4 Wheel & Off Road - - CONTENTS - Harry Wag­ner BY EDI­[email protected] PHOTOGRAPHY HARRY WAG­NER

The 1996-2001 Ex­plorer makes an excellent plat­form for build­ing a dis­tinc­tive rig with­out go­ing broke.

MITCH BERGSTOM HAS built a host of Fords over the years, but not the high-dol­lar Early Bron­cos or Rap­tors that are com­monly as­so­ci­ated with off-road­ing. Mitch’s bud­get led him to build a Bronco II, a first-gen­er­a­tion Ex­plorer, and a Ranger be­fore bring­ing home this 1996 Ford Ex­plorer. It wasn’t long be­fore the IFS was torched out and Mitch had a set of Su­per Duty axles slung un­der the Ex­plorer. Very lit­tle else was nec­es­sary once the axles were added.

Since he has built sev­eral Ex­plor­ers, Mitch al­ready had a good idea re­gard­ing what works on the trail and what’s un­nec­es­sary. Money was spent on up­grad­ing the axles to max­i­mize strength to stand up to the big­gest tires he could fit.

Af­ter that, he turned to the sus­pen­sion. Mitch started with leaf springs at all four cor­ners, but the lever­age of the 40-inch tires kept eat­ing front springs. Mitch and his friends built a three-link front sus­pen­sion with King 14-inch travel coilovers to solve that is­sue, and he hasn’t looked back since. With a fac­tory V-8, a full frame, and a low pur­chase price, the 1996-2001 Ex­plorer makes an excellent plat­form for those look­ing to build a rig that stands out from the crowd with­out go­ing broke in the pro­cess.

1Mitch Bergstrom started with a Trail-Gear winch plate and built a bumper out of 1.75x0.120-wall DOM tub­ing. The bumper fol­lows the lines of the Ex­plorer and houses a Smit­ty­bilt XRC 9,500-pound winch with syn­thetic cable and alu­minum fair­lead. A Bat­tle Born Out­door Prod­ucts sin­gle-row LED light bar is low pro­file yet puts out plenty of light for night­time rock­crawl­ing. Rolling stock con­sists of 40-inch Nitto Trail Grap­plers wrapped around 17x9 Race­line Rene­gade 8 wheels with an 8-on-170mm bolt pat­tern. With 1-ton axles un­der his Ex­plorer, Mitch isn’t con­cerned about break­ing parts.


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