Midwest King Of The Dunes: Tyson Ahrens’ Long Travel Ford Ranger

With age comes the cage. Maybe you’ve heard that one and maybe you haven’t. Regardless of your familiarity with the phrase, we can all relate to the concept. Eventually, we all get older. When that happens a reevaluation of what we do and how we do it becomes essential. Sometimes things change a bit and sometimes we resist.

Tyson Ahrens loves going fast in his Ford Ranger pre-runner build.

Tyson Ahrens is a guy that started out life wanting to go fast. That passion led him to streetcars. The legalities involved in that particular past time didn’t exactly jive with him. To get around that obstacle he transferred his go fast efforts to the off-road scene. What started as a good time on quads eventually led to a lifestyle of pre-runners and long travel trucks.

Tyson admits that age had a lot to do with the transition. He said, “I rode pretty hard. I never considered myself a regular quad guy. I always went big and it kept hurting me too much. After my knees didn’t work anymore it was time to make a change. With age get a cage.”

The Ride

Tyson created his first prerunner in 1999 and has been jumping and carving up sand dunes ever since. Thankfully he lives close to the Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Michigan. While the midwest is not generally where people think of when it comes to sand dunes there are some opportunities. Tyson and his family take full advantage of every chance they get and are always dune ready.

Michigan winters don't offer much dune time but you can always drift in the snow.

In 2010 Tyson purchased the rig you see here. He explained, “My truck started as a 1997 Ford Ranger that was bought brand new. The original owner took it to Camburg Engineering in 1998 for some off-road modifications that snowballed into a full build. It was their first customer build.”  Tyson purchased the truck in July 2010. The original owner had moved from Southern California to North Carolina for a career change. The truck had sat for four years and needed a new home. Tyson was all too happy to step up.

Nothing Broke Until It Did

After an initial shakedown run, Tyson thought he had hit the jackpot. He admitted, “The first trip out it was awesome. Nothing broke on it. I thought I had purchased the best vehicle ever! Then after that, it all went downhill. By the end of the season, I had blown up the engine. I had also managed to waste the transmission and blow out the shocks. I was out driving it. When I got the truck I thought I could drive it like my quad. I was just beating the holy hell out of it! I bought it to jump it. But I didn’t realize that going over bumps and going fast while maneuvering stuff is more fun. Now I would rather be a good driver than hit big jumps all the time.”

Once things started breaking it was clear that it was time to get into the truck and rebuild or upgrade things. Almost a year of rebuilding then ensued. The truck was taken completely apart all the way down to the frame rails. Everything was sandblasted and then given a fresh coat of paint. Tyson learned how to rebuild the shocks and created partnerships that allowed him to get both the engine and transmission running properly.

The Heart Of The Beast

The truck was V8 swapped during the original build process. At that time a small block Ford 331 stroker motor was mated to the C4 automatic transmission. After that first season and all the damage Tyson knew he needed to step it up a bit. The Ford C4 transmission was upgraded by being fully rollerized. Accurate Transmission in Belleville, Michigan did the honors. While they were at it a reverse manual valve body and billet TCS converter were also added.

On the engine AFR 185 heads were added. A Comp Cams XE282, Performer RPM Air Gap, and Pro Systems custom carburetor round out the improvements. The exhaust consists of one and five-eighths inch primary headers. Dual three-inch exhaust with H pipe and three-inch Hooker max flow mufflers take things to the back. For cooling, a Ron Davis radiator and dual Setrab transmission coolers got the nod. An MSD 6AL ignition, Mil-spec wiring harness, 150 amp alternator, and Dual Optima red top batteries round out under the hood.

Down and Dirty Details

The front suspension consists of Camburg equal length I beams and radius arms. The I beams are from a seventies Ford one-ton truck. They are mated to one-inch kingpin spindles from an early eighties F150. Modified with uniball pivots, gusseted, and plated. They are held in place with Camburg radius arms. All four corners of the truck utilize two and a half inch Sway-A-Way coilovers, three-inch bypasses and two-inch hydraulic bump stops to keep the tires out of the glass. The shocks have received tuning by KDM Shock Technology. The front suspension boasts twenty-one inches of travel.

