Destination Unknown - a 1997 F350 build

Chorky

Observer
Destination Unknown – 97 F350 CCLB 7.3L
A catalogue of my overland vehicle/trailer build for a life of adventure and exploration.

Intro
Ok, so since I’m new here and this is my first post, let me first introduce myself. Name is Chad. I grew up doing nothing but outdoors stuff. By the age of 5, my dad had me on 7 mile backpack trips carrying my own gear! Naturally, outdoors and exploring new areas is my greatest joy. Its an amazing world out there, and there’s so much to do outside, why would anyone want to sit in front of a TV every weekend!? This has pretty much always been my motto. After some years of trying different things, I have finally sorted out a solid direction – long range overland/exploration. Now that’s not to say I’m talking about crossing the Siberian Desert, or driving down to Patagonia, but rather exploring the good ol’ USA and Canada. After all, one could spend an entire lifetime exploring this region and not even come close to seeing it all! Besides, international travel is a pain, and I saw enough through the military. So now that you have a background about me (well…a fraction anyway), lets dive into my build plans.

Now as everyone knows, build plans can change on a dime, or be pretty stone solid. I had a good idea of what I was going to do until I truly started diving into Expedition Portal. A wealth of knowledge here, and some ideas I have not previously considered, but now am. As you can imagine, from my intro, I am embarking on a pretty awesome build. The plan is to complete it sooner than later, with a dream of having a total completion by a year from now – although this is ambitious and probably not going to happen. That being said, my plan includes a vehicle capable of multiple uses, but primarily one key use – exploration of course!

The vehicle – 1997 F350 CCLB 7.3L
I’ve always loved these trucks! Simple, powerful, can take abuse, and look pretty awesome. Though nobody can truly say one truck is the best truck out of a huge variety of options, this one is awesome. Purchased about 6 months ago from a great couple whose kids are all grown up. They were the first owners, custom ordered from the factory (when that was still a thing), and taken to a commercial truck shop for HD springs, extending bumper, camper attachments (frame mounted), and a gooseneck hitch. The primary purpose for the truck when ordered ... camping with the kids. So how fitting is it that I pick it up to continue its legacy (though I’m single, and have no kids – hopefully some day). And to top that off, it hasn’t reached a quarter of a million miles yet, and is otherwise totally stock – so no worrying about bad tunes, or injector mismatch, etc..

Before diving into the build plan for the truck let me also say that this will be in combination with an off road trailer suitable for living in, but on a small scale. Like 20’ long 7’ wide pop-up style small. Details of this later, and likely in a different section, but that should give you an idea of where this will be going. The trailer will serve as a off-road capable base station, where journeys can be taken from.

Back to the truck
Ok, so lets also get out of the way the ‘multi-purpose’ purpose portion of the truck. This is a pretty large truck – about as big as they come (in this class anyway). The primary purpose of the truck is of course off road ability, but originally to mostly tow my current home – a 21’ travel trailer (no, not anywhere near like the one described above, this is NOT off road capable). Yes that’s right, I live in a 21’ trailer. Mostly that’s due to my current education situation, and future career needs, but it works, its cheap, and I’m mobile. Most of all, it is preparing me for long range exploration. Keeping that in mind, the ‘multi-purpose’ portion of this truck is the capability to haul decently heavy loads when needed. I’m talking upwards of 15K. This need plays into the build a pretty decent amount, as otherwise I might have gone with a different vehicle entirely (like the super simple 12V). So it should be noted that upon purchasing the truck, one of the first things I did was replace the old receiver with a 16K receiver and updated brake controller. Additionally, the frame mounted camper tie downs were removed (which was killing ground clearance).

The build
So throughout months of research, I have begun to come to the following conclusions for the build. These are by no means set in stone, and as I continue to learn more, and see other great ideas from the community, things likely will change. How much? Well that is unknown. So the current build components are as follows:

