Vinnie Kung
March 1, 2001
Photos By: Francis Butler

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."

Without wasting any time, Schmall was called upon to build up a 302. Starting with a 1991 roller block, Schmall had it bored and honed .030-over. With it back from the machine shop, he dropped in a balanced rotating assembly consisting of a stock crank, and a set of stock rods with TRW pistons. A 7-quart Moroso oil pan was attached to the bottom end, and on top, a pair of Edelbrock Performer RPM aluminum cylinder heads was torqued down to the deck surfaces. Compression checks in a 10.5:1 with the flattop TRWs.

An FRPP F303 cam was jammed in, and actuates the 2.02/1.90 valves with much authority. Fuel injection was to be retained, so a matching Edelbrock Performer RPM intake manifold was installed with a set of 24 lb./hr. injectors and a 70mm BBK throttle body. A Pro-M 80mm mass air meter was then placed in the intake tract with a nice-sized K&N air filter. With the engine assembled, it was time to install the mill with the custom Kaufmann Products 302-Ranger swap headers and engine mounts.

To make it tractable on the street, Eric chose to put in an AOD. In this case, it is a Trans Pro (Lansing, Ill.) unit that featured Borg-Warner clutches and a 2800-stall B&M converter. A B&M Hammer shifter connects to the manual valve, and ensures quick and consistent upshifts. A driveshaft safety loop from Ford Racing Parts retains the custom driveshaft assembly should it fail from the high torque load. Eric expects to drag race and get some respectable numbers from it in the near future.

The bodywork and paint is where most of the attention went. The first thing he did was shave the fuel door, the tailgate and the antenna. Eric then removed the mirrors and had The Custom Shop in Flanagan, Ill., sand the entire body down to remove the faded factory paint and fit the aftermarket 2-inch cowl hood. The base color is PPG Chrome Yellow and the abstract artwork was applied on afterwards, all covered by a coat of clearcoat.

Since we last spoke to Eric, he's updated his project a little. The interior now sports a dashboard and center console from a 1997 Mustang that is fully covered in tweed. The bed cap has been removed, and a few more paint graphics have been sprayed on. Other than that, it's pretty much still the radical ride you see before you. Future plans include a Vortech supercharger and a complete tan leather interior.

Without the help of his wife and the support of his mother, father and grandmother (who sadly never got to see the truck completed), Eric says this project would never have happened. Of course, Schmall gets all the wrenching credit while his buddies Mike, Robbie, Papa Joe and Gary in his truck club also get thanks too. Combining show-quality looks with brutal street performance and a plush ride, Eric's truck is simply de-ranged.