FORD EXPLORER BUILT TO EXPLORE
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.