Project (OBS)essed: Buckboard Delete


Part six of the major update and overhaul of this 1996 F350 we’ve dubbed Project (OBS)essed will focus on finally doing something about that horrendously rough riding, outdated, buckboard wagon inspired front suspension. In previous parts of the build we took care of some cosmetics with a new grille and headlight package. Replaced some broken interior parts in the dash and doors. We added some horsepower with custom tuning, a cold air intake and a 4” turbo back exhaust system. While most recently, we dropped our charge air temps with the addition of an intercooler kit that has been one of the most beneficial modifications to date. But this month, we might just surpass that ‘number one must have OBS mod’ intercooler package with the swap from a poorly engineered OEM leaf spring setup to a Reverse Shackle Kit (RSK) that not only relocates the spring shackle to the rear of the front springs, but updates to the later model 1999-2004 Ford Super Duty spring.

While it may not look like much, this 2” front suspension Reverse Shackle Kit from Sky’s Offroad, paired with a set of OEM leaf springs from a 1999-2004 Ford Super Duty just might be the most favorite modification you’ll make to your 94-97 OBS Ford. Better ride quality is an understatement here.
On the 1994-1997 F350 trucks, the solid front axle suspension used a pretty antiquated leaf spring suspension that placed the shackle at the front location and a solid eyelet to attach the rear of the spring. This layout leaves a lot to be desired for ride quality, as the suspension can’t fully cycle as it should while driving.

Reaching out to our friends at Complete Performance again for some help, these died in the wool OBS guys knew just what we were after when we mentioned how miserable this truck was to drive down the highway and how rough it rode on dirt roads. This was partly due to the old school leveling kit the previous owner had installed, but even on stock springs these trucks just ride bad, that’s all there is to it. Complete Performance turned us on to Sky’s Offroad Design in Springfield, OR who has been specializing in just about everything suspension related for a bunch of different applications since 1997. Through the years they developed a complete Reverse Shackle Kit for the 1992-1997 solid axle F250/F350 trucks. The idea behind an RSK is to completely replace the factory front suspension with new hangers that relocate the leaf spring shackle to the rear of the springs, which allows for better suspension travel and ease of spring movement so it can cycle up/down with less resistance. Working in conjunction with a set of Super Duty leaf springs, which are 4” longer in length for some improved ride quality over factory 92-97 springs, with the proper shackle angle an RSK can virtually eliminate that bone jarring buckboard bounce and stutter you’ve become accustomed to in the old body style Ford trucks.

Using a front mount shackle, as the suspension needs to cycle up or down, the leaf spring and axle needs to swing forward, which it doesn’t take an engineer to figure out isn’t really effective when traveling down the highway at speed. Physics wants that motion to go the opposite direction, leading to a harsh rough ride.
Installing a Reverse Shackle kit can make a vast improvement in ride quality, but thanks to the OEM design and mounting fasteners used (big steel rivets) and over 20-years of age and rust, be prepared for this to be a very challenging job. This is a major undertaking in a garage, without a hoist and you’ll want to be sure you have a large assortment of tools. An air impact gun, grinder, air hammer, multiple jack stands and jacks and possibly even a cutting torch.

With no immediate plans of stepping up to a larger tire, we wanted to actually drop the stance of the truck from its current 3” leveled height and get it down as close to the original stock height as possible. We opted to go with the Sky’s 2” Super Duty RSK kit, which when used with the popular V-code Super Duty springs will give a stock truck a mild 2” taller stance. Looking to go a little more outside the ordinary, we did some research on the website and tracked down a less commonly used U-code spring, which has a slightly lighter load capacity (even softer ride) and a little less arc to the spring. This combo of RSK and leaf spring would offer the lowest stance we could get for the solid axle four wheel drive front end. It is worth noting here, for those of you wanting an actual lift, the RSK’s are offered in a 2” and 4” system and could be used with just about any height 99-04 spring pack available to get you the final height you’d prefer, whether that be a 6” or 10” lift.

This truck has had an old school leveling kit installed at some point which simply added a whole bunch of shorter leafs under the factory leaf spring pack. While this did help add some space between the axle and frame for about a 3” taller stance, it did nothing but kill what suspension flex you’d get from the factory springs.
There wasn’t a rust penetrant on the planet that was going to make removing these U-bolts an easier task, so we pulled out all the stops and went right for the cutoff wheel on an angle grinder. This is a tool we got very familiar with throughout this job, we wore out a handful of cutoff wheels getting through this job.

RSK kits have been on the market for quite a few years now, so this isn’t really new technology in the Ford suspension world, and some places, including Sky’s, even offer coil conversion kits that allow the installation of a 2005+ Super Duty coil sprung suspension to be installed in an OBS to completely rid yourselves of the front leaf spring setup all together. But we liked the idea of staying leaf springs, be it nostalgia or the need for sourcing the least amount of parts, we liked the idea of getting a tried and true suspension to work a little better. Sky’s spent alot of time developing this new 2” kit for the market this past year and it shows. With the low profile shackle and newly designed rear hanger, which moves the hanger mount location further forward on the frame, it allows the shackle to lay back more for an improved ride over just hanging a shackle from the factory rear hangers.

