Good Things Take Time: Devon Gustafson’s LS3-Powered Ranger

When people use the word “purpose-built,” they refer to something that has specific attributes to aid in a particular goal. A potato peeler or a waffle maker, for example. But when something is “versatile,” it adds a lot more intrigue. Now we’re talking about a machete or a claw hammer. Now we’re talking about Devon Gustafson’s prerunner and race-ready Ford Ranger.

Devon reached out to us a few weeks ago via the Off Road Xtreme Facebook page. After sharing some pictures and a couple of messages back and forth, I decided to meet him on his home turf to find out more. I donned a facemask to keep in line with the times and set out north to Phelan, California.

I wound up at a two-acre property holding a house, a large outdoor garage, and a decently sized open space in the back. There rested the mighty Ranger, gleaming in the morning sun. Devon appeared and after talking a little shop, we got into the nitty gritty on his truck.

Background Of The Build

The young man’s off-road passion started in 2009 in the storied dunes of Glamis, where he and some high-school buddies got into trouble in Devon’s Suzuki Samurai. “My friend Jake had a little crappy prerunner with a four-banger in it,” Devon explained. “We traded vehicles and I drove it down through some whoops. It did great, but it was horribly slow. After I got home, I decided to sell the Samurai, and I bought this Ranger instead.”

Devon didn’t waste much time getting the Ranger fixed up the way he wanted it. “As soon as I got it home, I welded up the spider gears and locked the rearend,” he admitted. “And then I drifted it into a ditch!”

After he’d gotten his wild side out of his system (and bent the Ranger’s rearend to boot), Devon made the decision to go big rather than go home. “I decided to make it stronger with a wider 9-inch rearend,” he said. “After that, it just snowballed – I-beam front end, coilovers, cage, and so on. Every other weekend, we’d weld on it and work on it. There wasn’t much direction on it at first.”

With more than a decade into building the Ranger, Devon's handiwork has paid off.

Fast forward to 2013 – Devon opted to go the next step and turn his Ranger into a race/prerunner hybrid truck. “I discovered four-linking and after I put that setup in the back, I realized just how serious this build was,” he explained. “Then it got a Ford V8 out of an Explorer, then an LS3, then I wrecked it again going up a hill.”

At this point, the Ranger had suffered two wrecks and was in terrible shape. Nobody would’ve blamed Devon if he simply scrapped the project or sold it to someone. “A lot of people told me to let it go,” Devon said. “But I looked at it and thought, ‘I’ve got too much blood, sweat and tears into this thing.’ My friend Shawn felt the same way. He helped me get it back to normal, and I spent money on it little by little. Along the way, it got some very nice parts, and today, it’s an unbelievable, all-around package.”

Highlights Of The Build

The skeleton of the Ranger relies on tube chassis work Devon and his friends did. “It started with the cage,” said Devon. “We copied it off of a Solo cage. Once the cage was in, we back-halved it and got rid of the leaf springs. So there are no frame rails from the cab back, and the front is heavily modified. The cage itself is all interconnected; where one tube stops, another continues. The whole thing is load-bearing and prevents the hood and doors from flopping around.”

The heart of the Ranger was transplanted for an LS3. Devon went with a 525-horsepower crate motor he found on JEGS. His brother talked him into getting a 4L80E transmission to go along with it, since it offered overdrive gearing and would behave itself in daily driving. “I had it built by Maximum Offroad Transmissions,” said Devon. “It’s got a lot of their good stuff, like a billet torque converter and full manual shifting.”

The Ranger's LS3 provides tons of speed and noise. Thankfully, inside the cabin, the driver and co-driver are secure in PRP seats and restraints, and can talk to each other using a PCI intercom.

The rearend was the second Camburg full floater 9-inch (recall that the first one was destroyed). It used 40-spline axles and employed Wilwood four-piston disc brakes on either side. “It’s perfectly matched to the running gear,” Devon commented. Meanwhile, the front suspension consisted of SI Motorsports I-beams, which he went with based on a friend’s recommendation.

Running on all four corners were 17-inch Method wheels and 37-inch General X3s. But what was even more interesting were the spindles behind the wheels. Devon made it a mission to have all four of his spindles be uniform, so that spare spindles could repair whichever one failed at any given time. “They’re all one-inch kingpin, but they’re based off of Camburg hubs and snouts,” he explained. “And they all run the same Wilwood brake system, the same seals, the whole nine yards.”