• Frame off resto – remove all rust, coat for long term protection (its not bad, but rather do it now than later)
• Body Resto – same, repaint with multiple coats of single stage for easy trail repairs
• Body Custom – remove chrome (I don’t like standing out, or being ‘shiny’)
• Cold weather air flow controller – this is hard to explain, but basically it’s a in cab operable multi stage controller that will either allow or not allow airflow through the grille onto the radiator and other components. It’s the same ideas as sticking cardboard in front of a radiator in the winter, but a more permanent solution, and is still being researched
• Bed – this is highly variable and a plan is in the works so I’ll leave this blank for now, but the idea is to remove the steel bed and replace with an aluminum flatbed with the ability to have a custom box attached to it for storage of gear and supplies, carry a quad or Rokon, and double as a temporary shelter. It can be easily removed for those times I need to tow a gooseneck or 5th trailer. With this I am researching possibilities to cut out a portion of the rear of the cab, to allow for a ‘walk-through’ into the box – a better idea than having to slither through the sliding window
• Roof racks – to support 300#s of kayak and be self loading
• Bumpers – already have been in contact with Buckstop for awesome sollutions. Rear bumper will be capable of carrying both spear tires.
• Winch – both front and rear. 16K front, 10K rear
• Air horn – not that I really need one, but if I’m towing 16K, it would be good to have some extra noise to produce (drivers in my area are pretty horrible)
• On board air – likely ARB dual compressor
• Lighting – various combinations of Rigid LED lights
• Interior – refresh, but to replace rear bench seating with two captins chairs for better comfort and to allow the walk-through into the bed mounted box
• Coms – CB, HF/UHF/VHF, Cell extender, scanner
• Cameras – front and rear mounted for hooking up to trailers
• Gauges – as it’s a diesel, naturally you would want the following: Pyro, boost, trans temp, oil temp, oil pressure, fuel pressure, engine temp, voltmeter (for each battery)
• New block heater
• Injectors – likely 160/30
• Turbo – KC38R
• Stage 1 HPOP
• E fuel – I may opt for lower injectors to keep the current fuel filter bowl due to cold weather expectations. Attaching fuel heaters to a frame mounted system might be a major pain in the @$$
• Custom 6 pos chip
• 3” DP
• Intercooler
• Either a built E4OD (currently stock) or a ZF6 conversion
• Trans cooler
• External trans filter
• 10.5 rear conversion
• Re-gear to 4.88
• Auburn Gear ECTED MAX front and rear (LSD/locker combo/hybrid)
• 35” Duratracs (maybe 37 or 40’s in the future, but 35 for now)
• RSK for the front, shackle flip for the rear, including a max of 4” of lift with FOX shocks (I am opting for the lowest possible lift to clear 37’s with tire chains to keep a good LCOG
• Springs – unsure on this one yet if I want to go the V-code route, or just do custom light weight springs for when unloaded to allow maximum travel
• Air bags – front and rear with cups to allow for lift without tearing bags
• Fuel tanks – extended range, 45 gal rear, 40 gal driver midship, and addition of a 3rd tank ‘right mid-ship’ of 40 gal after re-routing exhaust to outside of frame rail and exiting prior to rear tire. This will give me 125 gal of diesel for an estimated max range of 2000 miles (but keep in mind that custom box I mentioned, it is planned to have a diesel powered water heater/stove/heater). This will require a second fuel selector valve, but it is laid out to work perfectly where the second selector is placed between existing front tank and existing valve, so an additional switch will operate the ‘left’ or ‘right’ tank when the factory switch is in the ‘front’ position.
• Battery warmers, and additional batteries as needed for box
• Second alternator for additional batteries
• A variety of repair tools, spare parts, and recovery gear

There you have it. My build plan – no doubt it will change over time, but it is a solid foundation. And coupled with a good box and trailer build in the works, will be an excellent exploration vehicle that can take me anywhere I want to go. Let me know what you think and check back for more.

Happy Exploring!

IMG_2563.jpgIMG_2532.jpg
 
Awesome truck! What is your education situation. Ive always wanted to do the camper living thing but ended up where I am in am awesome house. Maybe someday, work sure doesnt allow it. :)
 

Chorky

Observer
Awesome truck! What is your education situation. Ive always wanted to do the camper living thing but ended up where I am in am awesome house. Maybe someday, work sure doesnt allow it. :)
Nathaniel - I am finishing my bachelors in Forest Resource Management - so I need to be quite mobile for a while. Naturally my work field pretty much requires the ability to be as mobile as possible for the firs few years. Ok well 'require' is a strong word, but it will certainly set me way above my peers with my mobility, and open up much more opportunities. Usually those in my field need to move around a little to gain a very wide range of experience to be more knowledgeable and better qualified for a permanent position. So for me, living in my trailer is 'necessary'. Additionally, due to life circumstances it's the first time in....well a very long time that I have had my 'own' space. A nice house would be awesome! Glad you ended up with one :)
 

Chorky

Observer
Since I am here: an update

Since my first post, things have been absolutely crazy! Of course I'm sure all you know how busy finishing your bachelors can be - and coupled with summer work the mods have been put on hold. Additionally, this is due to what seems to be lack of vendor support (in the form of it seems like they dont want to take my money).

