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1985 Ford Ranger Rescue Road Trip - Part 2

Part 2: 1,733 Miles in a 28-Year-Old Diesel

Dec 18, 2013
Photographers: Jason Gonderman
Picking up where we left off in the December 2013 issue, we were quickly approaching the halfway point of our cross-country journey. Our goal was simple: rescue one of the last remaining factory turbodiesel Ford Rangers from a field in Kansas, and relocate it to sunny southern California. We had already faced exhaustion, thunderstorms, and mechanical breakdowns, but the journey was going to continue, rain or shine.
The original plan was to be back home in Los Angeles by early Saturday afternoon, but by the end of the first day it had become obvious we weren’t going to make that goal. By the start of day three, however, our optimism began to grow again, and the thought of an incident-free remainder of the trip had us almost excited to jump back in the saddle. So, with only the thought of sleeping in our own beds on our minds, we continued to press on, southwest through the desert, in a 28-year-old diesel pickup with expired registration, delaminating tires, and no air conditioning in the middle of summer.
Day Three – Saturday
We left the small town of Guthrie, Oklahoma, just after sunrise. Looking over our maps, we made the ambitious decision to head for the city of Flagstaff, Arizona, which was just shy of 900 miles from our starting point for the day. Like the day before, the truck was running great, and by 9 a.m. we had reached the Texas border. After a quick stop for fuel in Amarillo, we pressed on westward, and by 12:30 we had crossed into New Mexico, leaving only one state between home and us; things were certainly looking up.
"I’m going to put it on Craigslist here and see if it sells by morning."
Then the inevitable happened. While driving along I-40, just west of Albuquerque, we were forced to the side of the road when a puff of smoke appeared from under the hood. A quick investigation revealed what seemed at the time to be an overheating issue. With everything looking OK, we decided it would be best to get the truck off the freeway shoulder and somewhere safe to cool down. After a particularly difficult startup, we got the truck to safety only to discover that between the shoulder and off-ramp the truck had also thrown a belt.
Fortunately for us, Ford decided to use a two-serpentine belt system on this particular engine, meaning the belt we lost only spun the power steering pump and the A/C compressor, which wasn’t working anyway. This left us with a functional alternator, water pump, and vacuum pump. After spending some time letting the truck cool—and burning through our iPhone batteries researching options—we limped the truck to an auto parts store 5 miles from where we had broken down.
Photo 5/18   |   Again, a decision had to be made, and our day was cut short in favor of making repairs before leaving Albuquerque. A dark corner of a shady motel behind an AutoZone served as our workshop, just out of view of the security cameras.
On the outskirts of Albuquerque, one lone O’Reilly store had the proper belts for our rare engine. While we were there, we also picked up several new universal radiator hoses, and a new thermostat and radiator cap, to help with our overheating issue. With the sun setting, the decision was made to cancel our plans in Flagstaff and find a hotel near the parts store for the night.
"I regret this 100 percent at this current moment."
Hiding in a dark corner of the hotel parking lot, out of sight of the security cameras, we dug into the engine bay hoping to get the little diesel fixed. Instead, we found a completely seized idler pulley, which was the ultimate source of this breakdown, and which was also obsolete and unavailable anywhere. Along with the pulley, we found the thermostat housing to be mostly inaccessible—at least without removing more parts than we wanted to at this point. Once again we went to sleep dejected, and even further behind schedule.
Day Four – Sunday
A night of sleep did nothing for boosting our spirits, and we spent most of breakfast searching for truck and trailer rentals. When that search turned up nothing, we finally snapped out of it and decided to push on for home, realizing we would only be losing power steering, which we could easily muscle through. Adding insult to injury, with the truck loaded up and us ready to go, it decided this would be a good time to not start. The engine cranked and cranked but wouldn’t fire up, huffing clouds of gray smoke into the air. Not wanting to kill the dual batteries, we left the truck and walked across the street to a conveniently located truck stop, picking up an energy drink and a can of ether. The ether got the truck going, and the energy drink boosted our spirits.
Photo 12/18   |   No road trip across America can be called complete without a stop at a Cracker Barrel for Sunday chicken. Lucky for us, we pulled up to the furthest-west establishment, in Kingman, Arizona, just in time for dinner. Us Californians really are deprived of Cracker Barrel goodness.
Leaving Albuquerque, the truck was back to its old self, cruising steadily down the highway. With the outside temperatures climbing, the frequency of overheating instances had increased, requiring us to stop after steep grades to let the truck cool. By noon we had crossed into Arizona, and we made it nearly to California by dinnertime.
"We’ve developed what appears to be a small drip from the bottom of the radiator. DGAF. We motor on."
Exhausted from another long day in the heat, we decided to call it a night and grabbed a cheap hotel room in Laughlin, Nevada, where the temperature was more than 100 degrees at midnight.
Day Five – Monday
Once again, we decided it would be wise to get a pre-dawn start in an attempt to beat the now unbearable heat—not for our sake, but for the truck’s. With the end in sight, we hunkered down and headed for home. A quick stop for fuel in Barstow, California, revealed a new radiator leak. Being a little more than 100 miles from the finish line, we decided to top the radiator off and keep on driving.
The trip ended very anticlimactically, which was perfectly acceptable to everyone involved, including the two of us driving and all the family, friends, and colleagues who were supporting the rescue adventure. We arrived home at 2:30 p.m., sunburned and tired, but filled with a sense of accomplishment that made it all worth it. Overall, we covered 1,733 miles and six states, burned 70.79 gallons of diesel, and averaged 24.48 mpg.
After all we had been through, it was many days later before I even wanted to look at the truck again.
Fast Specs
Year/Make/Model: 1985 Ford Ranger
Odometer: 81,986 miles
Engine: 2.3L Mitsubishi I-4
Valvetrain: SOHC
Air: Mitsubishi TD-04 wastegated turbocharger
Fuel: Bosch VE injection pump
Horsepower: 86 hp at 4,200 rpm (stock)
Torque: 134 lb-ft at 2,000 rpm (stock)
Transmission: Toyo Kogyo four-speed manual
Transfer Case: BorgWarner 1350
Fun Fact: The truck was originally sold in Texas as a white two-wheel-drive model and was issued a salvage title with only 14 miles on the odometer.
What’s Next?
Overall, the truck is in great shape. However, it is still almost 30 years old and from age alone needs a bit of work. We plan to make this rare little truck into a fun daily driver and a capable weekend warrior. And we wouldn’t be doing our job at Diesel Power if we didn’t try and boost performance a bit as well. So our plans include replacing our badly leaking radiator with an inexpensive aluminum unit from Summit Racing, installing parts from LMC Truck to clean up the interior and exterior, and mounting a water-methanol kit from Snow Performance to help keep our EGT in check while hopefully adding some power at the same time. Stay tuned.
Photo 18/18   |   Ford Ranger Diesel Engine

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