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Transformer - Part 2: Suspension and Tires

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By Jim Allen

(From Off-Road Adventures Magazine)

Skyjacker’s 6-inch TTB lift is a good choice for a Ranger. It’s enough lift to fit 33 inch tires, works well on the trail yet still stays within the realm of near stock street manners. The hose clamp at the top of the spring was a little extra insurance to make sure the top of the spring didn’t come unseated the first time the truck was ‘wheeled. It turned out to be a needless worry.

The Ranger makes some major transformations in this installment. We hit two of the three major trail performance highlights in this installment, namely suspension and tires,

The best way to start a buildup is to first decide what size tires you want to run. Once you determine what size is realistic and practical, you can then go about planning the mods to compliment that choice. You have to think beyond just getting the suspension jacked up enough to fit the tires. In addition to gaining the height needed to clear the tires, you also want a suspension system that’s stout and safe, articulates well, provides good travel and delivers a decent ride.

Our Ranger’s owner, Jim Oaks, has a lot of experience with Rangers and knows that the combination of 33 inch tires, and the approximately 4-inches of lift needed to fit those tires, offers great trail performance yet provides decent street manners for a daily driver. Thus the fitment of 33s became the foundation of our buildup.

Tires & Wheels

Introduced in 1980, the BFG Mud Terrain has been a four-wheeling benchmark ever since. The BFG MT is best known for having tough sidewalls that resist damage from running aired down in hostile terrain. In addition, there’s extra rubber around the beads to protect the rim when aired down. We’ll show you how they look on the Ranger in a later installment.

The BFG Mud Terrain is a cornerstone tire in the four wheeling world that can always be depended upon to perform. This perennial favorite just keeps getting better, having been updated just a few years ago. The relatively new Mud Terrain incorporates design changes that make it more quiet and street friendly while also offering improving trail performance. It still features the 3-ply TriGard sidewalls, but a computer redesign of the tread resulted in more rubber on the ground, better self-cleaning of mud and a much quieter tire on the street.

ProComp’s Streetlock wheels were a no-brainer. Combining looks and toughness with a great price, we couldn’t go wrong. The extra ring around the outer bead, which simulates the look of a beadlocked wheel, adds a lot of extra protection to the outer bead.

Suspension: TTB Trickery

Ford’s Twin Traction Beam (TTB) front axle/suspension system is a mix of the weird and the wonderful. Though TTB is called an “independent” suspension, it really isn’t. It’s probably best described as a semi-independent suspension, essentially a much improved version of the swing axle concept you may have seen on old VW Beetles. Ford’s design goals were to improve ride and handling on the street. They succeeded in that goal at levels somewhere between a fully independent system and a solid axle. In terms of being modification friendly, it’s in the same place

Go ahead and call ‘em “fake beadlocks” if you want, we won’t kill you, but you’ll be missing the point. The ProComp Streetlocks are in a class by themselves. If you start with a stout steel wheel then add this heavy ring to the outside rim, you end up with a wheel that’s up for some abuse and looks gnarly.

TTB’s problems really begin in the world of aftermarket lifted suspensions. The main effect is on your wallet. In terms of trail performance, the end results are much better than a true IFS, but not as good as a solid axle. The results on the street are in that middle position again, behaving very “stock-like” up into the 4-inch lift range, but above 4 inches, street manners deteriorate rapidly.

The axle and differential part of TTB is near it’s equivalent solid Dana axle in terms of stock strength. When subjected to the rigors of off roading, however, the suspension part reacts very differently. As the beams drop, even on the stock setup, the toe-in increases. Camber goes positive as the suspension drops (top of tire leaning out) and negative as it compresses. Caster goes negative (pivot point of knuckle tilts forward from the top) as the wheel drops and positive as it compresses. More movement equals more steering geometry changes and thus more bumpsteer.

What is bumpsteer? It’s essentially when suspension movement causes a suspension geometry change severe enough to force the vehicle off-course and require a steering correction from the driver. The OE engineers minimized bumpsteer by limiting the TTBs travel, but even in this stock configuration a Ranger’s steering gets a touch of “wanderitis” on bumpy roads or in four-wheeling situations.

A lift may increase this tendency for the steering geometry to change during suspension movement. This is especially true if the kit offers what many four-wheelers want... more suspension travel. To minimize these effects in combination with improving travel, the lift kit should have certain features.