However! This has proven to be a blessing in disguise. It has allowed me to do much more research on this forum and others about expedition vehicles/mods. Some things that I have considered (and put into the build plan) include a fully functional 'base station' trailer (custom built by a well known vendor). Additionally, the truck bed will be removed and replaced with a 'box' that pops up and 'can' be utilized as a camper for shorter (up to 5 days) expeditions that are not suitable for trailer in tow. This 'box' will be capable of carrying a variety of cargo, from typical items seen in a camper, to either a small off-road bike or even a quad (assuming I can find one that is also diesel powered). The trailer will be suitable for up to 15 days of no services access (ie. enough food/water storage).

One thing that has been plaguing me lately is the GCVWR of the truck. At 20K lbs it isn't too heavy for most FS roads. Recently I did a test to check frame flex for weak points and it turns out the frame flexes WAY more than expected. No current frame damage is present. So the question at this point to ponder prior to continuing is: stick with the current stock frame with some mods and possibly a floating body and bed (or a 4 point system), or explore the idea of something like a F700 frame swap (which is probably more work than it's worth and will add a ton of weight). This pondering is due to the desire for the truck (once built) to essentially last the rest of my life - so reliability is utmost important. The other consideration to make is the axles. Naturally the addition of all the above mods, plus what ever I decide to do to the frame/body to increase structural integrity, will add much weight (probably putting me a few K over the max rating (especially with carying 125 gal of diesel, plus a bike/quad, gear, etc..). Though the engine has enough power, and the trans can be built to suffice, the capabilities of the axles and tires (at max or over GCVWR) can cause some serious problems.

Decisions decisions....
 

farm

New member
I wouldn't worry too much about frame flex honestly. Check out some of the other guys on the forum with cclb Ford's. I know I've read about concerns a few times, but haven't heard of any actual frame damage. I think despite the flex, these trucks are pretty stout.

Sent from my SM-G930W8 using Tapatalk
 

Chorky

Observer
That's what I thought until I started doing some more research and reading.

http://forum.expeditionportal.com/threads/25494-pivoting-frames-and-mounting-campers


Seen from this video there is significant flex, and the truck is unloaded. This is not my truck, but the types of roads are similar. I can only imagine the stress on the frame and components given a maxed out payload (and even towing possibly - but probably not on such a road)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNc5Ij504fY


The other day I had to take time for some poser shots on a simple FS road and run up a small embankment on the fill side of a benched road. There is a decent amount of flex, and what seems to be some bending - but no frame damage of any sort is present. My thought is a fully loaded 10K truck, with a 8K trailer could/would be overstressing vital components and cause failure. Not something I want to deal with if out away from major civilization. But I will be doing more research of trucks similar to mine (as the link posted above is a totally different class) to see if people have experienced problems over time. The idea behind my build is a one time full frame off build that will allow the truck to last a lifetime (literally).

I am certainly open to any and all options/ideas.

IMG_0656[41340].JPG
IMG_0664[41344].JPG
 

MTCK

Observer
Sweet truck. It should do what you want. I'd worry more about the auto trans and less about the frame. C channel frames flex a lot. Also a properly functioning suspension designed for your intended use will let the axles do more of the twisting. Enjoy.
 

Chorky

Observer
Thank you MTCK

Yes I think you are right, but I would be pushing it to the limit. I certainly plan on custom springs to allow better articulation off paved roads along with front and rear air bags to deal with heavy loads at speed. Some quick calculations bring me to over my max GVWR. I'm not too worried about a little frame flex - but its the repeated flex over and over, over the course of 30 years that has me wondering if something the next size up would be more practical and reliable. Axle strength and braking ability is also a concern. But I haven't looked too detailed yet into what would be a good axle upgrade. But...with a larger vehicle (such as an F700) comes less ability for bad road travel (including winter snow/ice). Then again, a commercial vehicle likely will have less computer components to go bad, and probably has a wider range of available parts for on the road repairs should something go bad.

As for the slushbox - I am currently debating between a built trans with a better trans controller and cooling system, and a 6-spd conversion. I love the 6spd, but an auto is nice especially as one gets older, or if a broken leg happens.

Many of these thoughts came to mind after my initial post to begin the thread - and after much more research has been done - but to be fair, the original purchase of the truck was to tow my home (trailer), the overland/expedition build was an after-thought after I realized how much fun living full time in a mobile trailer is!!
 

