Florida LS Swap 4x4 go Fast '97 Ranger Build


Jun 13, 2023
Hello everybody - I'm new here Really enjoying the forum so far. This thread is to document my 1997 Ranger Build.

This Post is Phase 1 and 2 - Phase 3 is where the pre-runner stuff really takes shape.

She started life as super clean bone stock Seminole County forestry truck. I bought it in June 2018 with 70k miles. It was factory equipped with a 3.0 v6, auto trans, d28/35 hybrid front axle and 7.5 rear axle with 4.10 gears, limited slip rear and open front.
June 2018

The week I brought it home I bought some rough country leveling front coils, maxxis 31in tires and and procomp steelies. I also added some cool guy smoked headlights and tail lights for some additional performance :LOL:
July 2018

Honestly I should have left the truck like this longer. It was suprisingly capable, very reliable, and so clean for a 21 year old ranger. - Sigh

* Disclaimer I swear this truck is eventually a prerunner style truck and I am in the right thread section*

Coming from a Wrangler TJ that was Locked and on 35in MTR's I wanted more capability out of the little ranger.

My old TJ for Reference:
I was broke at the time and decided I would weld the front diff and add some manual hubs so I could unlock on the street and do things like - turn at all. (This was probably a mistake especially with that D28/35 axle.)

Well that worked awesome. Locked up front and L/S out back had me creepy crawling up the fun stuff again. Now I could really get myself in trouble and found myself needing a winch fairly often. No one made a winch bumper for these year trucks that did not stick out like a massive chin/underbite so I decided to tackle the first fabrication project on the truck with my little Forney flux welder. I found that superwinch made a budget friendly 8k winch that actually fit between the frame rails of the truck - Somthing that neither the badlands, smittybuilt or Warn VR series would do. I hacked down a generic winch plate to fit between the frame rails and welded some angle Iron to the frame horns to bolt the plate to.

After this I got super busy with school, internships and work, and several major repairs/upgrades. So it took a while before I could finish the actual bumper part. I wheeled and Daily'd the truck bumper-less for about a year. On a 4 wheeling trip to the Gulches Off-road park In SC I snapped a d28 axleshaft where it necks down coming into the pumpkin. Anyone could have seen that coming.

Then came version 2.0 of the truck. I bought a used D35 with a 4in lift kit still attached to it, 4.56 gears and welded spider gears. See the pic below for the difference in shaft size from the hybrid axle to the true d35.

In addition I found a ranger 8.8 for sale and I totally rebuilt that with 4.56 gears and a powertrax no-slip locker new seals and bearings etc. I also added some longer beltech shackles to match the front lift. Here is the "I skipped leg day" look that I rolled with for many months. You can also see some of the Florida desert in the background.
February 2019:

At this point the truck was sweet. The gears and lockers worked awesome, the 31's were too small, but I was never going to break another axle at that level. Sadly on a wheeling trip in Citrus WMA I managed to Hydrolock the 3.0. Sad... I didn't take the truck swimming or anything, just hit a puddle that was a little bigger than I thought, a little too fast and she locked up. Pulled the plugs with no success. In the words of Nick Sous, "Sucker was dead."
June 2019:

I was pretty convinced after this that I was going to go ahead and v8 swap the truck and judging by the title of my thread you would assume that I pulled the trigger on that...

Nope. Budget and timing forced me to go ahead and put another 3.0 back in it. I was looking for a 4.0 ohv but could not find one. Instead I bought this rolled ranger off FB Marketplace for $600 about three months after blowing it up.
September 2019:

The blue truck had a manual trans so I decided to sell the old Auto. I put that manual trans and an extra pedal in the truck and went back to having fun.

In December of 2019 I decided to finally finish the tube bumper and I bought a set of cooper 35x12.50's for super cheap. The bumper is just black pipe from my metal yard. I was really happy with the appearance and performance of the truck at this time.

