WE’RE SURE Ford was confident when it released the PX Ranger in 2011, but we also reckon, even at its most optimistic, the Blue Oval couldn’t have foreseen just how popular its 4X4 workhorse would become. After all, it’s not every day a sales champ (Toyota’s Hilux) cops a serious challenge and eventually gets overtaken in overall 4X4 sales. Since 2011 the Ranger has become synonymous with the surge in 4X4 ute sales, with the result being plenty of off-road tourers using them as their preferred rig, and modifying them to suit.
It’s not that difficult to spot a lifted Ranger with extensive bar-work, canopy and the like, trundling around town on mid-week duties. In fact, you’ve already seen some absolute crackers here on the pages of 4X4 Australia. So much so, that to impress us enough to be featured here, a modified Ranger needs to be truly unique and built for purpose. And that’s exactly what Paul, the owner of this immaculate machine, has achieved; drawing on his experience with previous vehicle mods (past 4X4s have included two JKU Wranglers, a GU Patrol and an 80 Series Cruiser) Paul has added some well thought-out and very well executed modifications to his Magnetic Grey Ranger.
PAUL was adamant the Ranger had to be “capable offroad, but still a pleasure to drive on-road” so turned to Stuart Murchison, the owner of Murchison Products, for advice. Murchison Products has been distributing 4X4 accessories to the Aussie market for more than 10 years, and Stuart had no hesitation in recommending gear made by Aussie company Uneek 4X4.
This Melbourne-based crew produce some tip-top accessories for a wide range of off-road vehicles and, importantly in this Ranger-crowded scene, its products are (excuse the pun) more unique – and bombproof – than most gear out there. Opting for Uneek 4X4 gear ensured this Ford workhorse would stand out from its peers and kill it on- and off-road thanks to the Uneek 4X4 team’s knowledge of the demands of Australian off-roading.
THE MODIFICATION wand has been brandished all over this Ranger, starting at the front where the team at Murchison Products fitted a Uneek 4X4 Crawler bullbar which sits snug – the fitment looks like the Ranger came straight out of the factory with the bar as standard. There is an optional two-inch grill guard tube that can be affixed atop the bar (it makes a good light mount), but Paul chose not to fit it and we reckon the Ranger’s front end looks far sleeker as a result.
The Crawler bullbar is seriously solid but still relatively light in weight, with a mix of 3mm, 4mm and 5mm steel used in its construction. Up top, a set of LED lights keep the road ahead illuminated, while underneath there’s an ARB bash plate plus two Uneek 4X4 recovery hooks, rated to 3.5-tonne each. Finishing off the recovery gear is a Carbon winch that, Stuart says, weighs in an impressive 12kg lighter than an equivalent model from another manufacturer.
With all this recovery kit adorning the Ranger (there’s another recovery hook on the rear bar), Paul can be assured this Ranger is set up to recover other vehicles and, if the unfortunate ever happens, he has the equipment onboard to tackle a self-recovery.
Lurking inside the Crawler bullbar is a Carbon winch that is said to be 12kg lighter than an equivalent model from other manufacturers.
Instead of a typical sports bar, a modular Uneek 4X4 Chase Rack has been installed with the optional add-on tyre carrier and cabin roof rack.
Underneath is an ARB bash plate and two Uneek 4X4 3.5-tonnerated recovery hooks, to keep everything safe and to get you out of trouble.
The roof rack is a Chase Rack option, and combined with the raised tyre carrier effectively doubles up-top carrying capacity.
Also a Uneek 4X4 creation is the rear bar, with two bolt-on tow hooks, a 3.5-tonne hitch, and wraparound tubing at each end to protect the tub.
WITH an IFS front end and leaf-spring rear, going for more ground clearance in a dual-cab ute while retaining a good ride and handling is slightly tricky, but Stuart and the team at Murchison had the answer in the form of a kit that mixes US-based product and Aussie components.
“It’s the Radflo system,” Stuart says. “So, Radflo front coilovers with Eibach coil springs and then, to complete the system at the back, it’s got EFS springs and the Radflo shocks.”
Stuart also points out that with any build the suspension choice comes down to owner discretion, as was the case with Paul’s Ranger. It was always only going to carry a relatively light load with the occasional loading-up of the rear tray, as Paul’s main aim was to gain ground clearance while improving the on- and off-road performance.
Adding that ground clearance is a set of Tuff A.T. T17 wheels shod with chunky BFGoodrich All Terrain T/A LT285/70R17 tyres. The end result is a Ranger that has a relatively aggressive stance (and plenty of clearance) without looking over the top.
PROBABLY the most noticeable accessory on Paul’s Ranger is the Uneek 4X4 Chase Rack. This replaces the common sports bar seen on a host of 4X4 utes and it adds loads of versatility thanks to the two additional Chase Rack-specific accessories, namely the roof-rack and tyre carrier that Paul has fitted here. The Chase Rack design is a nod to the ‘chaser’ vehicles seen at desert racing events, but the practicalities are universal; the tyre carrier is hinged so it can be set down when travelling and lifted up when Paul needs to access gear underneath the Chase Rack frame. This means minimal loss of storage space in the Ranger’s cargo area – plus it just looks damn cool. Add in the roof rack and you’ve got a great external storage system that’s relatively quick to remove if you need to utilise the entire tray-length of the vehicle.
The ‘base’ of the Chase Rack mounts to the tub and includes a neoprene-lined mount point so as to eliminate any chance of the rack damaging the ute tub. The roof-rack component of this setup allows light bar fitment – which Paul has done – and the Uneek 4X4 team has shown its years of tourer-building experience by adding rubber bump stops to the aluminium roof-rack, to ensure any incidental contact between rack and roof over bumpy terrain doesn’t result in a scratched duco.
The base of the Chase Rack is made of light but tough powdercoated aluminium, while the tyre carrier is beefy Aussie steel, also powdercoated and zinc-primed for longevity and corrosion resistance. The tyre carrier can carry up to a 37-inch tyre and utilises a pair of automotive struts for lifting up and down (pivoting on robust urethane bushes). More impressively, when not carrying a tyre, it may be used as an extension of the roof rack when in the upright position.
The Uneek 4X4 rock sliders increase underbody protection; the heavy-duty steel sliders feature a side-tube that is angled up 30 degrees to aid ground clearance. This doesn’t mean they’re impossible to use when getting in the vehicle, either, thanks to an inbuilt step and a 2mm tread plate for grip. The Uneek 4X4 rear bar finishes off the back end of the Ranger, with its 3.5-tonne-rated tow hitch and an additional pair of bolt-on tow hooks assuring a reverse-direction recovery is tackled with confidence. The clever use of two-inch tubing around each side of the bar also does a great job of protecting the lower rear sections of the Ranger’s tub.
Again, like the bullbar and rock sliders, this rear bar offers plenty of protection along with a great integrated style that suits the Ranger perfectly.
BESIDES the fitment of an iDrive throttle module (designed to reduce or eliminate the common delay in throttle response of 4X4s that use a fly-by-wire setup) and a TJM snorkel, the drivetrain has remained relatively untouched – as has the interior – and this again reflects the common-sense approach Paul adopted for this build.
The subtle but effective suspension setup, the clever and versatile tray storage system, sensible wheel and tyre choice, and well-integrated protective accessories make this Ranger a real ‘sleeper’ in regards to its appearance belying its impressive capability.
Just another Ranger? Nah, it’s way more than that.
WHILE a TJM snorkel has been fitted, little else has been done to the 3.2L diesel’s drivetrain, apart from the addition of an iDrive module that eliminates throttle response time experienced by 4X4s with fly-by-wire electronic controls.