SidecarFlip

New member
I have one just like yours that I bought new in 1997 (ordered mine as well, it's an XLT 4 door, 7.3, 4 wheel drive long bed). Mine never goes out in the winter as such, it has no rust anywhere. I have an ARB air locker in the front, Detroit Tru-Trak in the back, SVO built E4-OD with a huge trans cooler and a Banks Trans Command kit. The engine is stock with the exception of a Banks Quick Spool housing and K&N filter and intake pipe. All the emissions have been removed as well. It has 90K miles on it. It's 4 over stock with a front spring flip. It's not for sale either. I get lots of offers. Looks really sharp with my Palomino Backpack pop up camper in the bed.IMG_0924.JPG

Little 'eye candy' for you
 

Chorky

Observer
nice set-up! Looks pretty clean! Wish I could say the same about the rust but the previous owner lived in an area with salt use - so hopefully this winter the frame will be stripped for blasting and sealing. Its funny how you mention offers. Within the first 3 weeks of owning the truck I got at least 6 different offers at random places.
 

pappawheely

Autonomous4X4
Since I am here: an update

Since my first post, things have been absolutely crazy! Of course I'm sure all you know how busy finishing your bachelors can be - and coupled with summer work the mods have been put on hold. Additionally, this is due to what seems to be lack of vendor support (in the form of it seems like they dont want to take my money).

However! This has proven to be a blessing in disguise. It has allowed me to do much more research on this forum and others about expedition vehicles/mods. Some things that I have considered (and put into the build plan) include a fully functional 'base station' trailer (custom built by a well known vendor). Additionally, the truck bed will be removed and replaced with a 'box' that pops up and 'can' be utilized as a camper for shorter (up to 5 days) expeditions that are not suitable for trailer in tow. This 'box' will be capable of carrying a variety of cargo, from typical items seen in a camper, to either a small off-road bike or even a quad (assuming I can find one that is also diesel powered). The trailer will be suitable for up to 15 days of no services access (ie. enough food/water storage).

One thing that has been plaguing me lately is the GCVWR of the truck. At 20K lbs it isn't too heavy for most FS roads. Recently I did a test to check frame flex for weak points and it turns out the frame flexes WAY more than expected. No current frame damage is present. So the question at this point to ponder prior to continuing is: stick with the current stock frame with some mods and possibly a floating body and bed (or a 4 point system), or explore the idea of something like a F700 frame swap (which is probably more work than it's worth and will add a ton of weight). This pondering is due to the desire for the truck (once built) to essentially last the rest of my life - so reliability is utmost important. The other consideration to make is the axles. Naturally the addition of all the above mods, plus what ever I decide to do to the frame/body to increase structural integrity, will add much weight (probably putting me a few K over the max rating (especially with carying 125 gal of diesel, plus a bike/quad, gear, etc..). Though the engine has enough power, and the trans can be built to suffice, the capabilities of the axles and tires (at max or over GCVWR) can cause some serious problems.

Decisions decisions....
The frames are strong but they do flex a ton. I push my truck harder than most offroad. I think the frame will do just fine but a bigger problem is that the crew cabs only have 4 mounting bolts to the frame. If you do some extreme flexing, the cab will get twisted, the doors will not fit right, and you can even break your windshield. I have experienced all. Swapping to custom springs allows the suspension to do more of the flexing but the frame will still flex as designed. I originally planned to add a box onto my crew cab, but after twisting the cab, I decided to swap the 4x4 drivetrain onto a cab and chassis instead.
 

Chorky

Observer
The frames are strong but they do flex a ton. I push my truck harder than most offroad. I think the frame will do just fine but a bigger problem is that the crew cabs only have 4 mounting bolts to the frame. If you do some extreme flexing, the cab will get twisted, the doors will not fit right, and you can even break your windshield. I have experienced all. Swapping to custom springs allows the suspension to do more of the flexing but the frame will still flex as designed. I originally planned to add a box onto my crew cab, but after twisting the cab, I decided to swap the 4x4 drivetrain onto a cab and chassis instead.
Yeah I was on some interesting roads the other day and have some minor body seam cracks to fix now. Oops... But it made me seriously consider considering putting the cab on a floating frame so it doesnt get damaged while the frame flexes and does it's thing, but I'm not totally sold on the idea just yet - more research.

Why did you switch to a cab/chassis frame? One of my considerations was swapping out for a F700 frame (instead of other options) - but that adds weight and would require more work to legally change my GVWR.
 

damon1272

Observer
One of the things with these trucks is the frame flex affects the ride also. My plan is to do a structural skid plate to still allow some flex but help with strengthening the frame. I have a long bed 96 F-359 and the frame flex is incredible.
 

pappawheely

Autonomous4X4
Yeah I was on some interesting roads the other day and have some minor body seam cracks to fix now. Oops... But it made me seriously consider considering putting the cab on a floating frame so it doesnt get damaged while the frame flexes and does it's thing, but I'm not totally sold on the idea just yet - more research.

Why did you switch to a cab/chassis frame? One of my considerations was swapping out for a F700 frame (instead of other options) - but that adds weight and would require more work to legally change my GVWR.
I bought a 97 OBS Uhaul truck for the box. Decided the extra GVW of the Uhaul would be a bonus. Instead of putting the box on the F350, I am putting the 4x4 running gear on the cab & Chassis.
 
Top