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Ford Bronco -- Car? Truck? Or both?

Posted in Events on June 1, 2001
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Photographers: Four Wheeler Staff
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In August of 1965 Ford introduced the Bronco as a ’66 model. Ford General Manager Donald Frey described it as, “Neither a car nor a truck, but as a vehicle which combines the best of both worlds. The Bronco can serve as a family sedan, sports roadster, snowplow, farm or civil defense vehicle. It has been designed to go nearly anywhere and do nearly anything.” Little did Frey know how true his words still would be 35 years later. Today the Bronco has developed a cult-like following with legions of owners seen smiling behind the wheels of these classics. So non-Bronco owners have got to be wondering, why are the early Broncos so cool?

A lot of the Bronco’s cool factor can be traced to its early days in off-road racing. Those days started in 1966 when the late Bill Stroppe entered a bone-stock Bronco in Brian Chuchua’s Riverside Off Road Grand Prix. The workings of a legend began. Days after the event, Stroppe was figuring out modifications to make the Bronco work better. Stroppe was heavily involved in Ford’s racing program, and with Ford wanting to promote the Bronco, the company turned to him for advice. His answer was an all-assault on off-road racing with the Bronco. By 1968, Parnelli Jones had piloted a Stroppe-prepped Bronco to a win in the Mint 400. In 1970, another Stroppe-prepped machine, dubbed “The Pony,” won the Baja 500.

Soon such famous racers as Larry Minor, Ak Miller, and Rod Hall were racing Broncos alongside Parnelli. Actor James Garner got into the act and started his own racing team that campaigned Broncos. The Bronco’s off-road exploits soon made it famous and with cool actors and racers driving them, the popularity of the Bronco grew. Soon, everyone wanted one.

Nowadays the Bronco’s popularity continues; they’re still being built, and rebuilt, to do pretty much anything and go just about anywhere—just as Don Frey predicted so many years ago. Whether it is a gutted-out, full-tilt tough-truck racer, a lightweight dune rig, a mongo mud bogger, or a whacked-out rockcrawler, Broncos are still out there, and they’re still being built to conquer any kind of terrain. Even better is the fact that there are plenty of shops that make nothing but parts for the ’66-’77 Bronco. The mad scientists at these shops have Broncos on their mind 24/7, and they’re constantly coming out with new parts to make the Bronco even more capable, leading to a constant evolution of the early Bronco. With great shops specializing in the Bronco, its coolness, and the fact that it can be built to do just about anything, there really isn’t an excuse not to build one.


Are you convinced that buying an early Bronco would be a good idea? Wondering how do you go about getting the right one? Follow along and we’ll guide you through the equipment that has been found on them over the years.

When the Bronco was first introduced in ’66 it was available in three different body styles. The Roadster was the Bronco without a top and cool steel half doors. It was available until ’69. Next up was the half-cab (which was actually called the Sport Utility) and its production ran through ’73. The most commonly found body style is the wagon and it was available through all years of the Bronco.

Four different engines powered the Bronco. The 170cid inline-six was used from the beginning as the base engine. It ran until ’73, when it was replaced by the 200cid inline-six which only saw use until ’75, when inline-sixes were no longer available in Broncos. Two V-8s could be found under the hood. The 289 V-8 was used from the beginning. It was replaced by the 302 V-8 in ’69, which was used until the end of the early Bronco in ’77.

Transmission choices are fairly limited. Only the Ford Model 303 three-speed manual was available until ’73 when the C4 three-speed auto became available as an option. Backing up the transmissions for all years of the Bronco was the Dana 20 transfer case with a low-range of 2.46:1.

Up front could be found the Dana 30 axle from ’66 until ’71, when it was replaced by the better Dana 44. This axle received disc brakes in ’76. The Ford 9-inch was found in the rear of the early Bronco throughout its life. In ’75 it was upgraded from a 28-spline model to a 31-spline unit and one year later it received larger drum brakes. Broncos did not get power steering until ’73. These days, however, with so much water under the bridge and so many engine/transmission swaps going on, there’s no telling what might be under the hood of the Bronco you’re looking at. So shop carefully.

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