Ryan87LX's Build Thread: Dora the Explorer | Ford Explorer Forums - Serious Explorations

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Ryan87LX's Build Thread: Dora the Explorer

Okay, I've put this off for long enough - here's my build thread.

Flashback to August of 2014: I sold my 1989 Bronco because I needed something with (kind of) 4 doors and (mostly) rear shoulder belts for growing kids. The Bronco was my DD and I did a ton of work to it.


Instead, I picked up this 1997 5.0 AWD Explorer XLT. Because nobody else has ever thought of it - I chose to name it Dora the Explorer (haha)


Totally stock, right down to the 235/75/15 Goodyears, there were a few problems with it. Front driveshaft CV joint, rear bumper mangled, front upper control arm bushings, rusty rear quarters, gas filler tube rusted away, and a bunch more things. I went to work fixing most of the big things, and also put a new fuel pump in (preventative maintenance) and did a complete tune up.

In the end, it was a pretty clean driver for me. I actually ended up liking it stock so much that I didn't really want to mod it at all - it was so much quieter, smoother, and more comfortable than the Bronco was that I thought I might have been cured of the off-road bug.

I drove it through winter and enjoyed it daily.

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In February, my water pump took a dump. It was pretty serious, the pump went from working great to massive leaks in two days. I couldn't drive it anymore and had to tackle the job in my unheated garage in -30*C weather. The garage was a bit warmer inside, but it was still a pretty cold job. OF course, the bolts were seized and I ended up having to cut the timing cover off.


That was fun. Not.

The truck drove pretty well, but once summer came I realized I needed to improve on a couple of things. I needed a good way to haul bikes, and I needed a good way to haul a canoe.

I tried a couple of things for the bikes, and finally added a uhaul rear hitch receiver to work with a bike carrier that I already had. The Uhaul hitch appears to be identical to a Curt, but was 1/2 the price.

For the canoe, I ended up going to the junkyard and grabbing a couple of extra factory crossbars. They seemed to hold up to the weight of the canoe pretty well. I also fabbed up some tie-down hooks that mount under a front fender bolt. Pretty easy, and very effective. I still need to remove these and paint them.



Managed to take it out on a long camping trip like this, and was really happy with everything. When I returned home, I noticed both of the rear leaf springs were broken and missing part of a leaf.

Now, way back when I bought the truck I replaced the front upper control arms, installed a camber adjuster kit, and then... drove it without doing a wheel alignment. This was on purpose because I was expecting to do a TT lift and figured that there was no point in doing an alignment now, and then doing one again later. But I was undecided on what I wanted my eventual tire size to be, so I waited.

By now, the tires were pretty worn (unevenly) and needed t be replaced. This wasn't a bad thing, as even though the tires had decent tread when I bought the truck, they were clearly very old tires and should have been replaced anyway. I had to decide now and I decided on...

31s. The summer was going by quickly and I didn't want to spend the rest of it installing a body lift to clear 33s, even though I really wanted 33s. Everything works together - gears (I have 3.73s) affect tire choice, hitches affect body lift choice, etc, etc. I felt that 31s would be good for me for a while to come.

So, I installed two new rear leaf springs, and took the truck for an alignment and the installation of 5 31 x 10.5 x 15 Goodyear Duratracs. I had the same tires on the Bronco, and was very impressed with them. I seriously considered the new BFG AT K/O2, but was not thrilled about the reported performance on snow and ice on the street - and this is primarily my DD.



How did I get the extra rim to mount up 5 tires? Earlier in the year I met up with another forum member and picked up an extra rim and a bW4406 transfer case for later swapping.

After this, I managed another 'expedition' trip to a provincial landmark with the family. Was a great day and Dora was a great vehicle for the trip.

By now of course, I realized that I was getting really excited about going off-roading again, but that the truck still wasn't quite ready. I didn't have front recovery points, which I would likely need at some time, and I didn't have a CB to call my friends and ask them to come back and pull me out.