In the rear, the suspension consists of a Camburg trailing arm 3 link system. Two and a half-inch Sway-A-Way coilovers are paired with three-inch bypasses to soak up the big hits. Two-inch bump stops take it all in stride. In total twenty-four inches of travel are available before the PRP limiting straps come into play.

Inside The Beast

A full roll cage was installed from front to rear along with a custom integrated dash. The dash is filled with Auto Meter gauges and switches. They control the full mil-spec wiring harness. PRP Comp Elite seats keep the occupants comfy while PRP three and a half-inch harnesses keep everyone planted.

The MOMO steering wheel is a nice touch and the Rugged radio and headsets keep everyone inside in touch. An Art Car shifter helps Tyson row through the gears and the Lowrance GPS unit makes sure they never stray too far from the trail.

The fully custom interior adds to the appeal of this build.

The steering components are all Howe components connected to a Camburg double swing steering system. The setup maintains less than one-quarter inch of bump steer from full compression to full extension. Factory Ford front disks and Wilwood four-piston rear calipers are controlled by a CNC master cylinder and pedal assembly.

Judge This Book By Its Cover

The truck didn’t originally have bedsides on it. It did have a hood but Tyson didn’t like it. Instead, Tyson went with McNeil Racing fiberglass fenders, bedsides, and hood for it. The custom paint is by Jamie Prater. All of the vinyl logos on the truck were created by Luke Walker and installed by Tyson. A Buggy Whip lighted safety whip and KC Hilites pro6 led light rack to finish out the exterior. They also help to make sure that whether Tyson and his crew are out west or in their own back yard they stay visible.

Seventeen-inch Raceline monster beadlocks allow Tyron to run low pressures. Low tire pressures are sometimes essential to being able to maintain forward progress in the sand. This is especially true of a two-wheel-drive truck that loves to carve the dunes. The wheels feature a five on five and a half inch lug pattern with ARP studs. The locks are wrapped in thirty-five-inch Gladiator XComp A/T tires. Tyson is considering stepping up to a thirty-seven-inch tire for the coming dune season. For now, these tires have been tried and true for him.

Currently, the truck has thirty-five-inch Gladiator XComp A/T tires with a possible future upgrade to thirty-seven in tires.

The rear axle is a Speedway Engineering full floater. Upgrades include a set of Mark Williams 300M 35 spline axels. A Strange three and a quarter inch third member is filled with a nine-inch ring gear featuring a 5.43:1 ratio. The Mark Williams spool keeps both tires digging.

Trendy Sendy

Here in the midwest, the winter months are a chance to get things repaired, upgraded, or dialed in for next season. Tyson’s plans for this winter are to get into the truck for general maintenance and be dune ready as soon as Silver Lake opens on April 1st, 2020.

Tyson shared that, “For me, it’s all about keeping it running all summer. Upgrades usually lead to problems. This year I’m planning on going to a Chevy TH400. The current C4 is built just about as far as it can be. I usually only get about one season out of it. So I’m hoping that I will get some additional longevity out of going to the TH400. I also want to get some new paint on it. Other than that it’s just about maintenance to keep it going all season.”

Tyson isn’t afraid to air things out in his Ranger. In fact, he has created quite the community by doing just that. Both Tyson and his wife Amanda are huge fans of traveling and hitting dunes. Tyson explained, “My wife is huge into it. We do everything together and she is super into the dunes. If it weren’t for her support then I probably wouldn’t do nearly as much. We have just always figured that you can’t take your money with you so you might as well enjoy life. So that’s what we do.”

About the author

Christie Materni

As a photographer, and self-proclaimed "magic maker" for over 12 years, Christie loves to create anything from amazing images to great chocolate chip cookies. Traveling the country with her camera, husband, and sometimes a dog, in search of fast cars and tough trucks is her favorite way to spend the day.
Read My Articles

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