THE X FACTOR
If you think SUVs are only popular among families and the go-anywhere crowd, then you'd better think again. If you happen to be a performance junkie with a need more space, then Richmond, California's Explorer Express is just the ticket for turning up the wick on Ford's midsize SUV. Offering an extensive catalog of accessories and speed parts, the company could hardly have better news for enthusiasts who've found themselves displaced from a beloved high performance automobile. Then again, a turnkey rig that keeps pace with a fleet of driving school Mustangs would sure be nice - which, according to a highly regarded race driver from Ford's glory years, is an apt description of Explorer Express' conversion effort pictured here known as the Explorer X.
As a bit of background, Explorer Express is the brainchild of Dave Vanek, a former Bob Bondurant Driving School shop foreman and the proprietor of one of California's busiest Nissan Z-car specialists - Z Doctor. Despite his interest in the Japanese sports car, Dave's loyalty to the Blue Oval hasn't wavered since his days as a Ford dealer mechanic in the late '60s, when daily transportation meant banging gears in a Paxton-blown '66 GT350. As business in the Z car industry leveled out in the early '90s, Dave and his shop crew turned their collective interests toward Ford's market-leading SUV, and Explorer Express was born. While the company sells everything from cupholders to cargo liners the good stuff that's been specifically developed by Explorer Express follows the X moniker, and are labeled as X-spec components.
Our '99 feature truck is the company demonstrator, which morphed into its X stature after starting life as a 5.0-equipped 2WD XLT. As with all factory Explorer 5.0s, this one benefits from a 65mm throttle body, a free-flowing intake, GT-40P cylinder heads, and a distributorless ignition. With some decent performance hardware already on board, Explorer Express has packaged an Eaton supercharger (X-Charger) and a 3-inch single exhaust as its power makers of choice. The results include an additional 85 dyno-proven horses, an extra cubic yard of low-end torque, and no more worries about behemoth Suburbans keeping you from your lane of choice. Those all-important 0-60 times have been lopped off by two seconds, meaning the sprint takes just over seven ticks.
Of course, straight-line performance is just part of the equation, so the suspension was revised to achieve a claimed 0.82 g's on the skidpad. An X-spec lowering kit, rear sway bar, and Edelbrock Performer IAS shocks work with 275/55-17 Pirelli Scorpion Zeros for inspiring confidence in the corners. Surprisingly, the 17x9-inch Cobra R rims look as good on an Explorer as anything we've seen, and they demonstrate the amazing versatility of the hot-selling castings from Ford Racing Performance Parts. Wheels that look as good on a car as on a truck are few and far between, but the Rs pack just enough aesthetic bulk to pull it off. Peeking through their five-spoke design is the stock four-wheel disc brake system, upgraded with slotted rotors and Performance Friction carbon-metallic pads.
Save for the carbon-fiber trim package and a digital boost/vacuum gauge, the interior remains practically stock. That's not bad in this case, as Dave explained that the seats in the '99 and newer XLTs are sportier than in previous years, when typical X upgrades included replacing the front buckets. Exterior updates are more apparent, giving a subtle muscular look that's in keeping with the truck's mechanical aptitude. Most obvious is the X-Spec air dam, the rear wing, the hood blister, and the grille, while the color-keyed bumpers and absent side moldings blend so nicely that they're easily overlooked.
Recognizing that no two people (or budgets) are alike, Explorer Express encourages customers to pick and choose the pieces they like for a turnkey conversion rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. You like the mechanical upgrades, but want to stay incognito? No problem. You like the body mods, but don't feel the need for more power (yeah, right!)? Explorer Express can do that too. Obviously, an all-around package such as the package featured here has the most appeal, which is precisely why this demonstrator exists. We'll take one just like it - thank you.
Perhaps you're wondering about the identity of the famous driver we referred to earlier - the one who lent his praise to the Explorer X's capabilities. In case you haven't already guessed, it was none other than Bondo himself. Who would we be to disagree?
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