I installed a set of F150 tow hooks on the front. Pretty easy (I didn't even cut the bits on the front of the frame horn to access the inside of the frame rail). They sit right under the bumper and I trimmed the stock valence to fit with my dremel tool. Looks good, and plenty of room to get a shackle on there.


I also started work on a tail light mounted antenna bracket. It's now bedlined and loosely installed on the truck, but I still need to get to the wiring.



The radio itself is a Cobra 75WXST. The plan is to do a completely hidden install so that the radio itself isn't visible unless I want to use it. With a full console in the truck, it's a bit tight in the interior, and the eventual inclusion of a transfer case shift lever won't help that any.


And that's where it sits as of today. While installing the tow hooks, I noticed a leaky thermostat housing, which is currently being repaired. I also noticed that the front rad is mounted in a really bad spot, so I placed an order for an RCI front skid plate to keep things up front nice and safe.

Nice build thread.

You're on Expedition Portal too, huh? I've seen that pic of your rig sitting in that field before.

Yup, I certainly am. I've seen you on there as well.

RCI Skidplate

When I had the front bumper off to put the tow hooks on, I noticed just how vulnerable the radiator was, even with the factory bumper in place. I realized that even for mild off-roading, I was going to have to do something. I saved up an bought an RCI skid. Very reasonably priced in the US, but by the time the Canadian exchange and UPS brokerage fees were added in...ouch.

This appears to be a slightly newer design (with the logo and vents) than others I've seen. I'm very happy with the look.

The install was pretty straightforward, but not seamless. Only the two rearmost mounting holes were present on my truck, so I bolted it up with the supplied hardware, then figured I'd drill the frame for the front bolts. Wouldn't you know it - but one of the bolts stripped out the threads as I was tightening it up. I'm not sure why, I didn't tighten them much at all. Perhaps the bolts were not quite the right thread? Or perhaps the frame is just thing (it is) and removing the old cover dozens of times for oil changes just wore them out.

I drilled all the mounting holes out, tapped them, and used 3/8-16 x 1" bolts to hold them in place.

This newer design also has the option of drilling the crossmember and adding two additional bolts there. I don't think I'm going to at this time, but I will keep it in mind for the future.

Here's what it looks like installed.


I've been slowly working on getting the CB installed, wired,adjusted, etc, and ordered in a trans temp guage and a-pillar pod.

In addition, I picked up this new project for the summer:


Finally finished up the CB install.

The box is mounted behind the centre console, and the connector sticks out into the passenger side footwell. I took an old CB mic adapter I had, gutted it, and stuck a vacuum cap on the end of it to cover the connector and keep junk from getting into it.

I also installed a little d-ring on the roof console. This way I can connect my retractable CB mic cord to the d-ring when I want to have the CB in the truck, and just connect the handheld unit to the CB connector. Almost totally hidden on the inside when I'm not using the CB, but in a great position when I do want to use it.

I was able to get the SWR tuned to 1.5 with this antenna and mount. Not fantastic, but it should work well enough.






I'm currently in the middle of my 4406 swap. I've been following the directions from a bunch of the posts here and it's going well - although I have to say that it is a TIGHT fit. There's much more work that I expected, in terms of clearancing the floorplan. It doesn't help that the vehicle is getting old. For example, I had to remove the secondary cats to get the transfer case into position on my trans jack. Every bolt needed to be cut loose, most of them slowly with a dremel tool. Things like that just made it hard to work on and slow. But, I can see the end in sight! FWIW, there was lots of room to replace the cats once the tcase was in position. It was really just my jack that was causing the interference problem. I also ended up dropping my fuel tank. I don't know how people managed to get the tcase into position without doing that. Anyway, here's a pic of the tcase getting cleaned up:


And here's a pic of the hole in the trans tunnel with a shifter sticking up!


I just finished cleaning up that hole, smoothing it out and painting it.

Looks like my F150 front shaft is going to be about 1/2" too long - it was from a 4.6, I'm not really sure why that is.