The U-Joint Off Road Experience
After months of searching for the right body and engine combination that I wanted, I found something worth getting. It’s a 2003 Ford E350 RB 7.3L. I bought it in Tampa from a “mechanic.” Of course it drove fine around the neighborhood and I wasn’t too concerned with the issues it did have since I would be doing a lot of work to it anyway. So I basically just trusted the guy that it would get back to the east coast, like he promised it would. Well, it didn’t. About ten miles down the highway it starts bogging down with some fuel symptoms. I babied it to next exit and got a fuel filter from NAPA. It drove great for about another 10 miles down the highway and bogged down again. It was decision time, get it towed or replace the filter again and drive it through the guys living room. I went with the ‘keep me outta jail’ option and got it towed back to my parents house.
The next day and $500 later it was home in my possession. My timeframe allows me a little over a month to build the van, which led me to outsourcing the time consuming mechanical work. Plus I’d rather have someone that’s already figured out what NOT to do, work on it. After much research, I ultimately landed on the company who did the van that introduced me to 4×4 vans. A company called U-Joint Off Road. It’s owned and operated by a guy named Chris and he was a huge help. I had to fly back to Antigua to go back to work so I used U-ship to get the van up to Chris’ place in North Carolina.
I’ve always fought with my vehicles and the start of this one was no different. When it arrived at U-Joint, it stalled three times while unloading it from the trailer. So I wanted Chris to ensure the motor was solid and ready to go on a long trip.
``It needed a few parts. HPOP, fuel sending pickup was broken off, IPR, ICP, IDM, water pump. All I can think of now! It stalled on me 3-4 times just moving it from the truck to a parking spot. Once we got everything done it was the smoothest 7.3 at UJ! The guy who previously owned it should have his cards pulled.`` -Chris
A three page list of parts followed that. While the concept of converting a vehicle to four wheel drive may be simple in nature, the specifics and engineering that is required for it to be successful is anything but simple. The guys at U-Joint have the process dialed in. Browsing through their website will show you the countless conversions they have under their belt. Along with experience comes wisdom. After a few conversations and suggestions we landed on a 6″ lift. Enough to get me through Baja and the mountains. It has their stage one Dana 60 front end, with 3.73 gears all around. I went with LT315/75R16/8 General Grabber red letters and some basic Pro Comp 16″x10″ steelies.
Overall the experience with U-Joint Off Road was amazing. They kept me in the loop with any issues or concerns that arose while they were working on it. Time was not an issue for me since I wasn’t moving back to the states for a couple months, however they busted it out in a couple weeks. This gave them time to take it out for a few rides and get it tuned to their liking. They were very accommodating to my situation and let me take up space in their lot until I was able to take some vacation and fly up there to pick it up. It was early May when I had a chance to go up there and get her. Chris picked me up from the airport for the short 10 minute ride to the shop. I forgot to look at the weather, as I was waiting for him to pick me up I was stuck outside with shorts and a t-shirt while I could see my breath from the chill; not like it would have mattered though since I don’t even own pants.
When we pulled up to the shop, my first impression was WHOA! That’s a lot bigger than what I expected, but loved every bit of it. I was excited as hell to go play around with it. Chris gave me a tour of the shop real fast before he had to head out to meet with another customer. I was able to see their latest expansion and some of the new products they’re working on. He’s got a real nice setup over there. So I hit the road, stopping in Atlanta and Jacksonville along the way home to visit some friends. I’ve put just over 1,000 miles on it now and it’s just as tight as when I picked it up. I was cruising down I-95 at 80 miles per hour only steering with a finger. I was pulling about 18 miles per gallon down the highway. I got a bunch of thumbs up, some gas station conversations, pictures from passers by, and my favorite… some head shakes. The overall experience was extremely positive and I highly recommend their shop. From their custom stuff that you can purchase and put on yourself, to having their full service take care of you, this shop knows how to make e350’s badass.