Being number one in sales doesn’t guarantee a First Place popularity rating among modified pickups. Ford builds some excellent trucks and sells ’em by the millions. F-series trucks have outsold all other cars and trucks for so long it’s hard to remember who used to be top dog. Ford’s compact pickup, the Ranger, is also a sales superstar. Rangers consistently outsell all other compact pickups. Yet, Chevy S-10 pickups are far more popular for customizing.
If you’re a Ford loyalist, the production versus popularity disparity can work to your advantage. There’s a huge supply of Rangers, which makes it easier to find a nice one with the type of equipment you desire. Prices can be slightly lower than similar-year GM S-series pickups, but they’re pretty close.
Condition, mileage, and options are more of a price determinant than brand. Early Rangers seem to be slightly more expensive than S-10s, but when body styles changed in the ’90s (1993 for the Ranger and 1994 for the S-10), Chevys took a slight price lead.
Sport Truck Issues with the I-Beam Suspension
Like its big brother, the F-150, the Ranger suffers from I-beamitus. That suspension condition leads to nose bleeds. Trucks with I-beam front suspensions are far more difficult to lower than trucks with traditional upper and lower A-arm suspensions. Since a nice, low stance is a sport truck hallmark, lowering difficulties have obviously affected Ranger popularity in the modified realm.
Ford switched to a short/long arm front suspension in 1997 for the F-series and in 1998 for the Rangers. Instantly, it was easy to lower the redesigned Fords, and modified ones started appearing in far greater numbers than before. Ranger made the change so recently that you won’t find much in the way of bargain-priced ’98-’99 models. Your best hope might be a ’98 that was on a short two-year lease.
Ford Ranger History – The Early Years
Rangers were introduced in March 1982 as ’83 models. Ford was half a year behind the new S-10, but the Ranger was a formidable competitor. It was a major improvement over Ford’s previous compact pickup, the Mazda-built Courier. Unfortunately, Ranger engines were Courier carryovers, a 75hp 2.0L four-cylinder and the Big 4, a 2.3L that pumped out a tire-saving 80 hp.
Early engines were still small-truck stuff, but the slab-sided styling was very similar to the F-series. The simple, sharp lines were very pleasing. The early Rangers still look handsome today. The early trucks are from Ford’s straight-line styling era, not the more rounded look that appeared in 1987 on the F-series and in 1989 on the Ranger. The F-150 really went for the rounded look in 1997, and the Ranger was restyled again in 1998.
Introduction of the 6 Cylinder Engine
Six-cylinder engines were added to the Ranger in the spring of 1983. The optional engine was a 2.8L V-6. The big 4.0L V-6 arrived for the ’90 model year. Horsepower for the 4.0 engine topped out at 160 hp. Late-model Rangers are good performers.
Ranger Cab Design
Ranger cab and body styles share the F-150 designations. The wide beds are called Stylesides and the stepside beds are called Flaresides. Flareside beds are 6 feet long and were introduced with the Splash model in 1993; Styleside beds are available in 6-foot and 7-foot lengths. The extended cabs are called SuperCabs. Content level designations have included Custom, Sport, XL, XLT, XLS, STX, S, and Splash. SuperCab Rangers are very popular because of their spaciousness and added versatility. The addition of four-door SuperCabs in 1998 was very well received.
Ford’s super-popular Ranger compact pickups make great sport trucks. The interior space was increased in 1993, and the body was considerably restyled. This 1994 SuperCab Splash with the Flareside bed illustrates how a few well-chosen modifications can make a big impact. The wheels are 18×81/2 Vision Designs with P235/40R18 Toyo tires.
Modding a Ranger into a Show Truck
Although Rangers aren’t often turned into radical show trucks, it can be done very successfully, as this wild 1998 regular cab Ranger shows. Extensive chassis work (including airbags) was required to drop the truck an impressive 12 inches. The Colorado Custom wheels are 17×7 in front and huge 20x10s out back. Tire sizes are P225/45ZR17 and P295/40ZR20. The full-on Ranger’s engine compartment is as smooth as the exterior. The slick firewall and fender panels surround a Ford Motorsports GT-40 5.0L V-8.
Earlier Rangers like this 1991 regular cab have very clean lines that still look great many years after their introduction. 3-inch dropped I-beams were used to lower the front end, and a 4-inch flip kit was used on the rear axle. The wheels are 15×81/2 with P195/50R15 BFGoodrich tires. The front spoiler and side skirts add to the low look.
First Generation Models and Beyond
There are lots first-generation Rangers for sale at reasonable prices. SuperCabs were introduced in 1986 and have proven very popular. Their extra 17 inches of cab space is a big improvement over the regular cab models. Prices for early Rangers depend a lot on condition and trim levels.
The front sheetmetal was given a more aerodynamic look in 1989. The look closely mirrored fullsize F-150 Fords. This 1989 regular cab was lowered 5 inches in front with 3-inch-dropped I-beams and 2-inch-dropped coil springs. The wheels are 18×8 all around, but the front tires are 215/40ZR18 and the rears are slightly wider 255/45ZR18.
Pre 1993 Rangers
Pre-1993 Rangers were only offered with a Styleside bed, although buyers could chose either short or long lengths. Bed styling was almost identical to fullsize Ford pickups.
1998 and Beyond
The Ford Ranger Splash has been well received since its introduction in mid-1993. When the Ranger was updated in 1998, the old twin I-beam front suspension system was replaced with a more conventional short- and long-arm design. That made the trucks much easier to lower and made the Splash models even more popular.
Installing a late-model Mustang 5.0 V-8 is a popular Ranger swap. There are kits with custom headers and motor mounts. Custom oil pans with a dual sump are part of the unique swap components.
Probably the best way to improve the performance of a Ranger is with an after-cat exhaust system. This stainless steel system features 2-1/2-inch tubing and a 4-inch-diameter exhaust tip.
Installing headers on a 4.0L V-6 Ranger is relatively easy since the 60-degree engine is narrower than a 90-degree V-6. A Y-pipe (a crossover pipe) is used to route the exhaust to the single muffler.
Aftermarket companies offer a variety of billet grilles, custom bumper inserts and custom bumper covers that snap in place over the stock bumper.
Performance gains can be had for late-model 4.0L engines by your installing larger-bore throttle bodies like this 66mm one from BBK Performance.
The current trend of large-diameter wheels and super-low-profile tires works well on late-model Rangers. Body-colored bumpers and grille with front-to-rear racing stripes set this Ranger apart from the crowd.