After removing the axle U-bolts and lowering the axle down a bit, we could move on to removing the spring packs from the frame. It didn’t take long to find this as the shackle was pried down out of the frame. 227,000 miles seems to have worn that busing plum out. That couldn’t have been helping the already miserable ride.
On the rear, our 550-ft lb. air impact wrench couldn’t get the eye bolt nut to break loose, but it didn’t have any issues snapping the bolt right off flush with the hanger. After some penetrating oil and way too much time with an air hammer, we determined that seized bolt was never going to budge and once again had to turn to our trusty grinder

With all that said, you’ll want to be prepared for this to be a very labor intensive install. Removing those factory hangers isn’t for the faint of heart and a grinder, high power air hammer, healthy impact gun and maybe even a cutting torch is going to need to be in your accessible tools to get this suspension swap handled. The factory hangers use large steel rivets that need to be cut and punched out of the frame and 20+ years’ worth of hard roads, rust, and grime are going to make this disassembly a fight to the finish. While the use of a two post hoist and some high dollar specialty tools would’ve helped on the labor side of things, we did accomplish this with jack stands and floor jacks in a garage. It wasn’t easy and took a lot of patience and problem solving skills, but the end result was well worth it. You’re going to want to set aside at least a full weekend, possibly more, depending on how much removing that factory stuff fights you. But don’t let all that scare you out of getting this RSK swap done, once the stock parts are out, the new Sky’s kit installed relatively quickly and required no modifications or trips to the hardware store. The instructions were easy to follow and it went together like it was supposed to. There are some holes you’ll need to drill in the frame for the front crossbar and hanger mount, but the right step bit makes this pretty easy to accomplish. We opted to install the optional adjustable track bar with our kit along with some new Monroe shocks, as the Rancho’s that were on it were for the 3” level and pretty well worn out anyhow.

Since there was no way to remove the spring pack from the hanger, the grinder was used to simply cut that hanger bracket in half, leaving the lower half still attached to the spring pack. We then had to turn our attention to removing the six steel rivets attaching the bracket to the frame. The grinder and a high quality air hammer made short work of that task.
With the original spring pack on the floor, we could lay it alongside our new Super Duty F250 spring pack. Beside the obvious different in thickness (two leads vs. eight), along with relocating the shackle to the rear of the spring, the Super Duty springs are 4” longer from the center pin to the front eye, which also aids in their ability to soak up the bumps.

We lost count of how many hours we spent tackling this job, as we had the luxury of spanning it out a couple of weeks, only focusing an hour or two here and there every couple of days. We can assure it was worth every curse word, broken cutoff wheel and the giant mess we made on the floor from so much grinding. It’s hard to put it into words how much better this truck rides with the RSK installed. This combination of Super Duty leaf spring and rear shackle will make you completely forget it’s still riding on leaf springs at all. It handles every little bump in the road like it’s nothing and soaks up the big bumps, like rough railroad tracks, like they aren’t really even there. After the first couple of drives around town, I even got a ‘thank you’ from my wife who stated she might actually be willing to ride around in the old Ford now. We appreciated so much having the use of all our horsepower on tap while towing after we installed our Banks intercooler kit that we mentioned it was the first ‘must have’ bolt on upgrade for your 1994-1997 Ford truck. But after driving this truck with the 2” RSK Super Duty spring swap, we may have to realign our preferences a bit. The truck is just so much more enjoyable to drive and ride in, you kind of forget it’s still 20+ years old. The suspension swap really brought that much life back, it’s really something you just have to feel to fully appreciate. If you’re on the fence about doing the swap or have an OBS you just don’t drive anymore because it rides too rough, take a few minutes to surf through and order up a Sky’s Offroad RSK, you’ll thank us later.

For our project, we wanted to keep the ride height as close to a stock F350 as possible, so we paired the Sky’s 2” RSK kit with a U-Code spring which is a softer and lower arched spring than the more popular V-code springs used on most applications. For those of you wanting to lift your truck, this RSK could use just about any height 99-04 lift springs you wanted.
After a little powder coat our 2” RSK was ready to be bolted into the truck using hardware included with the kit. The rear hangers bolt into factory holes in the frame, with no real drilling required (just reaming the factory holes for the larger bolts). The front crossbar hanger will locate off the factory shackle hole in the frame, but the remaining holes (six per side) will all need drilled. By a step-bit for this and thank us later.
Little tough to make a real comparison of the rear hangers since our factory ones had to get cut in half to be removed, but the new Sky’s brackets move the mounting location down and forward some in order to give the soon to be installed shackle the proper angle for the best ride quality possible.
Comparing the short shackle Sky’s uses in their 2” (4” RSK available) kit to the factory shackle. Sky’s does include all the bushings and hardware required for this job. So, don’t worry about having to reuse any of the original worn out stuff.
With the front end pretty much gutted and the suspension ready to go back together, we first took some time to prep the surface of the frame, axle and shock mount so we could spray a quick coat of undercoating on everything. Twenty years of snow and mud had created pretty ugly surfaces, but lucky for us everything was solid and free of real rust damage.
The new front leaf spring mount locates off of the factory shackle bolt hole in the frame, and using the included instructions from the Sky kit, we were able to rotate the bracket on the frame to it’s proper location and mark and drill the other holes to secure it to the frame. Three outsides, and three inside the frame.
The rear hanger bracket installed easily with six grade 8 bolts attaching it to the frame. We made sure to grease and anti-seize the bushings and mounting hardware on the shackle and were then able to loosely bolt it all together to hang the new springs from the frame.
Once both sides of the job were complete, new axle U-bolts were installed, new shocks bolted in, and the optional adjustable track bar installed we could put the tires back on and back it out of the garage and cycle the suspension a couple times to get it to settle out. The angle on the new rear shackle will help with suspension travel and really help improve ride quality.
While this is marketing and used as a 2” leveling system, that assumes your use of a Ford V-code spring. With the use of our softer U-code springs, we only gained about one inch of height over a stock F350, which is about two inches lower than where the truck had been sitting. Which we are very happy with, now that 285 tire size looks a little more at home in the wheel well.

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