1997 Ford Ranger Base Extended Cab Pickup Video Review
What you see before you is the product of a 14-year journey filled with love, hate, fun, tears, new friends, and the tying up of a good deal of money. Fester bought this truck brand new in April of ’97, and to this day it only has 67 clicks on the odometer. He bought the truck, drove it home, and decided to have a little fun with it. The thought of turning back has never crossed his mind. What started out as a simple ’bag job turned into an attempted traditional and stock-floor bodydrop. Every step turned into another two or three more, but Fester stuck it out, learned a few new tricks along the way, and watched his truck evolve and morph into the wild and crazy Ranger on our pages this month. Follow along as Fester recounts his long road to the cover while adding another timeless piece to his gallery of legendary minitrucks.
“One modification I always wanted to perform on my Ranger was a big-motor swap, and I found a donor in a wrecked Ford Mustang convertible. I hauled it home, drove it off the trailer, whipped it around the block a few times then promptly pulled the motor, transmission, and rearend. Since I had destroyed my original floor in the stock-floor bodydrop attempt, I knew I would end up needing something else from the pony’s carcass, so out came the measuring tape. The Ranger and Mustang floors were similar enough, so with my trusty Sawzall in hand, I cut the engine compartment and trunk off. With the rest of the car out of the way, I was able to start welding the floor into its new home.
“It was about this time that I met some guys that changed this build for the better. I had been so frustrated with the progress I was making, or the lack thereof, and was close to calling it quits. I called James Strassner late one night and told him about the problems I was running into. He showed up at 9 a.m. the next day with a welding helmet in hand. Within days, he had the floor and firewall welded up and we were putting the cab back on the frame before I knew it. In rapid time, the pile of unorganized customization I had made was starting to look like a truck again.
“One night we were working on the front suspension and having issues getting the ’bag to fit without rubbing. I had a spare air shock and jokingly said ‘Hey, let’s try this.’ James liked the idea, and we redid the entire front suspension with his handmade control arms for this purpose.
“With everything dialed in, we then stripped the truck down to a bare frame. While James was finishing welding everything, Greg Costlow was busy prepping the chassis for the powdercoat treatment that was to come. The motor went to a good friend, Steve Max, for a full rebuild, and true to his racing form, it did not come back anywhere near stock condition. The transmission rebuild was also overseen by Steve, and as expected, it came back fully built with a shift kit.
“This is when I met another great friend, Jamie Cummins of If Its Got Wheels. We started hanging out on a regular basis, and he spent hours showing me what it takes to spray a quality paintjob. In no time flat, we had the entire suspension, engine, and transmission fully painted HOK True Blue Pearl. I had been squirreling away parts over the years, and now was the time to finally bolt on all the chrome and shiny parts to the freshly rebuilt engine. With the frame back from powdercoating, I finally had the opportunity to assemble a rolling chassis. The suspension was pieced back together, and the engine and transmission were also fused. Wheels that I have been stashing away for over 10 years were finally mounted as well. Last but not least, I ordered a custom aluminum fuel cell from Mouse’s Kustom Fab. Everything was starting to take shape, and my excitement level was at an all-time high.
“With the frame coming together I set my sights on crafting a crazy interior. I always loved the look of smooth fiberglass and paint, so we went to town shaving and ’glassing everything inside the cab. With the help of Mike Wolfe, we proceeded to shave the vents, air-bag hole, speaker openings, headlight switch, and so on. With the need for tunes, I hit up my brother Jason, who was a serious audiophile, for help, and he diagrammed a system that I would love for years to come. When the audio goods arrived, James showed me another talent that he had mastered—box building. With grand visions of a functional, painted center console, he made one badass sounding setup that tied into it. Once everything was finished, the console was coated in high-build primer and worked to flawless perfection. Jamie then came in and painted everything in the same HOK paint as the exterior and buried it under layers of clear.
“The chassis was well taken care of, and the interior was just how I wanted it, so the time to start the bodywork and paint process was now upon us. My brother and I didn’t want to risk damaging or subjecting the immaculate chassis to overspray, so we devised a creation that would guard it from the next build phases. My brother, being a crafty woodworker, came over one weekend and whipped out a trick rolling wood stand to protect the body and bed. With the chassis safely tucked away, our gang went to town on the bodywork, and once the truck was straight as an arrow, Jamie with IIGW was called in to lay down more HOK hue.
