Off Road Xtreme is proud to introduce you to the first article installment of our new project vehicle; Project Ultimate PreRunner. We have a whole series of features that will build this truck up from its current state to a next level high performance “Ultimate PreRunner”. Before we get there, we must take you back to the origins of how this truck got to where it is now. I’m the ORX Editor, Micah Anderson, and I’ll give you the play by play. It was my daily driver for over ten years.
In 2006, after I graduated from college and had finally got a decent paying job, I decided that I was in need of a new-to-me truck. I came across a pristine 2004 Ford Ranger Level II Fx4 . With just one look at this thing, I knew it was special and I had to have it. I really had no idea how special it was until I spec’d out the truck on Ford’s website and completed the acquisition.
It may be a near twenty year old pickup truck to most everyone else. But, the purchase of this particular Ford Ranger would change my life forever. It sent me on an interesting path that perhaps may have shaped my future and profession.
Impressive Factory Ford Specifications
The base model Ford Ranger of the era was an all right truck to begin with. For the Level II edition, Ford pulled out all the limitations and implemented seriously beefy production-line off-road upgrades. It was equipped from the factory with the larger 4.0 SOHC V6, a five speed automatic transmission. The truck also received a choice driveline, bonus 31-spline 8.8-inch rear end with the Torsen limited slip differential. This thing was legit.
When I purchased the truck in 2006 it was slightly used with 22,000 miles from the original owner. It was in great shape, totally stock (in the Level II trim) and was in need of some new rubber as the BFGoodrich All-Terrain Tires were a bit worn. Even the interior was set up plush and included all black with large pleather bucket seats that looked like what you would see in a top-tier Explorer. The exterior was dark metallic grey and flawless. Fresh out of college at the time, I was super stoked on this thing and had aspirations to turn it into a “sleeper prerunner”.
According to the RangerStation.com, a Ford Ranger Level II had about everything you could ask for in a small 4×4 pickup truck.
Ford Ranger Level II Features
- 4.0L SOHC V6
- Five speed automatic transmission
- Four door super cab
- Pleather bucket seats
- Black interior
- Bilstein Shocks
- Skid Plates
- 31-spline Ford 8.8-inch rear axle
- Torsen limited slip differentials
- 4.10 gears
- 31/10.50/15 BF Goodrich All-Terrain tires
- 15-inch Alcoa wheels
- Tow hooks
- Manual transfer case
- Sport bucket seats
The First Time Off-Roading Was An Adventure!
I remember just a week or two of owning the truck, my first time taking it off-roading was a weekend trip to the Glamis Sand Dunes. By coaxing my best friend to coax his girlfriend and her best friend to follow us out, we were loaded up. Upon arrival at the Gecko Loop, we met up with my pals from Dirt Alliance who I had planned to camp with. Later that night, we decided we wanted to go to Competition Hill. The four of us loaded up into my completely stock Ford Ranger. Before departing, I aired down the tires to traverse through the loose terrain and hauled towards the sand highway.
It had gotten pretty dark, and I thought I was cutting a small corner of desert heading towards Highway 78. Suddenly, I realized that we were in the middle of the dunes, and I am talking about the big bowls of north-west Glamis! My passengers were skeptical and the girls were nervous for sure. The truck had zero aftermarket lights, but luckily I had years of sand dune driving experience and was able to traverse through without endangering ourselves or getting stuck. This was the first time I witnessed the truck’s superior off-roading capabilities. Even with near bald tires, I was able to power up the steep walls of sand, ride the ridges, and cross over into the next bowl. Sand dune after sand dune, we finally made it to the hill. It was a wild story that we will all never forget.
Desert Off-Road Racing In Baja California, Mexico Is Fun
A few months later I took my truck, still stock, and still on those bald tires, on a Baja trip to the Laguna Sala Desert near Mexicali. I was volunteering as a Team Manager for FiberwerX Racing and my good friend Jason McNeil. At the time, we were campaigning a Class 7 in the CODE Series and this was the last race of the year. Our truck was in contention for the class and overall championship, so we headed down the night before. The race would start at dusk. Our plan was to do some prerunning and make sure everything was dialed in. Unfortunately, that morning we got the radio call from Jason that the truck had roasted its transmission coming up the wash towards our main pit. I jumped in my ranger to assess the situation and see about getting the truck back for repairs.
We used the radios to coordinate logistics and headed a few miles down the course. Upon arrival, I could see the sandy wash was somewhat stable. Knowing my truck would be struggling for traction with the bare tire tread in the loose gravel, I was skeptical. After all, we were going to try and rope tow a heavy purpose built desert race truck up stream. I told McNeil, it was his decision and he would be responsible. He was wearing his recognizable grin, so I tossed the keys over.
Is The Ford Ranger Level II Baja Tough Enough?
We tied up our Speed Strap to the tow hitch frame. Our chief mechanic JuanCo managed the race truck controls. My other two buds rode in the bed while me and Jason were upfront in my truck. I turned on the ignition, shifted into neutral, and engaged four-wheel-drive-low. Jason backed up and gave it a hard yank, and then another, and we were off pulling with momentum. Revved out in first gear then second, we powered up the wash and it handled everything we asked of her.
