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1997 Ford F250 - Building It Right

A Solid-Axle '97 F-250 Workhorse

Mike McGlothlin
May 1, 2009
Photographers: Mike McGlothlin
Photo 2/12   |   1997 Ford F250 left Front Angle
Old-body-style Fords hold a special place in the heart of diesel enthusiasts. Whether you remember them for their tough appearance, mechanical reliability, or as the workhorses that debuted the Power Stroke engine, they still have quite a following. Some even see them as classics in today's diesel culture, being that the last version was offered more than 12 years ago.
That being said, it's hard to find a clean version of an old Power Stroke these days. Recently, we lucked out in coming across this immaculate '97 F-250 crew cab owned by J.D. Donohue. After one glance at the front of the truck, we noticed the solid axle and had to get his story. You see, owners of '94 to '97 3/4-tons were pretty much stuck between a rock and a hard place with their Power Strokes. The only option available on four-wheel-drive models was the dreaded front Twin-Traction Beam (TTB), which, due to the Power Stroke's weight, was notorious for alignment, axle beam-pivot bushing, and shackle bushing issues. In order to get the stout Dana 60 solid axle from the factory, you had to buy an F-350.
Photo 3/12   |   1997 Ford F250 right Rear Angle
Needless to say, swapping a straight axle underneath an old 3/4-ton is always a telltale sign the owner intends to keep the truck. And, after just a minute of conversation, J.D. confirmed our suspicions. "Those TTB's were never meant to have that much weight over them-and you just can't beat a solid axle."
Long before his '97 sat on a straight axle, J.D. bought the truck to be a workhorse. The truck's daily driving routine racks up 100 to 150 miles, while hauling anywhere from 500 to 1,000 pounds in the bed. And when the workweek ends for J.D., it's just the beginning for his truck, which often pulls a 13,000-pound, triple-axle toy hauler to the sand dunes, or tows his boat 60 miles out to the lake.
As the third owner, the first thing J.D. did to the truck was add a 4-inch lift and 35-inch tires mounted on Robby Gordon wheels. However, once the Dana 60 went in, he went with the 4-inch suspension lift from National Spring and Fox reservoir shocks you see here. In addition to the new lift, J.D. added an Off Road Unlimited shackle reversal kit up front, and Velvet-Ride shackles in the rear. The truck's tough look was further enhanced with a set of 315/75R16 BFGoodrich All-Terrains on 16x10 Helo wheels.
The first modification the 7.3L Power Stroke received was for safety purposes. Well aware of the recalls from the factory, J.D. immediately replaced the camshaft position sensor, which ensured he would never be unexpectedly stranded somewhere. Knowing that he planned to tow considerable amounts of weight, he installed a 4-inch Diamond Eye exhaust, AFE air intake, and an intercooler and a wastegated Aurora 2000 turbo from ATS Diesel. After that, a set of Auto Meter gauges and a pillar were installed to monitor boost, water, transmission, and EGTs.
Next up, J.D. addressed the stock E4OD automatic transmission, which he knew would never hold up to heavy towing on a regular basis. So he took the truck to John Wood Automotive to have it rebuilt and beefed up. Then, with the transmission ready for the long haul, J.D. decided to add more power with a chip from DP-Tuner.
Although the truck was black when J.D. bought it, it was obvious the paint had seen better days. So he stripped the paint himself, took it to a local shop, and had it painted silver. This lasted two weeks. After getting the truck back and noticing a lot of overspray and a poor finish, he had the truck repainted, and obviously, went back to black.
Inside the cab, the first thing you notice is that the factory center console was replaced with one out of an '08 Super Duty. Because he runs his own business, J.D. is all about practicality. So, the smaller factory unit was ditched for a larger, more convenient version. Also an upgrade, the front factory captain's chairs were replaced with a pair of seats from MasterCraft.
J.D. has an '00 Super Duty outfitted with equal go-fast parts, albeit newer, and with more lift-but still prefers to drive his reliable old Ford workhorse on a daily basis. "In a race and to use for work, I'll take the '97 any day." We'd say the fact that it's a one-of-a-kind, solid-axle-equipped '97 doesn't hurt matters either. DP


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