A Two-Door, Prowler Orange Ford Wonder
A crowd was gathered around the vehicle nearly all day, and it was pure entertainment listening to the stories being told about the truck. Some claimed that the laid-out Excursion was a one-off from Ford that fell into the wrong hands and wound up a custom. Others claimed the two-door was produced in Mexico and somehow found itself here in the states. Show-goers were also very keen on naming all the different trucks that were sacrificed to build Project X.
Everything from early Tahoes to F-150s were mentioned. Many said they saw the truck debut at the 2001 SEMA Show in the In Pro Car Wear booth, and that much is true. However, speculation as to why it had not been seen in so long included rumors that Project X had been crashed, sold on eBay, stolen, or even exported. One guy even claimed he heard that there were actually two orange two-door Excursions and this was not the one that was at SEMA, and he could tell. Above all, the biggest question of the day was why this amazing vehicle had never been featured in a magazine. Well, that part of the mystery may never be answered because even we don't know.
We're not sure why the world's smallest of the biggest sport utilities resurfaced, but you better believe that when we got the call to come and photograph it, we were there. The story that follows attempts to set the record straight and it all takes place in the weeks leading up to the 2001 SEMA Show.
Erich "Big E" Giardina is a vice president at In.Pro.CarWear, a company you know best from its innovative taillight designs and clear corners. He had secured a vehicle from Ford and had plans to build a custom one-off truck that would turn heads and be an absolute standout at the upcoming SEMA convention. The vehicle he acquired was an '01 Excursion 4x4 diesel with the Eddie Bauer package. There were already Excursions being lifted to the sky all over town, but Erich had a very different idea.
He began shopping his plan of a lowered two-door Excursion to various shops around SoCal and was met mostly with reactions to the tune of, "You wanna do what, by when?" By word of mouth, Erich heard about a shop in Oxnard, California, called Totally Polished, that was up to the task. He met with shop owner Chris Daley, and before Erich even mentioned his idea for the Excursion, Chris recited one of his favorite lines, "The only thing that four doors belong on is two cars." Chris then showed Erich his daily driver: a one-off '67 Chevelle two-door wagon that lays on the rockers. Chris built the car a few years prior to showcase Totally Polished's suspension and metalworking skills, and that was all it took to seal the deal for Erich.
When Erich pulled the Excursion into Totally Polished's headquarters for the first time, it had just 88 miles on the odometer and there were exactly seven and a half weeks until SEMA. Obviously, the two major obstacles that are encountered when trying to build a 'bagged two-door Excursion are the extra two doors and the 4WD drivetrain. Chris and Bobby McCurdy immediately tore into the truck, like they were in an episode of "Monster Garage," and stripped it down until only a bare shell and a frame with a large diesel engine remained.
Chris had originally planned to build a new tube chassis for Project X, but the more he and Erich brainstormed, the more they felt it would be more fun for the undercarriage to have a factory look, as opposed to the look of a street rod. So, a total of 36-1/2 inches were cut from the length of the factory frame, some from the center, and some from the rear, making the final wheelbase 9 inches longer than if they simply chopped the length of the doors out of the frame. Up front, the Excursion frame did not have the crossmember required for the suspension Chris had planned, so a new unit was built to resemble that of a 1-ton Chevy and grafted into place. The upper and lower control arms were handmade from tubular steel and connected to the redrilled stock spindles.
A steering box, as well as the tie rods and center link, were borrowed from a '97 Suburban, and reworked and reinforced for Project X. The rear of the truck features a giant notch to make room for the Totally Polished patented articulating two-link setup and drag link. Air Lift supplied the prototype 'bags that were mounted to the front and rear. Two Viair 450C compressors, two 6-gallon tanks, eight GC valves, and a heap of Scosche wiring round off the air system that is controlled by the TP-Certified switchbox. Adjustable Rancho 9000 shocks were mounted at each corner, and the chassis was complete. Then, it was disassembled so the entire frame could be boxed with 1/8-inch steel.