To make a long story short, we got the race truck back to the pit, dropped the transmission, and began the disassembly right there in the middle of the desert. JuanCo and myself raced over to the Mexicali junkyards looking for replacement transmission parts. About three hours later, we had returned with the necessary parts and began rebuilding the race truck’s gearbox. We got it back together and thrashed to bolt it back underneath the truck. Jason and our navigator barely had enough time to get their gear on before pulling up to the starting line.
The Ford Ranger Level II Saves The Race!
I don’t really know or recall what went down during the race, but me and the boys pulled it off in the pits. Jason completed the course and crossed the line physically in first place with the quickest time. We won the race and our first championship. He also earned the overall championship, meaning he had scored the most points out of all the competitors in the entire series.
Looking back, those were super fun times. I enjoyed the Ford Ranger Level II and appreciated its agile off-road performance. Whenever I see a Ranger that looks super clean, it warms my heart. But back then, it had come time to do what I was originally planning.
After driving this thing around in its factory stock form, I wanted to build something capable yet make it look somewhat cool. But not “crazy and wild” cool. I accumulated a bunch of super awesome parts from super awesome companies and enlisted FiberwerX to help me put this thing together. They jumped at the chance to return my valued support and together we transformed the ranger into a pretty cool ride. The first build phase was completed in 2008.
The First Modifications To The Ford Ranger Level II Were Super Legit!
- 4WD Dixon Bros Long Travel Suspension System
- 4.5-inch over stock w/ 13-inch travel
- Fox Racing Shocks 2.5-inch coil Overs
- Fox Racing Shocks hydraulic bump stops
- 18-inch Eibach springs
- DJ safety limit straps
- Grade 8 hardware
- FiberwerX custom rear cantilever long travel suspension system
- Fox Racing Shocks 2.5inch 3 tube bypass
- Deaver prerunner leaf springs
- 31 Spline 4.10 limited slip
- FK rod ends
- Grade 8 hardware
- Toyo Tires Open Country M/T
- Method “Street Lock” wheels
- 17×8 blat black
- AEM cold air intake system
- JBA stainless “Cat-Back” exhaust system
- Lowrance Baja 540 color GPS
- Kenwood race radio
- Pioneer DVD deck head unit
- Viper alarm / Remote iPhone start
- T-REX billet grille
- Anzo halo headlights
It was pretty tame by off-road racing standards, but we achieved the goal to build out a clean street-able truck that would be capable off-roading in the desert. In 2009 the recession finally caught up to my regular full-time employer. After surviving through three rounds of layoffs, I got cut and went to search out full time employment elsewhere. I landed a position with Lucas Oil Products that required me to relocate from San Diego to Corona, California. With new regular income available, I was able to turn my focus back on the Ranger. I went back to FiberwerX and they prepared the vehicle for the 2010 SEMA Show where it was to be on display outside in front of the main hall.
Phase 2 Of The Modifications Got The “Sleeper PreRunner” Look Complete.
The truck received new front and rear FiberwerX TT style fenders. It was decked out with carbon fiber in the front and paint patched in the rear. They fabricated some steel tube rock guards to protect the cab and installed a carbon fiber center console. A two tone flat black broad stripe flowed with the body lines and perfectly matched the Method Race Wheels. New General Tire Red Label Grabbers were looking extra meaty. I designed a bolt-on custom fabricated steel tube bumper with a hidden skid plate behind the factory bumper. Scott Kell from Alloy Studios, a well known off-road metal fabricator, professionally built these intricate race car quality one-off pieces with precision.
This truck was not necessarily a built-to-the-top “full kill” off-road prerunner. It was never intended to be at the time. But it was mine. We did what we set out to do and what the budget could deliver. In the end, having the truck on display at the SEMA Show was a professional milestone and a dream come true. Up until that point, I was always helping others get their projects built up and coordinating vehicle displays at multiple shows.
For the last eleven years since, the truck has served me quite well. It was my only set of wheels for most of that time. The Ranger gave me freedom to explore rocky mountain roads, navigate twisty dirt trails, and fly down sand dune highways. I chased the races and zoomed around the deserts capturing photography. It took me to work reliably everyday in between weekend off-road adventures. When the city life was too much, I could hop in and peel out. I could disappear to a remote lookout where no one else could see me, but I could see everyone.
Project Vehicles Are Never Finished.
The reality for me, is that I live a fortunate life that satisfies my interest and desires. This truck may have even steered me towards a career in off-road and the automotive industry. Many will never have the opportunity to enjoy these unique experiences, so I do not take it for granted and count my blessings everyday. I want to continue these adventures and hope to build this Ford Ranger Level II into a next level “Ultimate PreRunner”. With that in mind, the next phase calls for a prescription of form, function, and reliability.
Hard parts are already on the way and we have a bunch on order too! So stay tuned for the next part of the build. Until then, we will be presenting another installment of the Ultimate PreRunner story and inspiration behind these incredible vehicles. It is a first hand account by the industry professionals who design, hand fabricate, maintain, prep, and prerun these exotic off-road masterpieces. We have interviews with Craig Stewart from Stewart’s Raceworks (builder and prepper), Jake Velasco from JVRP (builder and prepper), Rob Lindsay from RJ Fabrication (builder and prepper), Jason McNeil from FiberwerX (racer and industry supplier), Jerry Zaiden from Camburg Engineering (racer, builder, industry supplier), and Jason Duncan (navigator for Luke McMillin)