King coilovers and bypasses keep the Ranger running smoothly on and off-road. The front end utilizes SI Motorsports I-beams, while the rear is four-linked with a Camburg full-floater 9-inch.

The suspension was comprised of King coilovers and bypasses. “The coilovers are 2.5-inch diameter, and 3.0-inch diamater bypasses,” said Devon. “The bump stops are 2.5-inch diameter. The front suspension cycles 21 inches, while the rear can go up to 32 inches, but I strapped it so the max it goes is 26 inches. That prevents the coils from separating.”

Joy Ride

One unique aspect of this journey was the opportunity to ride around in the Ranger with Devon driving. Strapped into the PRP seats and using PCI intercom to talk to each other, Devon and I made a quick run around his local area. We drove to a nearby plateau that had ramps carved out on either side, perfect for stretching the Ranger’s legs and getting to see how it did on jumps and hairpins.

Devon was eager to showcase what his truck was capable of. Having grown up in the area and driven over the plateau many times, he knew the best technique for getting around and having fun without going overboard. We took the truck up and over a few times, from gutsy takeoffs to graceful landings.

Devon demos the Ranger on the plateau.

Devon then took us on a fun run around the area, letting the truck get its groove on as it whipped around fire roads and zoomed across asphalt. It was surprising to see how the suspension and brakes let the truck push the envelope and have fun, but still give Devon control when he wanted it. “It took me about a year to get the shocks tuned exactly where I wanted,” he said. “My buddy Shawn tore it apart probably five times, re-stacking shims and tuning it out in the desert. He did a great job.”

After exploring Phelan a little, Devon took us up into the mountains. The trail was connected to the Baldy Mesa network, a 10 square-mile area and a prime off-road hotspot in Southern California. It was about 10am as we made our way up, and fog was everywhere, dense enough to blot out anything 50 feet away. Devon flipped on his fog lights and took it easy going up, only giving the truck some gas when he had a clear view.

We came across a stretch with a ramp-like dropoff one on side and flat terrain on the other. “This is gonna be a good spot,” beamed Devon. He recommended I stand to one side and way back; he didn’t need to tell me twice.

The Ranger got to stretch its legs some more up in Baldy Mesa.

As he sped on to find a turnaround, I waited with my camera at the ready. I could hear the LS3 revving as it got closer and closer, and snapped the shutter when he finally took off. The Ranger came to a perfect landing and whipped around the corner, slinging dirt and dust. It was like something out of a movie.

Home Sweet Home

We drove back to Devon’s house to decompress and get some more shots of the truck. After seeing firsthand what the Ranger could do, it was clear why Devon decided to keep it around.

The Ranger was more than just a fun-haver; it was Devon’s creation, something he’d stuck with for years and evolved into his perfect truck. “I’m so happy with where it’s at right now,” he affirmed. “It’s soft on the off-road stuff, but it’s sweet on the street.”

Devon finished the Ranger experience with one more demo. He grabbed a Joe Hauler from the shed and brought it around, sliding it into place on the Ranger's hitch. The narrow platform fit one full-size dirt bike. He grabbed his personal Husqvarna and wheeled it up the ramp and latched the bike down with two tie-down straps. Just like that, the Ranger was now equipped for a weekend getaway.

Reflecting on the truck as a whole, Devon shared that his favorite aspect was its drivetrain. “The LS3 and the 4L80E have made such a big difference,” he said. “Being able to blip the throttle and lift is fun. The power is easily the most fun part about this truck. The suspension is a close second.”

Devon and his Ranger showed that to get to the ultimate goal, you’ve got to endure the ups and downs. His tenacity and dedication to crafting the truck into its final form took guts and determination. We hope to come across more builds like this in the future, and if you think you’ve got one worthy of a showcase, then hit us up on Facebook or Instagram!

About the author

David Chick

David Chick comes to us ready for adventure. With passions that span clean and fast Corvettes all the way to down and dirty off-road vehicles (just ask him about his dream Jurassic Park Explorer), David's eclectic tastes lend well to his multiple automotive writing passions.
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