Superlift 4" Suspension Lift for the 2nd Generation
As one of
the most popular SUVs of the 1990's, the Explorer should have a lot of off-road
accessories available for it. Well, the opposite is true. The great growth in SUV
sales came with the advent of "friendly" SUVs such as the Explorer,
SUVs that spent more time shuttling kids to soccer games and picking up
groceries than hauling construction materials or actually going off road.
Generation Explorer moved the Ford SUV deeper into that "soccer-mom"
territory by adding an independent front suspension (IFS). While assisting
handling and ride comfort, it also reduced flexibility and strength on the
front end. The Ford still retained a full body-on-frame design and a
strong 31-spline 8.8" rear axle, but it was low and long and prone to
hanging up on modest obstacles. The optional limited slip differential was
great for street use (towing, etc.), but left a lot to be desired in the dirt.
look at how small the percentage of the Explorer-buying market was asking for
lift kits, it's no surprise that it took years for the manufacturers to finally
come out with them. It's a time consuming and expensive process to bring a
product to market, businesses need to justify that time and money with revenue.
into Bill's "WayBack Machine" for a few minutes:
with one kid in diapers and one more on the way, we traded in the wife's car
for a brand new 1997 Ford Explorer XLT. Equipped with a 4.0 SOHC, and Ford's
Control-Trac 4WD system, this was a good truck for us, as it could serve
double-duty grabbing groceries as well as running to Home Depot as all
young(ish) home owners do. Sure, I thought, we'd go to the snow more
often, maybe go camping.
forward to 2001, and my wife's got about 70K miles on the Explorer and is tired
of it. We buy her a new car, trade mine in, and I inherit the Explorer. All of
a sudden, fixing it up for more competent off-road capabilities was a LOT
higher on my priority list.
upgrade (I wouldn't call it a modification) was going to Goodyear MT/R's, in
31x10.5 on the stock 15" alloys. These great tires really helped, and I
was able to negotiate the mild stuff at Hollister such as the Frame Twister,
although I scraped my frame in doing so. Time to get some clearance.
decided to go with the Superlift 4" suspension lift primarily because it
was one of only 2 kits available for the 2nd Gen, and it seemed that Superlift
had done their homework.
IFS Explorer is pretty straight forward: A simple 4" drop assembly on the
front lowers the differential and the suspension mount points. Moving the
differential down is mandatory on the Explorer, without it you will chew up
your CV joints as the angles become more extreme.
complicating factor with the Explorer is Ford's use of torsion bars in the
front end instead of coil springs like its Ranger cousin. The torsion bars must
be dropped too, as they must remain parallel to the ground. This is a
compromise, and it's no fault of Superlift's; it's the nature of lifting an IFS
vehicle. As you can see in the following photo, raising the suspension 4"
requires the torsion bar to drop down 4", so they are left out where they
can get bashed, or at the least you run a greater risk of hanging up on the
drop brackets. The drop brackets can be seen just under the drivers door
in this picture taken just after installation:
In the rear
the kit uses replacement springs, still spring-under-axle (SUA) rather than
going to spring-over-axle (SOA). A spring-over-axle would likely raise you
6", unless you went with flatter and less flexible springs. Again,
it's a compromise, and Superlift chose the solution that gives us better flex
at the expense of the clearance under the spring perches. Rounding the
base kit out are a set of Superlift Superide shocks
installation I brought it down to my local off-road shop, Boss Trucks of San
Ramon, CA. After conferring with the owner, John Bosso, and his
lift/fabrication technician, Tony, we scheduled the job.
Trucks, like any good shop, will go through the parts list and double check everything
before getting started. You don't want to get half way through a lift and find
out you have the wrong knuckles. Which is what we avoided: Superlift had sent
along the knuckles from the very similar Ranger. A couple of minutes on the
phone with Superlift's helpful and knowledgeable tech line resulted in a Return
Authorization, and we swapped out the parts, no hassles. Superlift reports that
they've instituted a new check system in order to eliminate packaging issues
correct parts accounted for, Tony went to work. Most of the front end comes
out, I should have had them put in a locker for me as well!
lift kit is almost identical to the Superlift kit for the Ranger. These kits
use a nodular iron knuckle, just as they do for their F-150 kit. This knuckle
has repositioned ball joint and steering rod mount points in order to keep
correct geometries, included CV Joint angles. The bracketry is 3/16" plate
steel, and everything is powdercoated gloss black with the exception of the
unfinished knuckles. This system reuses the factory torsion bars, and provides
new sway-bar links of the correct length for the lift.
lift is accomplished via replacement springs. My kit came with the Superide™
Springs and Superide™ Shocks. Superide™ Springs provide a softer-than-stock
spring rate, while increasing total travel. Superide™ Shocks are their
entry-level shock system. They have "Superide™ Select" by Bilstein as
a possible upgrade for many applications, as well as multiple shock systems.