Again - I really should have left the truck at this stage, but I was still craving more. The front suspension was really stiff and not flexy at all. I knew the radius arms and front shocks were a big part of the problem. So I fabricated some crappy longer radius arms using the stock short arms and some 2in .250 wall DOM. I also threw some Bilstein 5100's on front and rear. Wow - what a difference in comfort and performance.

Mockup April 2020:

Little did I know this was only the beginning...
Around this time a few things happened. First, our go-to creepy crawl hardcore off-road spot got shut down. Still plenty of trails locally but no real hardcore crawling/technical off-roading and second, I started hanging out with some bad influences.

I had always been aware of the pre-runner scene and even thought it would be fun to build one, I didn't expect it'd be this truck, but I reconnected with an old buddy who was working on a long travel Tacoma and I started trying to keep up with him in the rough stuff and the truck started making more and more changes to resemble a desert truck.

Since I had a clearance problem anyway with the 35's and a 2in lift out back, I decided to go ahead and pull the bedsides. Subtle appearance change, but pretty drastic clearance gained.
April 2020:
Ranger bedsides.jpg

After that I decided the front was now outperforming the rear and I had my eyes on some Deaver f31's and 12in fox factory race 2.0 Resi's. I was finally back at work full time and set in my career so I splurged and bought the springs, shocks, and kartek drop/flip hangers. I already had the extended beltech shackles so I cut them down a smidge and they cleared the bed fine.

November 2020:

Net Results Also November 2020: IMG_3622 (1).jpg

Check out that toe change - Yikes...

Anyways the truck was super fun on little bumps and flying down the trails. Far from a preruner, but way more plush and comfortable at speed. The front was now too soft though of course.

None of that mattered though because I was an idiot. After the last puddle incident I routed the intake on the truck higher and routed some tubing through the passenger fender over to the cowl. This gave me confidence to splash in some of the puddles that are basically unavoidable in this swamp we call home. Well, turns out all the high speed bashing had torn the tubing at the lowest point. In all my brilliance, and with no knowledge of torn intake pipe, I dumped the truck into the water hole below. The picture above and the picture below were taken the same day. The first day testing the new rear setup. My second 3.0 had fallen victim to my own stupidity. I was distraught.
I had made up my mind I was not going to be going through the effort of an engine swap to put in another 3.Slow

While I originally thought about going the explorer 5.0 route I knew I wanted more power out of the truck than that would provide and modifying the 5.0 can be pricey. I would have loved to coyote swap but the cylinder heads were just too wide for the direction the truck was going.

I already had experience with the ls series of engines and I decided to go that route. I would absolutely do it over again too. While I was being towed home from the 3.0 killing forest, I started shopping marketplace for an engine.

I wound up settling for a 4.8 that already had the heads off and all the accessories stripped. I paid $400 for the engine, engine stand, harness and all the original accessories. To me it was a good deal, but it's all about where you live...

After further examination of the engine I decided to go ahead and work it over just mildly. I put in a baby Brian Tooley Racing Truck Torque Cam, some new BTR valvesprings and valve stem seals, and new piston rings. I also had the heads refinished by a machine shop and because the bore's were smooth I did a roadkill Dingleball hone - I know it's dangerous putting that on the internet but It seems to have worked and held up fine. I used BTR head gaskets on the truck as well.



I decided to buy some LS S10 swap headers and they actually worked with minimal clearancing. I also used the oddball motorsports ranger/lsswap motor mounts.


All these parts and the engine work minus the machining were done in an apartment garage on my own. Really enjoyed putting it together and I am itching for another engine build.

By May of 2021 I was to this stage:IMG_7286.jpg
Last edited:
Ran out of time yesterday!

While I was putting the engine together I decided I wanted to just have a transmission built. I knew I wanted to keep the truck fairly street friendly so I wanted overdrive. I went down the path of a 4l80, but in the end decided a 4l60 would probably be fine if it was well built and the truck was geared correctly.

