Dave Vanek has definitely "explorered" the possibilities with the Ford Explorer. As the owner of Explorer Express in Richmond, California, Dave outfits Explorers with a wide variety of performance additions and interior and exterior amenities. We also featured one of Dave's creations in our February '97 issue, where a '94 4.0-liter Explorer had been transformed into the "Explorer X", sporting a Vortech supercharger, upgraded exhaust, a plethora of driving lights, sharp rolling stock and numerous other modifications.
On the heels of his success with the 4.0 Explorer X, Dave is up to his old tricks, this time outfitting an all wheel-drive, 5.0 V8 power plant equipped '97 Explorer with a well thought-out mixture of aftermarket parts. Specifically, he wanted to provide the Ford with additional power, refine its handling abilities, increase its "utility" nature and add some styling cues. Easy enough, right? Well, Dave knew he had his work cut out so he gathered up his crew at Explorer Express and set to work.
The first order of business was to pump up the V8 powerplant. In stock format, the Explorer puts out 205 horsepower and 288 lbs-ft of torque; certainly adequate, but Dave was after a bit more. Explorer Express has developed a supercharger kit for the 5.0-liter Explorer with excellent results. The kit utilizes an Eaton M90 roots-type supercharger and this Explorer X vehicle sports a custom supercharger kit developed around this unit. Some of the kit's refinements include a cast inlet plenum, an incorporated bypass valve and a maximum boost of six pounds. In developing the kit, Dave had to relocate the EGR controls to the firewall and move the coil bracket, but all in all, the installation looks very clean. In conjunction with the supercharger, Explorer Express also replaced the stock fuel pump with a 110 L/hr unit to provide more fuel under boost. Horsepower figures with the supercharger kit now check in at 285 ponies, an increase of 80 horsepower over stock. Since the stock engine has excellent heads and a large 65mm throttle body, no additional modifications were deemed necessary.
With the supercharger system in place a three-inch exhaust system was developed to provide a less restrictive flow of exhaust gases and provide a few additional ponies to the mix. The cat-back system is made of aluminized steel and culminates in a stainless-steel tip with resonator. A "quiet" option utilizes a less aggressive turned down tip. To provide more positive and firmer shifts an Explorer Express transmission shift kit was also installed. This kit utilizes beefier transmission components which flow the transmission fluid at a higher rate, resulting in crisper shifting ability.
Since the suspension on any SUV can stand improvement, Explorer Express wasted no time in refining this Explorer's ride. The company's 1-3/4-inch lowering springs team up with Edelbrock shocks to lower the Ford's center of gravity and provide a more stable ride. To add additional insurance to the suspension policy, a set of Explorer Express sway bars have also been installed to greatly reduce body sway and roll during spirited turns and tight maneuvers. The Ford meets the pavement via a refined set of wheels and tires and now rolls on 17-inch Team Dynamics DTM wheels wrapped by Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires of the 275/55R-17 variety. For more stopping power the company offers its beefed-up brake package, which consists of 13-inch slotted rotors and PBR calipers.
Exterior modifications are an intriguing blend of style and purpose and serve to give the Explorer a new look and increased utility. In the front, an Explorer Express grille gives the Ford a more elegant look, while the company's airdam and PIAA pro90 driving/fog lights allow air to flow and extra light to cut through the darkness. Cord Automotive running boards spruce up the sides of the Explorer and help out in ingress and, egress chores. Out back, an Armawind rear deflector keeps the rear window clean and bright and Catz XSL backup lights serve to light up rearward areas during back-up maneuvers to avoid unnoticed obstacles.
In the cockpit, a set of Flofit seats have more bolster than the stock seats and serve to keep the driver and passenger in place during spirited maneuvers. A Covercraft console extender adds more room to the center console for the storage of road paraphernalia and a set of Dakota Digital boost and fuel pressure gauges are on call to keep tabs on the force-fed V8 components.
Dave Vanek has paid a few visits to our offices in Huntington Beach with his 5.0 Explorer X and we have had the pleasure of driving the vehicle and inspecting its many attributes. In the performance department, the 5.0 Explorer X is impressive and we felt every one of its 285 horses as we maneuvered it around our "test track" near our offices. Steering the Ford hard into a tight corner we experienced very little sway or lean found on most stock SUVs and the Explorer's lower center of gravity definitely helps during hard maneuvering. We liked the additional outside styling cues, new rolling stock and the low-key interior upgrades. All in all, we felt that Dave has a winner on his hands. And when you consider the fact that this package of upgrades come in at under $12,000, the Explorer X starts to look better and better. Many of Explorer Express' competitors offer similar packages at several thousand dollars over Dave's price, making the Ford affordable as well as desirable. If this vehicle is any indication, in the world of aftermarket Explorers this may very well be the era of the "X" generation.
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