The changes in toe-in may have the most effect on bumpsteer, so a dropped Pitman arm, and/or other steering mods, become of vital importance to allow the travel arc of the tie rods to follow the travel arc of the beams as closely as possible. Having these parts as parallel as possible will minimize the changes in toe and keep bumpsteer issues similar to stock. With extreme amounts of travel, however, you’ll just have to live with a certain amount of extra bumpsteer and incorporate it into your driving style.

Caster changes from increased travel will also have a big negative impact on bumpsteer... more so at higher speeds. This is minimized by both dropping the aft pivot point of the radius arm and making the arm longer. Some kits offer only a dropped radius arm bracket and some have the option of longer arms. Always order the longer arms for the best performance. The dropped bracket setups are designed to operate with limited travel, usually not much more than stock. When you try to increase travel with this setup by installing longer shocks, you may actually put the suspension into a bind and increase the strain on the mounting points. Camber changes are more difficult to limit if you want more travel. Fortunately, camber by itself has the least effect on bumpsteer, at least at low speeds, so you don’t need to worry about it much. Also, don’t forget that you may have toe, caster and camber changes occurring on one side only, both sides or in some combination, depending upon the terrain. This is simply a fact of life with TTB, lifted or not.

The final element for a good TTB lift is the quality of the bracketry... especially the pivot brackets. These parts are under increased strain when lifted, so the materials and welding need to be top notch. Because dropped brackets impart more strain on the chassis, their fastenings must be of high quality as well. Making sure they are tight should be a regular maintenance chore for lifted TTB owners.

Skyjacker’s lift kits are highly regarded in the world of Ford TTB enthusiasts because they fit well, hold up and get the job done right. We opted for a full-boat, Class II 4-inch kit. Class II signifies that the kit includes new radius arms and bracketry, rather than drop brackets for the stock arms as with a Class 1 kit. We opted to upgrade the kit further with Skyjacker’s superb rear springs instead of using lift blocks. This is usually a better way to go if you are looking to reduce the potential for axle wrap. Skyjacker leaf springs are known for their good ride as well as providing good articulation.

Our final option was to go with Skyjacker’s new Platinum Series monotube gas shocks. They were just coming out at the time we started this project. They sounded good on paper, so we said, “sure” without necessarily expecting a whole lot. The reality is these top quality shocks are even better than the paper hype. They feature a 2-inch bore with an 1/8-inch wall body.A 7/8 inch, high carbon steel shaft with an incorporated polyurethane bump stop, attaches to an SAE 7075 aluminum alloy piston which features Viton seals. These are seriously beefy shocks, folks, but their price is surprisingly right. We’ll let you know how they work. Read more about Tires

Correction: In the June and July issue, the Skyjacker lift kit for the Project Ranger is a 6-inch kit not a 4-inch kit. We apologize for the Numeric dyslexia.

 

Wrench Rating:

Ratings Explanation

 

 

1. The installation starts by putting the vehicle on stands (in this case a hoist was used) and removing the wheels. Most everything you see here will be removed.

2. A couple of little tricks. It’s always a good idea to mark the driveshaft orientation on the yoke at teardown. That way, assuming you didn’t have a vibration before, you won’t induce one by installing the shaft 180 degrees from its original position on the yoke. Also, wrap the u-joint caps with tape to prevent them from falling off and scattering their needle bearings all over your shop.

 

3. Unbolt the radius arm, the axle beams at their pivots, the tie rod at the Pitman arm, the shocks at the upper bracket, the brake lines and the sway bar links. In this case, once everything was unzipped, the truck was simply raised on the hoist and the parts dragged out from underneath.

4. The axle beam pivot brackets come off next. The cast one in the center is riveted from the factory. If you have a torch, it’s easiest to torch off the rivet heads and drive out the shanks. You can also use an air chisel, or even a large hammer, a big chisel and lots of “armstrong” to remove them. The other pivot bracket (arrow) is shown in the upper right of the shot. It is easily unbolted.

 

5. With the pivot brackets removed, clean up the areas where the old brackets were mounted and the new Skyjacker drop brackets will mount. We used abrasive pads on an air tool to clean off accumulated rust and old paint, followed by degreaser to remove the grease and oil. A little black paint prevents rust.

6. Bolt the new passenger side pivot bracket onto the crossmember using some of the original and the new hardware and brackets. You then need to use the hole in the bracket as a template to drill a new 7/16-inch hole as shown here.

