The popularity of the Ranger is good news for Ford and good news for 4x4 buyers, because it provides another strong option in new-car showrooms. Its healthy sales numbers also prick the ears of eager aftermarket companies, as they clamour to produce products for the flock-favourite fourbie.
All the big traditional 4x4 aftermarket mobs make and sell everything you need to kit out your Ranger, while other smaller firms are getting in on the action as well.
One of those firms (although not really small) is Melbourne’s Harrop Engineering. Best known for its long history in Australian motorsport through its founder Ron Harrop, today Harrop Engineering also tailors products to suit 4x4 vehicles.
Not wanting to be just a trend-follower, Harrop prefers to set the trends – its stable of in-house project cars, both 4x4s and performance rides, are capable and innovative. It was only a matter of time before Harrop applied its talents to the Ford Ranger.
This Ford Ranger is a PXII XLT spec but has copped the pre-runner or chase-truck look, which is popular in the USA. This look mimics the style of the cars that off-road racers use to ‘pre-run’ tracks such as the Baja 100, and to follow and service the competition vehicles in such events. It’s a striking style and one that is gaining traction here in Australia.
The key piece of gear on this ute that attracts attention is the chase rack, made by Uneek 4x4 in Melbourne. Chase trucks employ similar racks to carry wheels, tyres, tools and spares to maintain the race cars on the punishing off-road racing tracks. The Uneek chase rack is comprised of three different components: the base rack, the spare wheel carrier and the roof rack.
They can be used separately or together, as seen in this application. The base rack and roof rack are TIG-welded in 6061 aluminium, while the tyre carrier needs to be more heavy duty and is made from steel. It’s fully powder-coated for durability and, being local, Uneek can make custom-designed side plates. This particular rack wears the Harrop ‘H’ logo on its flanks.
Method Race Wheels are another staple of the US off-road racing scene, and the Ranger wears a set of 18-inchers wrapped in 285/65R18 Nitto Trail Grappler rubber – there’s a matching tyre and wheel on the rack. Along the sills, in between the wheels, you’ll see a set of MCC side steps, while at the front a subtle yet sturdy low-cut bar from Rhino 4x4 provides protection and improves the approach angle.
The front bar is made for a Ford Everest, which is slightly different to the Ranger part. As such, a grille from an Everest had to be fitted and, like a few other parts around the car, it has been coated in a hard-wearing black polyurethane finish.
Harrop partnered with Tough Dog 4WD Suspension to supply the springs and shocks, and the package is a winner. One-tonne utes with IFS are not known for their wheel travel, but the articulation of the Harrop Ranger surprised as it slinked over obstacles and rough terrain.
It certainly has more travel than the standard vehicle, yet it hasn’t lost any on-road handling. In fact, it’s a tad firmer than standard without compromising ride quality. Impressive!
Despite the Tough Dog suspension’s increased ride height for extra clearance, we still scraped those MCC steps on one particular hump where we got hung up and the factory electronic traction control wouldn’t get us over. Harrop has fitted one of its ELockers to the front axle and its easy, instant activation made short work of the hump. The ELocker works in tandem with the factory Ford rear locker and can be switched to run independently.
Ford’s 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel is a favourite in the 4X4 Australia office, and the updates that came with the PXII made a good thing even better. Harrop has taken it up a few notches further, fitting a free-flowing exhaust system and a Unichip Q4 tuning module to extract a bit more power and torque.
On Harrop’s in-house dyno, torque shot from 420Nm to 536Nm at the wheels, while power jumped from 125kW to 157kW. Significantly, the torque now comes on earlier with more than 500Nm on tap at 2000rpm, where that figure was closer to 350Nm on the standard tune.
From behind the wheel the performance upgrades don’t feel massive – it’s not a kick-in-the-back tune as some of them can be. However, the torque coming in sooner is noticeable and it’s there right off the mark where you want it. This makes for a more controllable off-road drive, as well as more entertaining traffic-light duels.
The performance upgrades are more in line with Harrop’s idea of developing a total improvement package for whatever car they are concentrating on. For the Ranger, its on- and off-road performance is improved, its wheel, tyre and suspension package is refined, and its overall appearance is enhanced.
Sure, the style of the front bar won’t appeal to those in the bush, where ’roo strikes can be a daily occurrence, and the rear rack won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the package does show what can be done and how a different look can be achieved by working with quality suppliers and an open mind.
Locked & loaded
A KEY product in Harrop Engineering’s 4x4 range is its ELocker. The Aussie company saw the potential of the Eaton ELocker from the USA and redeveloped it using a stronger four-pinion-design differential. Harrop also casts and machines the carriers in-house to suit popular 4x4 vehicles.
The simplicity of the Harrop-Eaton ELocker centres on its electro-magnetic actuation, which means there’s just one wire going to the differential. That means no air compressors or lines are needed, as with many other locking differentials.
A single wire comes back from a relay mounted in the engine bay, with its switch located in the cabin. Once powered, the electro-magnet locks the two sides of the differential together to send equal drive to both wheels. Simple, selectable traction!
While the rear diff lock that’s factory-fitted to the Ranger is also electronically actuated, its manufacturer isn’t known. However, even if it’s a US-sourced Eaton ELocker, it won’t be as strong as the Australian-made Harrop derivative.
Harrop ELockers are available for most popular 4x4 models.
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