'97 and earlier = i-beams...'98 and above = a-arms
with i-beams there are more possibilities with how big/small you wanna go with the front end if you go to a fab shop they usually have more options like beginners, medium, prerun, and race...a-arms there is usually mid-travel which will most likely retain stock lower arms and just give you some extended uppers, lift spindle, and better coils/shocks = more economical and you can still have a rig to drive on the street and the dirt...or you can go straight to long travel...all depends on what ur looking for and what ur plans are and how much $$$ you wanna spend...this is of course assuming ur going for a fab shops kit...if you wanna go custom then the possibilities are endless! and if ur looking to keep it a daily driver you might wanna check the odometer before you buy lol so you might be looking for a newer model
I got an 07 that im building im pretty happy with a arms.kinda sucks cause i have an 07 thats still not payed off and you cant tell the diffrence from an 02 or 07 because of the glass buy it used!!!haha
I had a 1987 Ranger Extra cab and loved it. IMO the I-beam Ranger is the way to go, as it is cheap wheel travel comapred to anything else out there. 87 had the forged beams which can be bent. Put some radius arms and a single coil over shock on the front, with the mounts to later add a by-pass. This will get you around 15 inches of travel comfortably. In the rear get yourself a set of springs, flip the shackle mount and get a set of longer chackles made, put a basic bed cage in with a set of shocks and your good for around 18 inches of travel.
This is about how my Ranger was set up. I cant remember but I think I did this around 1998 or 1999 so parts were a bit cheaper. I had the beams bent by Auto Fab, TLR built the radius arms, rear shackles and front shock mounts. National Spring built the 8 stack leaf springs and I had Fox shocks on the front with some Bilstiens I already had in the rear. Because I did not want to cut the bed up I had TLR lay my shocks back under the bed. I lost some travel but I kept the bed clean, which is nice for daily use and for chasing and being able to fill the bed with gear. I think I ened up with 15 inches all the way around. If I remember right I had less then $1500 in the front and less then $1000 in the rear. I know prices have gone up since then, but still could you build a A-arm truck with 15 inches of working travel for that little money?
You can always take the front end completely off for the forged beams so they can be bent.
My 89 Ranged had an 87 or less complete front end. Like it was already said, cheap wheel
travel. I had about 15" with coil overs, radius arms ,blah blah...worked good too, nice ride
that could be abused and take it.