Whether or not you're going to admit it, you have always fantasized about building a 302-powered Ranger truck. We can't blame you-we've thought about doing one ourselves because the concept is just too cool. A 5.0 Ranger combines the utilitarian nature of a truck with the get-up-and-go of a musclecar. You can haul around all your Mustang race parts, dis and dismiss hoodlums in Hondas at streetlight confrontations, and make it docile enough to serve as a practical daily driver.
For most of you, it wouldn't cost much. Somewhere in the back of your shed (or a friend's) lies a perfect-running stock 302 EFI engine and transmission just dying to run again. Combine that with the fact that you can find a relatively clean late-model Ranger for under $5,000, and it's a no brainer-5.0 Rangers for everyone.
Eric Stiles of Calumet City, Ill., also wanted to put together a neat little 302 Ranger. The 24-year-old stock trader started his project in 1994. His girlfriend at the time, Amy (who is now his wife) convinced her father to sell his 1990 Ranger work truck to Eric. It had a few dents in the bed from tools banging around, but it was straight, all original, and a perfect blank canvas for Eric to start with. He envisioned a lowered stance, a custom interior, a healthy 302, and a wild paint scheme. But it wouldn't be an overnight project. As a matter of fact, it went in small stages.
"I bought the truck as an everyday driver. I lowered it and painted it bright yellow at first. Then I met a few guys who took me to some car shows and I got hooked on showing it. I first did the interior in grape tweed and then put in a serious stereo system," Eric explained. While most would be content with a mild-mannered Ranger, Eric was far from satisfied. The next battery of modifications were more mechanically involved, so he enlisted his buddy Scott Schmall of Cedar Lake, Ind., to help with the nitty-gritty work.
"I then lowered it again, but this time, nine inches in front and 10 inches in the rear," Eric said. If any of you have ever tried to lower a truck this much, you know how involved it is. Schmall removed the rear leaf-spring setup from the 8.8-inch rear and replaced it with a complete 4-link suspension that uses inflatable airbag springs for adjustable ride height. The use of a 4-link allows full suspension articulation without drastic driveshaft-to-pinion gear angle changes. It also allows for a streetable ride, with a moderate lowering, and when it's parked, a super-low stance once the airbags are deflated.
Up front, airbag springs were used too, but required a set of custom shock towers to be fabricated. In the end, a Lincoln-smooth ride was achieved with the ability to drop it into the weeds. A set of Billet Specialties Phantom wheels that measure 17x7 in front and 17x8 in back (blink-blink) let everyone know that the owner did not skimp on the chromies for the homies.
So there he was, driving around town and checking out the street scene until one day, a major decision was made that would morph his truck into the Ranger that he always wanted. Eric related, "I was coming home from a car show one day and I broke the rear transmission seal. I said to myself that was it, it was time to put a 5.0 into this thing."