PART SIX: 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1996 F350 we’ve dubbed Project (OBS)essed will focus on finally doing something about that horrendously rough riding, outdated, buckboard wagon inspired front suspension.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.
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.
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 sdtrucksprings.com 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.
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.
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.
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 CPAddict.com and order up a Sky’s Offroad RSK, you’ll thank us later.