Welcome to a new feature here on Ozark Mountain Overland where I’ll be introducing team members who help make this possible. Today we meet maybe the most important member of our team, Dudley.
Dudley is my 2003 Ford Explorer. This is not the first 3rd generation Explorer I’ve owned, my first car was my dad’s old 2002 Explorer (Which I named “Dora”... Get it..) I drove the crap out of that truck, and I loved it dearly. I’ve been hooked on Explorers since.
Dora died the summer before my senior year of high school. In honorable fashion too, on the way back from a hiking trip at Ha Ha Tonka State Park with Noah and Bri on the 4th of July. A timing chain broke and damaged most of the engine, and it wasn’t worth putting a new engine in a base model Explorer with 170k on the clock.
After Dora I drove our 1998 two door Explorer Sport for most of my senior year. It’s a fun car to drive, but it needs some work before it’s ready for any serious adventures and trips, so ultimately I decided I wanted another 3rd generation (2002-2005) or a 4th generation Mercury Mountaineer (2006-2009). The Mountaineer is just a rebadged Explorer with more options, and since Mercury is a discontinued brand, they can be had pretty cheap compared to 4th generation Explorers.
I found a great Mountaineer in my price range in Joplin on Craigslist. It had black paint and black leather, and most importantly, the 4.6L V8 engine. After trying to reach the owner all week to no avail, I started looking for other options. I found a beautiful 2002 Explorer that also had black paint and leather, the 4.6, and every other option. It looked super clean online, so we went up to Bates City, Missouri to check it out.
It looked even better in person than it did in the pictures. Probably the nicest used Explorer I’ll ever see. The interior and exterior both looked new, and everything worked. Even with how great this truck was, we decided to go check out some other trucks we had found in the KC area. As we were leaving the owner of the lot pointed out a red 2003 Explorer that they also had on the lot. It had about the same milage as the black one, and all the same options, but no V8, although he did claim it had a rebuilt V6.
This was Dudley.
Long(ish) story short, the black one we drove sold immediately after we left, and everything else we drove in Kansas City was crap. The next week, we drove back up to bring Dudley home.
Where does the name come from? I was pretty set on getting a Mountaineer, just since the ones I was looking at were newer and nicer. One of my favorite cartoon characters is “Dudley Do-Right the Mountie” from Rocky and Bullwinkle. If I was gonna have a Mountaineer, it was gonna be named Dudley. In the end though, I decided that it was a fitting name either way.
So here we are now. Dudley was stock through most of the summer in order to preserve gas milage for our trip to Oregon (series starting this Friday!) and reduce the risk of something going wrong on the trip as well. It’s important to remember that your vehicle is most reliable in it’s stock form.
When we returned I installed 1.5 strut spacers on all four corners. These level the front end and provide about 2 inches of total lift. That’s plenty for the purpose of the build, and it’s just enough to fit 265/75/17 (Approximately a 32 inch tire) Goodyear Wrangler Authority A/T tires on 17x9 inch wheels.
I’ve been very happy with the Wranglers for the 2,000ish miles that I’ve put on them so far. They have a good bite on dirt, ride fairly smooth without being aired down on gravel, and have a deep enough tread to handle mud. I would actually say they’re closer to a mud terrain than an all terrain, they’re fairly aggressive, but not too loud. If I’m not mistaken, this tire has actually been discontinued and that’s why I was able to get them at about $127/tire.
My Procomp 17x9 inch steel rockcrawler wheels are good, but not great. The simple styling is the look I was going for, and I appreciate the durability of a steel wheel. However, they are heeeeeavy, and whatever I get next for this truck or my next build will probably be billet-aluminum to save weight and make up some MPG’s. I’m also not crazy with the zero offset, they stick out a tad bit more than I’d like and this does contribute to some avoidable rubbing.
The spacers are from Supreme Suspensions, and are steel as well. Most of the spacers for this generation of Explorer are an inch taller, and that creates an ungodly angle in your upper control arms. I’ve noticed very little wear in my UCA’s since installing the lift, and I don’t ever worry about them.
On the front end, I’ve removed the lower valence completely and installed F-150 tow hooks that are powder coated black. My set of cross bars up top, and stock roof rails are also finished with a black powder coat. I’ve removed the stock running boards to get some weight off, and provide a bit more clearance.
That’s really it for Dudley as far as modifications go. The interior is completely stock right now apart from a touch screen head unit installed by the previous owner. Obviously being a loaded Eddie Bauer model this truck was already extremely comfortable to drive. Most of that comfort remains, with maybe a bit more wind and tire noise on the highway.
The biggest adjustment has been the gas mileage. On our 5,000 mile trip to Oregon, we averaged 18 miles to the gallon, which I was very happy with! Forget about that though. It’s dead. Gone. Decent gas mileage was burned at the stake by this lift and these tires. I get 13.2 combined now. Kill me. It hurts.
There’s a noticeable difference in acceleration now as well, but when Dudley gets up and going, he can roll.
My favorite things about this truck though aren't the mods, it's the little things. The coffee stain on carpet under the driver’s seat from where Noah spilled Starbucks while driving across Kansas. The scrape on the rear bumper from where Kael backed into either a car or lamp post in the parking lot of a Denny's in Idaho. (Read about both of those in our upcoming Oregon Trail 2017 series.) The stupid crack on the lift gate that every single 3rd generation Explorer has. These the type of things that make this car mean so much to me.
As for the future, I’m not sure what this build holds. My original goal was to build a truck that was comfortable for eating up highway miles and driving around town, but could get to any campsite, put in/take out point, and trailhead in the world. From what I’ve done so far with Dudley, I think I’ve met those goals.
There isn’t much of an aftermarket for these later generations of Explorers unfortunately, and that makes any extreme overlanding with this truck a challenge. I would like to have an Aussie style front winch bumper fabricated, as well as a rear bumper with a tire carrier. Rock sliders will also have to be custom fabricated. A custom snorkel and an upgraded locking rear diff are also in the wings… one day. A roof platform that can mount a RTT but also hold kayaks is probably one of the next upgrades that will happen.
Here’s the thing though: Dudley is an awesome truck, really what I’ve dreamed of building since I started driving, but even in stock form he was extremely capable, as was my first Explorer, which didn’t even have 4wd!
It may come down to where you’re at, but here in the Ozark Mountains, it’s hard to find a public road that you’re going to need all terrain tires or even 4wd to get down. It may not be comfortable, but that’s part of the adventure. Your vehicle should not be a limiting factor to going on awesome adventures, within reason obviously. Look for an article coming soon on the ideas behind building an adventure rig and how they're different for everyone. Until then, happy trails.
2003 Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer Edition 4WD
151,000 miles (Roughly 30-40k on the rebuilt engine)
Engine: 4.0L V6 SOHC (Rebuilt in 2014)
Suspension: 1.5in Supreme Suspensions spacer lift. 265/75/17 Goodyear Wrangler Authority A/T on 17x9 Procomp steel rockcrawler wheels.
Other stuff: Deleted running boards, lower valence. Powder coated tow hooks, roof rails and cross bars, interior step guards, console liners.