 

7. After enlarging all the mounting holes to 1/2-inch, install the driver’s side beam pivot bracket with the supplied new hardware. Next, torque all the bolts to the specs listed in the instructions. It’s OK to run the bolts in with air, but Skyjacker is adamant that your safety depends on these bolts (and all the others on the kit) being tightened to the right torque spec (85-90 lbs-ft in this case). Air tools alone may get them too tight or not tight enough.

8. The OE coils are attached to the beams with a large bolt and a retainer found in the center of the spring. Remove this bolt and the bolt underneath to remove the original springs and radius arms.

 

9. Remove the original radius arm mounting crossmember. Next unbolt the tranny mount from the tranny support crossmember, (arrow) support the tranny, and remove tjis crossmember as well. The old tranny crossmember location will be the new spot where the radius arm brackets mount. This gives you an idea of how much longer the new arms are versus the old ones.

10. After cleaning the rust, dirt and grease off the chassis, the new crossmember/radius arm bracket bolts up in place of the old one. You will have to drill a few new holes using the new part as a template. Drop the tranny back down and bolt it up to the new crossmember. Again, torque all bolts to the specs listed in the instructions.

 

11. Install both of the new radius arms onto the axle beams using the original hardware. High strength liquid thread locker is not a bad idea on these crucial bolts.

12. Remove the original bump stops and install the new stops with their extensions. One by one, reattach the axle beams into the new pivot brackets using the original bolts, leaving the bolts loose for now. If your pivot bushings are worn, now is a good time to replace them. There are two holes in each bracket for mounting the axle beams. Which one you use depends upon the amount of camber needed. Jim is shown using the lower hole, but at the alignment shop, it was discovered that the upper hole was needed to get the camber into the correct range.

 

13. After installing the new poly radius arm bushings, mount the aft end of the radius arms into the new crossmember. It’s advisable to cycle the suspension a few times with a floorjack to check for binding before installing the coil spring. If none is present, Locktite the radius arm nuts and torque to 100-lbt-ft. The pivot bolts get torqued to 180-220 lbs-ft. Yes, we know the Skyjacker decal is upside down, so save your stamps and your bandwidth.

14. Install the spring and the lower shock mount, then raise the beam up with a floor jack until the spring is seated and the shock can be bolted up. The shock will then limit downtravel. The final steps up front are to install the new, longer brake hoses and bleed the brakes. Then you should go over everything and make sure all the bolts are correctly torqued.

 

15. The old Pitman arm is removed in favor of a new dropped arm. The only way to perform this task without risking steering box damage is to use a Pitman arm puller. This tool is inexpensive and readily available from most auto parts stores (to buy or rent), so there’s really no excuse not to get one.

16. The dual steering dampers install with a bracket that’s bolted to the passenger side chassis rail after new holes are drilled. The other end is clamped to the tie rod. Careful adjustment and centering is required to make sure the steering does not bind in either direction. Boots are supplied with the dampers, but Oaks prefers to run without them. In the muddy goo he frequents, these boots often fill up with goop and stay that way thus causing rust. Oaks feels its better to let the mud fall off quickly or be easily cleaned off at the car wash.

 

17. The rear springs and shocks are easily changed. The axle is unbolted from the springs and lowered. The old springs can then be unbolted at the eyes and replaced with the new ones. Ditto for the shocks. Note that the Platinum shocks (non-reservoir type as shown) can be installed with their body up or down. Torque the u-bolts to 85 lbs-ft. After you drive around a few hundred miles recheck them, then recheck them again at least a couple more times over the next thousand miles or so and perhaps again after your first ‘wheeling trip.

18. This wedge comes already attached to the spring and is designed to give you the correct pinion angle for a non-CV type driveshaft. Depending on the exact situation, further tweaking may be necessary. Some late Rangers came with a two piece driveshaft and sometimes their center carrier must be lowered. All in all, many people think that the two piece unit is a pain, and swap it out for the earlier or later one piece shaft.

 

19. Wait to fully tighten the spring eyes until the wheels are back on and the weight of the vehicle is on the springs. This ensures that you won’t put the bushings in a bind. This step is vital if you are using stock bushings. You can tear out their centers if you tighten them with the suspension in full droop and then set the rig back on its wheels and let the suspension return to normal ride height.

Sources:

Skyjacker

BF Goodrich

ProComp Wheels

see your local 4 Wheel Parts store, or

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Check Out Off-Road Adventures Magazine

 

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