The frame was smoothed and painted silver, and several components were painted Prowler Orange. Everything else was sent to The Polishing Shop (a company Chris started 10 years ago) for chroming, including the steering components, factory rotors, and all of the hardware. When the frame was finally reassembled, it was fitted with the monstrous 22x10-inch Renegade 8 wheels from Boyd Coddington, which were wrapped in P305/40R22 Proxes S/Ts from Toyo. When all was said and done, the Excursion sat approximately 2 feet lower than stock.
Since the truck began life as a 4x4, the drivetrain needed serious modification. The transfer case and front differential were scrapped and the transmission was converted for 2WD by CRL Transmission in Thousand Oaks, California. Also, the stock rearend was narrowed 8 inches and outfitted with posi-traction at Dynatrac in Huntington Beach. The two components are linked by a custom driveshaft from Driveline Service of Ventura County. The oil and transmission pans were shortened 1 inch, and the engine and transmission were reinstalled 1 inch higher than stock.
Ford's mammoth 7.3L Power Stroke turbodiesel remains factory stock, with the exception of the airbox being removed and a Hypertech reprogrammer being added. Two Optima Yellow Top batteries also reside under the hood on custom-built trays. Borla supplied a complete stainless exhaust system, but since there is not a part number for a two-door Excursion, Borla supplied several sections of pipe as well as the mufflers and tips, and Chris welded up the perfect system. These simple mods added an extra 50 hp to the already potent diesel.
While the chassis and drivetrain were being prepped, the body was also being severely sliced and diced. For starters, the length of the rear doors was cut out of the center of the body, but done so in such a way that there are no seams to be found on the roof or sides of Project X. The door corners were radiused, and new rockers were handmade after the rear wheelwells were relocated 9 inches rearward. Inner wheeltubs were fabricated, and the cargo floor was raised slightly so the TP-Certified fuel cell could be located underneath.
With the shortening of the body under control, attention could be turned to the traditional body mods. Chris and the TP crew shaved all of the handles and emblems, as well as the roof rack and taillights. A one-off roll pan was fabricated, and LEDs from Hi Tech were flush-mounted into place. F-150 mirrors were also worked into place, replacing the stock units. Chris metal finished much of the truck and many hours of block-sanding brought the newly shortened and smoothed body to perfection. On October 21, Chris rolled the truck into the paint booth at Mike's Auto Body in Thousand Oaks, where he and Mike shot the custom-mixed DuPont Prowler Orange paint, followed by a healthy application of clearcoat.
With less than two weeks to go before its SEMA debut, Project X was returned to TP with fresh paint and not much else. The chrome front fascia was reinstalled with a makeover from Trenz and In.Pro.CarWear. The brand-new Eddie Bauer tan leather interior, which was gutted almost two months prior, was finally returned to the vehicle with the rear plastics and headliner modified to fit their new digs.
New matching rear carpet and covers for the wheeltubs were stitched up by Mike and Allen at Conejo Upholstery, which also restyled the third seat for use as a single rear jumpseat. Kankles, TP's stereo guru, painstakingly made room for a plethora of components from MA Audio and Scosche, which are hidden behind the stock panels and controlled from the stock head unit. The interior truly appears to be bone-stock. The factory flip-down screen and console-mounted VCP are intact, and even the protective plastic is still on the front carpet.
Bright and early on a November Sunday, Erich and the TP crew rolled Project X out of the shop and onto the freeway, where Chris drove the truck 1 inch off the ground at maximum speed straight to the Las Vegas Convention Center. (If you don't believe us, check the TP Web site). Erich and Chris spent the remainder of the week fielding questions from the crowd that surrounded the truck in the SEMA hall.
After that week, the truck went into hiding for quite some time, and the reason is still a mystery to us. All we know is that when Project X resurfaced at this year's Forbidden Fantasy show, it went home with the much sought-after Best Engineered trophy. Enjoy this feature, because, for all we know, it may never resurface again.