Family time. For some of us, it’s sitting at the dinner table together, or going on vacation. Yet for others, it’s time well spent enjoying their passion. With Justin and Terry Christenson, their passion is off-road.
Recently, we were at the third annual car show at Griffen Fab Works. Neal Griffen and Griffen Fab Works should be familiar to our readers. We recently told you about their massive Poverty Runner build, we found at the 2019 Detroit Autorama show. It was impressive to say the least. It was also at the Autorama that we found out about their annual car show, held at the Griffen shop in Byron Center, Michigan.
At the show, we quickly spotted Justin and his dad, Terry, hanging out next to their rides. Both Justin and Terry had nothing but positive things to say about the show and Neal Griffen. Terry summed it up by admitting that, “When it comes to help for these kinds of trucks, there’s not a better guy out there. He’s always willing to help, and you can always call him with any question you’ve got.”
It really is a small world. The community that prioritizes time around summer off-roading is even smaller. In the Mears, Michigan area, that means summertime at the Silver Lake Sand Dunes. Of course, sand dunes require specific build priorities that Justin and Terry nailed with their 1993 Ford Explorer.
What’s kind of fun about these two is that not only do they run their own auto repair shop, TLC Automotive, but they also share a love of anything motorsports. It’s led them to spending a lot of their personal time building projects together. The 1993 Explorer you see here is just one of many.
After a long day of working in the shop, you would think that these two would be ready to head home and relax for the day. No way. Instead they prioritize their time creating and driving the creations they are passionate about. The Explorer is just one example of that. In fact, the pair is so passionate about their projects that they keep two bays open in their shop for whatever the latest build is.
One night, after a long day of working on customers’ rides, Justin and Terry were plugging away at their drag Jeep. Then Justin told Terry he would be back in a bit. “I have to go look at something,” Justin said. Well, many a projects start that way and Terry is no fool. He jumped in the truck and away they went.
“I thought, man, you gotta be kidding me,” Terry explained. We’re not even done with the Jeep yet and already you got something else. We both saw the coolness in it though. From the beginning, we knew how we wanted it to look and ride so now here we are.”
“If I were going to start over, I can’t say that I would build an Explorer,” Justin admitted. What I really like about it, though, is that there are not a lot of them out there. There are some, but you don’t see a ton of them. That’s why doing so much work on them is worth it.”
The dynamic duo has done the vast majority of the work on this ride themselves. However, there were a couple of elements they left to the pros. One of those items is the welding. Justin feels confident that he could have done the welding, but he really wanted it to look good.
“We try and do as much ourselves as we can,” Justin said. That way when the truck is done, we don’t have to rely on anyone else. I can weld and a lot of the welds will look good. I don’t like to have a bad spot, though, so I had my cousin Josh Kimball do all the welding.”
Another element the team had to outsource was the bead rolling done on the interior. Terry explained, “We knew we had to do some bead rolling, so we went out and got a bead roller. Well, after ruining a full four-by-eight-foot sheet of metal, we decided we would just pay to have it done!”
The stock motor and manual transmission were not long for this world. Instead, Justin and Terry swapped in a 5.3-liter LS engine. It houses a Texas Speed camshaft and valve springs. The custom tune on the motor was completed by the Christensens themselves. They also went ahead and did their own custom-made headers with Flo Pro mufflers.
The engine is mated to a built TH400 transmission with a manual reverse valve body. A 2800 stall convertor finishes out the transmission.
In the rear, a Ford 9-inch rear axle with a Giant Motorsports axle truss helps to put the power to the ground. Giant Motorsports link tabs were also used. 4.88:1 gears and a full spool ensure that both rear wheels are always digging for more traction.
The front suspension features Threat Motorsports equal-length beams with Dana 44 outers. There are a total of 22 inches of travel available in the front. This setup was chosen for a couple of reasons: First off, Justin admits that he thinks it looks really cool in pictures. The second reason is that the Explorer came with a twin traction beam setup from the factory, and Justin thought it would be cool to retain that. King 2.5-inch coil overs and King triple bypass shocks handle dampening in the front. They are backed up by King 2.5-inch bump stops as well.
The rear suspension is comprised of a four link with Ruff Stuff trailing arms. The rear is capable of a total of twenty eight inches of travel. Once again, King 2.5-inch coilovers and triple bypass shocks got the nod. King 2.5-inch bump stops help keep things from getting too gnarly.
The big Explorer has a Threat Motorsports double swing crossover steering system. It does a great job of handling the 35-inch Dick Cepek Extreme Country tires. They are wrapped around 17-inch Raceline wheels.
A McNeil Racing Raptor conversion one-piece front end adds style to the front, while six-inch bulge rear fenders keep everything in the back happy. The Explorer has a 32-gallon fuel cell, ensuring Justin and Terry always have enough time and distance to get in or out of wherever they end up.
Rugged Radios’ intercom with car-to-car radio makes it easy for the whole crew to stay in touch. PRP seats with five-point harnesses keep everyone safe. While Terry enjoys a good dune blast as much as the next guy, he also likes to drive his own built Ford Ranger. That leaves the passenger seat open for Justin’s girlfriend, Amber Bolles. Amber has been a huge part of the Explorer build.
Teamwork Makes The Dream Work
Not only is she the one who ensures that the family of four continues to move forward, but she is also the parts runner at times.
“She helps out a lot,” Justin added. She is always willing to take care of the kids, even though I do long nights and weekends. She’s also always willing to go and gets parts or any bits and pieces. She’s pretty understanding and she really does a lot.”
You may be thinking that it’s not very fair that Amber doesn’t necessarily get to be in on some of the fun. Well, that is simply not the case. In fact, not to be outdone, you can find Amber cruising the Silver Lake Dunes in her Baja Bug. If your lucky enough to catch her on the street, you may even see her sending it on three wheels at a stop light!
At this point, Justin feels pretty confident that the suspension is dialed in well. “The suspension works really good,: Justin explained. Now I feel like it could go a lot faster. I am one of those people that always feels like things can be better. So, this winter it will probably get an engine upgrade so it can go faster.”
While the Silver Lake Sand Dunes are the bread and butter for the team, some new travels are coming soon. This New Year’s, a trip has been planned to head west. The Glamis Sand Dunes in California have been targeted for some launches. We have no doubt that the crew will have a great time out there. We look forward to seeing them out there as a family doing what they love.