Nitro Budget Expedition Overland- Part 1

A Ford Expedition as an “Overlander”? That is the question at hand, why choose this particular truck compared to a Land Cruiser or other well know overland adventuring rig?

Let’s start with the layout. Full frame chassis, torsion bar front suspension, coil sprung rear suspension, full time/part-time transfer case with locking low range, 4 speed auto trans, overhead cam V8 engine and a 30+gallon fuel tank stock. Sound familiar? It’s very much the same combination as a 100 series Land Cruiser, but at a fraction of the cost and that’s where this build comes from. Low buck. The goal is to put together a competent exploring vehicle for checking out the great expanses of the American West for somewhere between $5-10K outfitted for camping and capable of being a daily driver at the same time.

To pencil it further, this particular 2001 Expedition cost $2600.00 when purchased last fall. It had 145,000 miles on the clock. A comparable 2001 Land Cruiser would have run 15-20K at similar mileage. Now please understand we are aware that an Expedition is not a Land Cruiser either in potential reliability or resale value, but it offers good performance for the money and an option when budget simply is not 20-30K for a back country toy. Beyond that there is a Ford dealer in every small town across America and tons of these rigs in wrecking yards so parts are both cheap and plentiful.

The plan for this one started with the need to rebuild the front diff as the pinion bearings had become noisy. Naturally that was a perfect time to swap Nitro 4.56 gears into both the 8.8 front end and the 9.75″ rear axle. Both axles are quite large for the engine output and with the new gears offer reliability and good strength for this application. We may add limited slip diffs at some point as well, but wanted to see how the performance was with open diffs initially and with our budget in mind kept the OE carriers during the install.


We also considered adding a lift kit for larger tires, but very few exist for this application until you get into a 6+ inch lift range. Way too high for our needs and unnecessary to run the 33″ tall tire we were looking at. Conveniently this truck arrived with helper airbags in the rear coils so a little turn of the front torsion bars and 20psi in the bags netted an extra inch without altering the suspension or significantly changing ride quality. Add in a little trimming of the front bumper and there was enough space to clear the General Grabber AT2 275/70/18 tires mounted on a set of used American Racing wheels we picked up on craigslist for $200.00. We chose these Generals for several reasons. The narrow width (10.9″) and 33.2″ tall size fits nicely in the wheel-wells and helps keep the mud off the side of the rig during off highway excursions. These tires also feature a tread pattern perfectly suited to muddy/snowing northwest dirt roads and are E-rated ensuring plenty of sidewall strength and capacity should we load the rig to the hilt. Finally they are one of the few tires made in the United States and are very competitively priced at about $180.00 each. We had ours mounted at the local Discount Tire and they run nice and smooth working well with the 4.56 Nitro gears.


Finally for this first stage of the project we took the time to buff the paint on this old truck and give it a quick wax job. No doubt this had not been done in many years (ever?) and the buffer pulled most of the hazing and small scratches out of the finish freshening it up further and looking a lot better with the shiny aluminum wheels and bigger tires.

The future plans include storage solutions in the back along with fridge/cooler mounting and possibly some stereo upgrades at the same time to integrate a whole package. We also want to look into navigation and a laptop mount along with winch options for self recovery. So far though these initial simple upgrades have made a huge difference in both the way the big SUV drives and the way it looks parked at the curb and we’ve yet to even reach the bottom end of our budget. Given a few more dollars and some time this rig should prove to be a very capable, comfortable weekend rig for exploring and camping.


Vehicle Purchase: $2600.00

Nitro 4.56 Gear Package:$899.00

General Grabber AT2 tires (5): $905.00

18 inch wheels (used): $200.00

Mounting and Balancing: $150.00

Current Total: 4754.00

Differential Parts You Can Depend On.
Nitro Gear & Axle strives to provide the highest quality differential components available.  We take the steps necessary to ensure our parts are dependable.  Our product range is continually growing to meet the needs of consumers for new ratios and applications.  At Nitro we know differentials, and know what it takes to provide you with high quality components.                 


  1. Hi. I have a 2001 Expedition EB, original owner (yes, I have had it for 17 years). Still runs great, only $136K miles on it. Typically servers as our road trip car. Recently had to swap out the air ride suspension for a shock conversion – computer controller chip no longer available new, did not consider junk yard a reliable source for this type of part.

    Recently have been watching lots of overlanding videos – live in the Seattle/Tacoma area. Boy have I been missing out on some wonderful places that need a slightly more off-road worthy rig. So, started looking at Jeep Wranglers. But then I think ‘Maybe I can build my Expedition out for overlanding.’

    Would love to hear how your build has gone over the year and a half since you posted.


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