As you saw in the title, LSX Magazine now has a new project vehicle. While this may be just another swap, for me, it is much more than that because my background is in diesel trucks and diesel drag racing. Crazy, right? I follow all levels of drag racing but seeing everyone have fun for not much money with the LS platform really intrigued me to get involved.
Although I think a car would’ve been cool, I’m a truck guy. I wanted to build a truck just with a much different powerplant than I’m used to. So, the search for a truck was on. I looked everywhere for a square body S-10, but they were either beat to hell or they were already full-blown race cars that were out of my budget.
After searching for a few months, a friend of mine that had this 1992 Ford Ranger threw the idea out there of me buying it. It is a clean truck for 20+ years of age, it runs and drives, and it’s super lightweight. Unfortunately, this small four-cylinder engine isn’t capable of the power I am after. Which raises the question, what’s the power level we’re looking for? I bought this truck for close to $700 and since the chassis is already pretty cheap, I have a budget build in mind.
While drag racing my truck (the diesel) I always saw the “real street” classes that involved a street cruise and then returning to the track for eliminations. The diesel truck is all fiberglass and has no lights or insurance. Although it’s 1,400-horsepower, I can’t use it anywhere except for the racetrack, legally.
That made me want to have a truck I can street drive, go get groceries, go get ice cream, or whatever, and still be able to shred on the track. Like any of you would do, I headed to the local salvage yard and found a 1997, 120,000-mile 5.3 LS engine. I picked up this engine for $550 and now I just needed a transmission.
I fully anticipated going with a TH350 or TH400, but my godfather builds Powerglide and he had plenty of spares. After talking with your LSX Magazine editor, Brian Havins, he assured me that a Powerglide transmission is a tried and true setup and would work perfectly for this. I want to be able to consistently and freely shift gears street driving and racing, so the two-speed ‘Glide is an excellent solution.
I’m now into this project for a mere $1,250 and we have a chassis, engine, and transmission. Now, what goodies are we going to utilize in this project? With a budget in mind, I am looking for cheaper upgrades to see what we can get out of it. Right now I’m looking to upgrade the inductions, camshaft, heads, ladder bars, and sticky tires in the back.
- Intake Manifold- I plan on using an upgraded yet appropriate intake manifold on this engine. I just want to be able to have plenty for the power level we end up shooting for.
- Cylinder Heads- As for the cylinder heads, I know these factory heads are capable of some power, but not enough for this project. If we want any chance of being competitive, we’ll need a good flowing set of heads. I would like to find the most aggressive budget-friendly heads possible and see what she’ll crank out.
- Camshaft- The camshaft, from what I’ve heard, is everything on these engines. I want to have the most aggressive camshaft possible for the setup. We will look at all of the parts being applied and choose accordingly. Again, looking for budget-friendly parts with a bang, you know?
- Ladder Bars- For the most part, I’ve seen Ranger’s, S-10, S-15’s, and other small trucks with kinds of suspension configurations. Ladder bars and four-link being the most common, I think ladder bars will make the most sense for what we’re doing. Although the four-link may be capable of much faster elapsed times and has more adjustments, the kit and installation wouldn’t be near as budget-friendly.
- Rear Differential- This little baby differential that rides under my Ranger is about 1-inch in diameter. I don’t know if I could put this 5.3-liter in gear without breaking an axle. Okay, that seems a little exaggerated but you know what I mean. I am going to look into an 8.8 or 9-inch rear differential kit that would work for this truck. I’d love to find as close to a drop-in unit as possible and show how easy it is to install into something like this.
- Shocks- With suspension being a huge ingredient to traction, the adjustable suspension will be a must. I am going to be looking for a set of adjustable coil-over shocks for the front and rear of the Ranger.
- Dash- For data acquisition, I would like to find a dash that we can use to replace the factory Ford one. Something that looks a lot better, something that data is recordable, and something I can use to monitor the vital signs of my engine and transmission. This will allow me to dial everything in for safe and competitive fun.
- Shifter- I will be utilizing a trans brake too, so the search is on for a shifter that will allow me to operate the ‘Glide and a trans brake for a street/strip setup.
- Transmission- I think that the stock parts the Powerglide has inside would probably handle this engine for a while, but why test it? We are going to look into a rebuild kit for this transmission and go through what it takes to make these transmissions hold some power. It will more than likely be overbuilt, but this gives me room to grow into it later on down the road.
- Wheels & Tires- Obviously wheels and tires are everything for the look. As you can see in the rendering earlier I’m looking for a set of machined and black wheels with skinnies on the front and a fat tire on the rear. I am undecided on which tires I will utilize right now, but it will be a street-capable radial tire, I’m sure.
This will be an ongoing project throughout the year and I am excited to get my hands dirty on a new project and new platform. What are your thoughts on this project? 5.3 LS and a Powerglide at sub-3,000-pounds? Expectations on power and E.T? Let us know in the comments below.