THEY don’t build them like they used to. It’s a phrase heard in 4x4 land far too often. The axles aren’t as good as they used to be. You can’t work on them yourselves. They’re not as good off road.
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The complaints are endless, but they’re just not true. Like most things in life, when it comes to building vehicles you get out what you put in.
Older 4x4s are easier to build, sure, but they offer less in return. The simpler engine means higher fuel consumption and less power, the agricultural suspension means poorer ride quality, and the low-tech interiors mean a low-tech driving experience, but hey, it was easy.
Modern 4x4s by comparison are far more complex, but reward you for your troubles, sometimes you’ve just got to roll up your sleeves to reap the rewards.
The goliath of a Ranger you’re looking at now is a shining beacon of that mentality, offering every creature comfort of a modern rig, with all the capabilities of an older setup.
Owners Claire and Sean knew exactly what they were after when the Rangers plans were first sketched out. It had to be unique, it had to be capable, it had to be the Ranger that all others look up at, and it had to do it all without compromise.
IT’S important in any build to start from a solid foundation, and while the Ranger T6 platform is unarguably one of the biggest conventional utes in Australia, it wasn’t quite big enough.
The call was made to Chris at Drag Tec Customs, south of Brisbane, Qld, to give the Ranger a size a little more fitting for the build. Some 300mm of chassis was added between the wheels of the Ranger, kicking the rear axle even farther back and allowing the fitment of a space-cab tray where a dual-cab tray once lived.
From here, the rails were cut clean of all their suspension mounts, the stock setup so far removed from the end goal that starting from a clean slate was the best option.
Up front where an independent suspension system once lived you’ll now find a hand-built front axle based off Nissan Patrol components. Hanging off custom mounts front and rear, a typical radius-arm style suspension maintains reasonable handling, while still allowing the live axle to walk its way through challenging articulating tracks.
Stuffed inside the sheet metal diff is a factory Nissan diff centre with 4.33:1 ratio gears mated up to an ARB air locker. The whole affair kept under control by a combo of Fox 2.5 shocks and steering dampener.
Moving rearwards with the plasma cutter and welder ready and raring to go, Chris binned the archaic leaf-spring arrangement and opted for a second coil setup. Another hand-fabricated diff is shoehorned full of Patrol componentry with a second air locker inside.
The rear axle is located with an easy flexing 5-link arrangement typical to what you’d find in an older coil-sprung LandCruiser or Patrol. A glint of silver underneath hints at a matching pair of Fox 2.5 shocks in the rear. The whole combination not only juggles old-school articulation with new-school ride and handling, but also gives huge amounts of room for the 37in Nitto Trail Grapplers on each corner to work off-road, they’re wrapped around suitably giant 20x12.5 Hostile Gauntlet wheels.
WHEN your radiator is higher than even the biggest ’roos can jump, the bar options start getting a lot more friendly. Claire and Sean have opted for the oh-so-sleek ‘Rocker’ bar from MCC4X4 in a neat colour-matched finish. Straddled atop the radiator hoop bar is not one, but four suns worth of LED lighting with a huge combination of heavy-hitting ARB Intensity lights. Twin AR32 Intensity’s take pride of place in the centre, with a set of AR21s taking up the flanks. Nestled in the bar beneath is a 12,000lb Warn Platinum Zeon winch.
Moving along the Ranger’s flanks the lighting is pushed to the limit. Running the length of the Ranger’s larger-than-life frame is a full suite of under-body lighting courtesy of Stedi, there’s a further six Stedi camp lights mounted up on the Rhino-Rack by Brisbane’s A Grade Auto, with two more forward-facing driving lights in the shape of ARB’s AR40 Intensity spot/flood light bars.
Right at the back where you’d typically find a matching rear bar, Dragtec brought a little minitruck to the party with a custom roll pan tidying up the rear end, a second Warn Zeon winch hidden underneath, hinted at only by the Factor 55 winch hooking poking out beneath the tray.
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Following the plus-sized 5in diameter Meredith Metal Works snorkel down through the Ranger’s guard leads to a whole bunch more party than originally intended by Ford. The snorkel sends air towards the motor through a Meredith Metal Works airbox before an upgraded high-flow turbo winds up the boost and really gets things moving. A Plazmaman intercooler dials the temperatures back to safe levels, with higher flow rate injectors and a custom tune making the whole lot sing.
A 3in DPF back stainless-steel exhaust helps get rid of the spent gases and keep EGTs down without running afoul of the law. The factory six-speed auto still has a home in the Ranger but is now fed by an upgraded torque converter with a Drivetech 4x4 external transmission cooler keeping it happy.
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MOVING inside the Ranger and it’s clear pushing the limit is a way of life for Claire and Sean. A full onboard-air arrangement has been installed with a twin-piston air-compressor pumping in to a permanently mounted air-tank for running power tools or inflating tyres. A second battery also found its way underneath the tray, helping run a 1000W Redarc inverter.
The factory stereo has had a significant overhaul too with a 1500W Alpine amplifier running a 6in split in each door as well as a 10in sub under the rear seat, while the tub has been filled to the brim with high-tech low-weight drawers from Decked giving bulk storage space without sacrificing load carrying ability.
They don’t build 4x4s like they used to, and that’s a damn good thing, Claire and Sean’s Ranger is the perfect mix of new and old and just proves that you get out what you put in, and they both put in a hell of a lot into this one of a kind build.
There’s plenty of things to be proud of Australia over America for, but when it comes to vehicle choice our Seppo mates have got us beat red, white and blue. Walk in to just about any pickup truck dealership and you’ve got your choice of what size tub you want with what size cab. Here? You get what you’re given.
So why exactly would someone fork over money to add a longer tub to a typical ute? There are a few reasons why, and all of them perfect for serious tourers. The first is the additional tray space freed up is entirely in front of the rear wheels making it perfect for weight distribution, and less likely to bend a frame, especially with the additional strengthening when the stretch is done.
Secondly, just like a long wheelbase Jeep rides better than a short wheelbase Jeep, adding 300mm into your wheelbase gives a more compliant and less ‘twitchy’ ride, perfect for eating up thousands of kays of corrugations. While a long wheelbase option might not be available at the dealership, it’s something every new-ute owner should absolutely consider adding themselves.