“This is the point where an average build takes a sharp left turn. Anyone who knows me knows that I love bright, wild paintjobs. Jamie and I had been working on a rendering, and we were well on our way to bringing it to life. The truck was fully wet-sanded, we took a collective deep breath, and away we went. Over the course of a week, there were always three to five guys putting in 12-hour days of straight masking and taping. We’ve estimated that 250+ hours have been spent transforming the all-blue, monotone paint scheme to just solid graphics. Jamie then stepped up, grabbed his airbrush, and applied enough detail work to keep a pair of eyes busy for hours. With more time than he cares to count, Jamie wrapped up the airbrush work, which had me looking back in amazement thinking just how much Too Sloww was emerging into a truck beyond my wildest imaginations.
“With my personal deadline of debuting at West Coast Nationals ’10 nearing, the hours leading up to the show were evaporating fast. When it came time for the body and frame to be reintroduced, I called a few (12 or so) friends to help out. We enjoyed some pizza, knocked back a few cold ones, and eventually found time to get to lifting. Everything went on with minimal effort and no scratches were made in the immaculate paint—whew! The truck was shoved back into the garage, so I started laying out carpet and started the exciting task of wiring and plumbing. I had an idea of what kind of seats I wanted to complete the interior, so I called up my mother who worked her magic and stitched up her very first set of seats. They turned out perfect and I truly love the unique touches she gave to them. As with everything, we cut it close but the truck made its debut and took home Best of Show at WCN.
“It’s nice to enjoy the truck now that the it’s pretty much finished, and I look forward to showing it as much as I can over the next couple years. I want to thank John at Mini Truckin’ for his help making a dream come true. A big thank you goes to my brother Jason whom I lost to leukemia. You are my passenger for life as I always promised you over the years. Thank you to all of my friends who have helped over the years—without each and every one of you, Too Sloww would not be where it is today.”
1997 Ford Ranger
Phoenix, AZ • Uncle Fester’s Garage
Wheels: 17x7 Billet Specialties (front) 17x10 Billet Specialties (rear)
Tires: 205/40/17 Kumho Ecsta (front) 245/40/17 Kumho Ecsta (rear)
One-off arms fit to a Toyota spindle/brake assembly
Two-link with a Panhard bar
Custom-made by James Strassner
Monroe air shocks
Two Viair 380s
Full-custom frame by Chris Alston’s Chassisworks
Stock Toyota front, Explorer rear discs
Floor is out of a ’91 Mustang, custom firewall
Owner, James Strassner, Greg Costlow
Shaved: Third brakelight, emblems, cowl, antenna
Bodydrop: Stock-floor and traditional amount to a big drop
Body Mods: Rockers removed
Suicide Doors: Reverse suicide
Performed By: Owner and James Strassner
Brand & Colors:
House of Kolor and Sherwin Williams colors, main color is HOK True Blue Pearl
Hours of airbrush work and graphics
Jamie Cummins of If Its Got Wheels
Seats: Reupholstered Rhino seats (thanks, Mom!)
Dash: Fiberglassed; shaved vents, air bag, and other misc. parts
Misc.: Fully painted and wrapped in gray pleather
Performed By: Owner, paint by Jamie Cummins
Head Unit: Pioneer
Mids & Highs: Kicker
Misc.: Custom sub box
Performed By: Owner, brother Jason, and James Strassner
Rebuilt Ford Mustang 302ci
Chrome headers, custom exhaust by Mad Hatter
Fully rebuilt AOD painted
Mustang 8.8 narrowed with 9-inch end welded on
Fully painted and chromed to the max
Owner, Steve Max, paint by Jamie Cummins
Special Thanks From Owner
“My brother Jason (rest in peace); my loving, beautiful, caring wife and understanding kids; James Strassner; Greg Costlow; Jamie and Tiffany Cummins; Mike Wolfe; Greg Reiner; Wes McCrea; Southern Comfort; Mouse’s Custom Fab; and Inyati Bedliners.”