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Explorer Express: The finest Explorer parts and accessories

This Explorer Is Outfitted To Please
by Carl Calvert / Photography by Bill Blankenship & Mike Self

Dave and Patty Vanek, the owners of Explorer Express, are old friends of Today's SUV. Since 1996, their company has been turning conservative stock Explorers into knights of the road. In the past few years, we've featured a few of Dave's creations, and he always manages to come up with the right mix of aftermarket parts to wake up the Explorer's style and capabilities. The '99 Explorer featured here is no exception.

Explorer Express builds its Explorers as turnkey vehicles that can be outfitted from mild to wild, depending on the customer's preferences and pocketbook. Performance and styling cues tend to revolve around higher horsepower engine parts, upgraded rolling stock, suspension tweaks, and body enhancements. The company usually starts with 5.OL Explorers as a base for its Explorer X, although it offers parts for all Explorer applications.


We caught up with Explorer Express' latest vehicle in Las Vegas during the recently held SEMA Show where it was on display with dozens of other aftermarket beauties. We persuaded Dave to drive out to the desert for a photo shoot the day after the show closed. The vehicle that graces these pages is equipped with the company's most up-to-date mods for the Ford SUV.

In stock format, the '99 Ford Explorer 5.OL V-8 puts out 215 hp and 288 lb-ft of torque. With Explorer Express' experience in upping the performance ante in these vehicles, we knew the capabilities of the vehicle featured here would be raised to a higher level. The main power addition comes in the form of an X-Charger/Eaton supercharger. The roots-type blower uses a supercharger kit developed by Explorer Express, a cast inlet plenum, and offers a maximum boost of 6 pounds. To provide a few additional ponies to the mix, an X-Spec custom 3-inch exhaust system was also bolted into place and to ensure crisp shifts of the five-speed automatic transmission, an X-Spec shift kit has been installed.

Testing by Explorer Express has shown impressive results from these performance upgrades. The company reports that horsepower now checks in at 285 ponies, and 0-60 times are an impressive 7.3 seconds. When equipped with Explorer Express' X-Spec suspension parts, the Explorer is capable of 0.82 gs on the skidpad.

Almost on a par with the performance mods are the suspension tweaks performed by Explorer Express. An X-Spec lowering kit serves to lower the Ford's center of gravity by 1-3/4 inches, and when teamed with a set of Edelbrock shocks, the result is a much more stable ride. To add additional insurance to the suspension policy, a set of X-Spec sway bars were also installed. These units greatly reduce body sway and roll during spirited turns and tight maneuvers. The Explorer's rolling stock also benefits from the Explorer Express touch, the wheelwells are now filled with 17-inch Ford Motorsports Cobra R wheels wrapped by Pirelli Scorpion Zero tires of the 275/55R17 variety.

With upgraded performance and suspension in place, Explorer Express turned its attention to outside styling cues to make the vehicle look the part of an Explorer X warrior. A variety of X-Spec parts and Explorer Express efforts come together to provide a uniquely styled vehicle. Up front, an X-spec air dam, a bumper panel, a grille, and a hood blister combine for an aggressive look. Cord running boards nicely frame the side of the Explorer.

Out back, an X-Spec rear wing lends an additional styling cue. A number of body pieces have also been painted to match the body for a cleaner, smoother look, including the front and rear bumper extensions, the rear bumper, and the license plate panel. Lastly, in the interior, a carbon-fiber trim kit and Explorer Express floor mats were added for a touch of elegance.

This is the third Explorer X we've featured in the pages of Today's SUV that has been given the special Explorer Express touch, and we're happy to say that each one keeps getting better. As the premier company in the Explorer aftermarket field, Explorer Express keeps exploring the possibilities!


Dave Vanek, owner of Explorer Express (along with his wife Patty), explains that the company actually grew out of his other enterprise, Z Doctor, a mail-order parts outlet for Datsun Z-cars. Z Doctor was formed in 1975 and prospered during the Z-models' heyday in the 70s and '80s. However, Dave discovered that many sports car owners were moving into sports utilities and saw the handwriting on the wall.

"We decided, in order to hold a fine organization with excellent talented employees together, to follow the trend and switch to SUVs," he explains. "We needed to settle on one particular SUV model and, because of our own background and its dominant position in class, we decided that Ford Explorers would be our target."

Explorer Express is now on its fourth edition of the Explorer Express Accessory Catalog and is gaining national recognition as "the Explorer guys." The catalog includes hundreds of Explorer accessories, and Explorer Express also designs several of its own styling and performance parts. "We've built custom one-off race car parts for years," says Dave. "When we perceive a need for improvement on the Explorers and build a part, we reproduce the best ones and offer them to our Explorer customers." The company does its own prototype work and has various manufacturers make the production parts. Explorer Express' private label parts are termed X-Spec parts, its complete Explorer conversions are called Explorer X, and its supercharger kits are X-Chargers.

Although Dave is no longer involved in the day-to-day operation of the shop, he spends his time producing the Explorer Express catalog, developing new Explorer products and promoting the business. His brother, John Vanek, is the operations manager and has managed the shop since 1990. The Z business is again flourishing, restoration of the classic beauties has become popular.

Future projects for Explorer Express include producing supercharger kits for the Explorer 4.0 overhead cam engine and the new 2001 V-8, as well as body styling parts and performance suspension for the new 2001 Explorers.



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Copyright © 1999-2004 Explorer Express. All rights reserved.
Explorer Express is a registered trademark and subsidiary of Z DOCTOR INC.
Explorer Express is not related in any way to the Ford Motor Company.
The words "Ford" and "Explorer" are trademarks of the Ford Motor Company and are used for descriptive purposes only.
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