I had Patriot transmissions in Ocala build a pretty stout transmission with a 2400 stall converter. (I've probably got 15k miles on it at this point and it's held up great. Shifts hard and never slips, but lets me cruise at 80 with Rpm's around 2600)

May 2021:

For the transfer case I bought a manual shift np241c out of a late 80's 2500 chevy. Once I had all these parts I finalized the motor mounts and fabricated a new transmission Crossmember.

Here you can see how tight the headers are - Also gave up trying to fit th factory a/c heater box back in at some point here:

IMG_7668 (1).jpg


New Crossmember:
IMG_7682 (1).jpg

The t-case came with a 32 spline input shaft so I had to swap that out to match the 4l60 27 spline output. While I was there I replaced several bearings, but the shift forks, planetary gear and chain were all in good shape. Coming from jeep stuff, this case was pretty beefy. It also has a pretty good 2.72:1 low range. While I was here I also installed and Iron rock off-road slip yoke eliminator (not pictured) since the wheelbase on this truck is awfully short and I knew the rear would end up with more travel someday.

After May of 21 things took a pretty long break while I got married, moved and life got busy again. With the help of my buddies we got the truck put together and running in September of 2021.

Alot happened in between that I did not document well. I mounted a DBW gas pedal in the truck, I welded a plate to the clutch and gas pedal in the truck to make a big two foot brake pedal, I bought a crappy B&M floor shifter and installed it, and wired up the holly terminator X max EFI system. I also put in a Walboro 255lph pump in the factory Ranger tank and measured for driveshafts.

The first real test drive was in October of 2021 and man what a blast. I figure this thing only really makes maybe 350 crank HP but in a light weight Short wheel base single cab ranger with a locked rear diff and 4.56's she moves out!

I did initially have some issues with the tuneup - I had input the injector data wrong into the holly, and I had an injector unplugged, but with those items sorted I had a very sketchy, but stupid fun truck.

I drove the truck like that from October 2021 - September 2022 - Lots more action on my instagram page you can see in my bio
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Over those months I began to recognize more and more the shortcomings of the truck. Namely the D35 wheel bearings which always worked loose or wore loose with the big 35's, the narrow track width which made sliding the truck pretty sketchy and limited the front suspension capability.

I knew for a while that I wanted to D44 swap the truck for the width and durability and eventually decided to pull the trigger on the D44 conversion kit from Giant motorsports. I talked back and forth with Geoff a couple times and bought the complete long travel setup minus the coilovers. I had already purchased some Locked 2.5 shocks on a black Friday sale in November 2021. Because of covid/supply chain troubles I actually didn't get the coilovers until July 2022, which is about the time the new Giant stuff showed up. Life got in the way, but I finally started putting things together in august 2022

Here are those nifty Locked Coilovers. These are 2.5x12 with compression adjusters. Jeff recommended 300/400lb springs. So I put some Eibachs on there (ignore the crossover slider being upside down):

This is the good stuff from Giant:IMG_0755.jpg

Ran out of Time but more coming....
Dang It's been too long.

Picking up where I left off... I started working on the Truck again in August 2022. I dropped out the old D35 setup and started fitting up the goodies from Giant Motorsports.


Installed Beam Gussets:

Engine cage mockup:


After test fitting everything I sprayed all of the Giant parts with Gray Steel-it and I was super happy with the result.
engine cage complete -
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Beams and steering on

In august we also purchased a new Daily Driver in the form of this '22 Bronco Black Diamond

Back to ranger prgress:

Found some super cheap temporary wheels on FB market place for the new lug pattern, and Mounted some locked 2.0x2.0 Bumpstops as part of that we decided to weld the engine cage to the truck in addition to the bolts. After setting droop and Bump, we set it on it's wheels for the first time.


My goofy Buddy Louie AKA MGM.Yota helped a ton throughout the build:

As Part of cycling the suspension and dialing in the alignment I learned I needed longer Heims on the Radius arms. I bought these long shank Heims from Steinjagger:
IMG_2032 (1).jpg

Truck on it's own weight finally:


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