Since my Explorer is still going to be used for hauling stuff back from Home
Depot, I stuck with the stock shocks.
I also have
the optional double-cardan front driveshaft.
lift, your driveshaft angle increases, and although your stock shaft may
survive, the extra wear and tear on it is substantial. Given that my truck has
145,000 miles on it, the new drive shaft was an important and necessary
upgrade. I topped this off with the optional front skid plate.
upgrade was as straight-forward as you might imagine. Old springs and shocks
off, new ones on. No brake line extensions were necessary, as the Explorer
brake lines flex/pivot from an area near the front spring mount, requiring no
extra length (just a bit more flex). Superlift provides new sway bar links to
keep everything lined up properly.
upgrade was a little more challenging. Tony found that the original torsion
adjuster cover plates, which are reused in this application, didn't fit
properly over the new torsion bar drop brackets.
addition, the instructions called for a rectangular isolator to be reused between
the torsion bar adjuster and the inside of the bracket. My 1997 Explorer
doesn't have a separate isolator, it uses a Kevlar pad directly affixed to the
torsion bar adjuster.
This kit is
used for both the 1997-2000 Explorer as well as the 2000-and-up Explorer Sport
Trac. Boss Trucks owner John did some investigating and found out that the
insulator was unique to the Sport Trac. It looks like there are slight
differenced between the models. Superlift is now aware of this issue, and will
research it further. The action we took to work around this issue is what Superlift
recommends in these cases.
a relatively inexpensive pair of insulators, and notching out the
non-load-bearing cover plate, we were able to install the front system safely
and securely. We'll follow up with Superlift, but my guess is that anyone
else who has run into this has solved it the same way, as it's not unusual to
run into minor fitment issues with trucks as there are many model variations as
well as dimensional abnormalities caused by damaged from wrecks and hard-core
wheeling. Here is a cleaned-up and notched cover, in place.
The front lift
uses a pair of crossmembers to do the actual lift. This can put some strain on
the mounting points, as the 2 front crossmembers aren't connected fore-aft and
must rely purely on the strength of the mounting points. Based on the
dimensions of the plate and tube steel, this kit is plenty strong for the
environments that an IFS lift is intended. If you want to really bash HARD
against rocks, you should probably go to a solid front axle. A
intelligent wheeler, especially one in a mild Explorer, should be taking the
smart line and not using brute force to overcome an obstacle. Don't get
me wrong, this kit is strong, but a custom upgrade to this might be to tie the
front and back crossmembers together.
the torsion bar drop kit, it's obvious that the brackets are an easy place to
hang up on some rocks. Superlift's design is no different from their
competitors, and it's just a limitation that IFS Explorers are going to have to
suggested that maybe we could add a second skid plate, one that ties from the
cross members back to the torsion drop kit. This would protect you from hanging
up on the torsion brackets, and if designed correctly, might bolster the front
cross members by tying them in fore/aft with the torsion brackets. We'll
discuss it some more and then I'll have him fab some up for me. While the skid
plate looks like it ties the front and rear cross members together, it’s
actually bolted the the cross members by a short extension, which would flex
before the actual cross members started to move. This may be by design, as
you’d rather have a skid plate bolts move than to transfer all the forces to
the cross members.
had the opportunity to take the new lift off any serious trails, but a few
diagonal crossings of some local ditches impressed me with the new-found flex
in the rear, and my ability to go places where I would have hung up previously.
Ride on the
freeway is great, the rear end is softer than stock but well balanced with the
shock valving in the front. I do notice that the shocks are NOT gas shocks, but
they are durable for an off-road beating, and you can always upgrade your
shocks down the road. Due to the lack of nitrogen charge, the truck does
have a bit less jounce control than with my old Tokico gas shocks, but off-road
the ride is MUCH better. Those poor Tokicos were designed for driving the kids
to day-care, not for getting down and dirty.
update this report later after revisiting Hollister's "Frame Twister"
where I bottomed out and slid over the rocks on my frame rails in previous
visits. I should be able to crawl through that obstacle instead of using
momentum to overpower it. That alone will save a lot of wear and tear on my old
pictures, visit my gallery page on SquadEngine.com
I want to add
that John and Tony at Boss Trucks did a great job dealing with some of the
intricacies of this application, and I’d trust them to work on my truck any
time. If you are in the San Francisco Bay Area, you should look them up and see
what they can do for your truck, as they handle a full range of truck
modifications including lift kits, towing systems, and now even sound systems.
West Monroe, LA 71292
Ramon Valley Blvd
San Ramon, CA 94583