After school when other kids were playing with their G.I. Joe action figures, AJ Rodriguez was at his family's fabrication shop. Playing in race cars and rolling himself down the alley in old off-road tires, AJ's love for off-roading began at the earliest possible age. As the current owner of Southern California's Baja Shop, 25-year-old AJ's obsession for off-roading and fabrication is now stronger than ever. Maintaining his desire to stay on the cutting edge of technology and quality, AJ is pursuing a degree in mechanical engineering. He has learned his trade wellover the past 25 years, and he plans to keep going for at least another 25 years.
His latest adventure began about a year ago. "I'm not doing anything to this truck. This is my daily driver and I am going to keep it stock." That's what AJ told his girlfriend Lisa when he brought home this '98 Ranger. At the time, he may have even meant it. However, he didn't realize his lack of will power when it came to fabricating his own vehicles. Lisa knew better though, "AJ has never left any vehicle he owns stock for very long, and history usually repeats itself." Less than three weeks later, he came home with a set of 33x10.50x15 BFGoodrich Radial All-Terrain tires mounted on some Ultra wheels. But they rubbed because of the stock fenders and stock ride height. Since AJ owns the shop, there were several simple solutions to his dilemma. By bolting on a simple lift kit or a set of fiberglass fenders, he could fix the problem. However, just like a kid with a unlimited supply of LEGOs, AJ took advantage of his resources and began to build up his latest obsession quickly, straying away from his original plan to keep it stock.
AJ knew that to really get into off-road driving safely and reliably, there were more demands than just a lift kit and some shocks. With these two ideas in mind, he went to work on the little Ford. He actually began with a simple prerunner bumper. This was the foundation for the rollcage. AJ built a 1-1/2-inch tube cage that extends from head to tail, top to bottom. With the rollcage complete, the groundwork was laid for the rest of the vehicle.
At this point, AJ faced the fact that the truck wasn't going to remain very stock, so it was time to work on the suspension. In the front, AJ built a set of custom-lengthened A-arms, which incorporated a set of 10-inch King coilover shocks. To improve fender clearance and high-speed stability, he built the A-arms to increase the wheelbase by 1 inch. The freshly completed front suspension system would now produce 15 inches of wheel travel.
The rear suspension design was left stock using leaf springs, except for the installation of a set 14-inch stroke King shocks. To accommodate these long dampers, a longer shock tower was built with the custom rollcage, giving the rear suspension 15 inches of wheel travel.
The proven reliability of the stock engine and transmission prompted AJ to not change much. In an effort to gain reliable horsepower, he bolted up a SuperTrapp exhaust pipe. He squeezed a few more ponies out of the stead by installing a K&N filtercharger and building a custom intake system for it. The manual five-speed transmission was left stock. The rearend remains stock except for the addition of the Precision Gear 4:86 ring-and-pinion to help push the big tires.
Inside the Green Hornet, AJ tried to keep some comforts in an effort to keep Lisa happy, but he would also include the necessary added off-road equipment. A Clarion six-disc CD changer combined with a Clarion receiver makes up the sound system. A Garman GPS was appropriately positioned in front of the navigator's seat. AJ had PRP build a set of custom green metal-flake seats. They were fitted into the cab with a set of Crow five-point seatbelts. A MOMO steering wheel and shift knob were installed for control. The combination of safety and comfort was just enough for AJ to keep Lisa sitting shotgun in the green machine.
The first impression is the most lasting. With that in mind, AJ went straight to the experts at Performance Sign Wurks in Orange, California. The staff began by shooting the Haneman fiberglass fenders and the cab white. The hood is also from Haneman, but is built from carbon-fiber. To display the natural beauty of the carbon-fiber, the hood was strategically taped off and only partially painted white. Once the basecoat was shot, the bright-green stripes were added for a final touch to the brilliant paint scheme.
Although his truck ended up nothing like his original intentions, it came out sweet. It is a balanced combination of safety, reliability, and fun. With the total cost of the additions to the truck less than $10,000, it provides an affordable option for people who don't have a $100,000 to put into a prerunner. With the way the rear cage is built and with some extra cash, the rear suspension could easily be upgraded to a 25-plus-inch travel four-link system. Only time will tell where AJ's obsession for fabrication will take him.
|Owner/hometown ||: ||AJ Rodriguez/Orange, California |
|Make/model ||: ||'98 Ford Ranger |
|Engine ||: ||Four-cylinder stock |
|Transmission ||: ||Stock five-speed |
|Tires ||: ||BFGoodrich 33x10.50 All-Terrain |
|Wheels ||: ||Ultra 15-inch |
|Shocks ||: ||King coilover 10-inch front; 14-inch rear |
|Air cleaner ||: ||K&N Filtercharger |
|Exhaust ||: ||SuperTrapp |
|Additional features ||: ||Paint by Performance Sign Wurks, Orange, |
|California; Haneman fiberglass fenders and |
|carbon-fiber hood; Hypertech chip; Garman |
|GPS; Clarion six-disc changer; Crow Enterprize |
|seatbelts; PRP custom seats; MOMO steering |
|wheel and shifter knob; JAZ fuel cell |