free, after all. Below is how it came to my possession. Pretty, ain't she?

20210227_104811 (2).jpg

Not even sure what all needs to be replaced at this point, but just about everything I've removed thus far has gone into the scrap pile. I'm thinking a front hitch receiver is in order for both the Vulture and Unnamed Blue Thing, after what the other truck's trailer hitch did to this front end. A hefty bar of steel on the front would prevent this from happening again in the future... if I can figure out what to do with these frame rails...



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On that note, I did find a couple of options for Class III-IV front receivers for 2nd gen Explorers. They all hang lower than I'd like, but to my thinking, a fab shop might be able to cut out the excess drop and bring it up to where I want, just below the bumper. Also, to my way of thinking, this front hitch could support such things as a winch, and could also serve as a base on which to build an epic crash bar or skid plate, without having to build a whole bumper. Anything wrong with this idea?