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1976 Ford Bronco - Pony Express

Posted in Features on November 1, 2000 Comment (0)
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1976 Ford Bronco - Pony Express
Photographers: Randall Jachmann
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In the year 1966, Ford Motor Company, responding to an internal corporate challenge to develop a consumer-friendly, go-anywhere, do-anything, on and off-road vehicle, introduced America to the Bronco. The first year of Bronco production saw three models offered: the Sports Utility model, which was an open-bed pickup with a half roof; a Roadster, which had neither roof nor formal doors, and a four-passenger Wagon with a removable roof.

The Bronco was - and is - unique in the 4x4 world for a couple of reasons. First, the Bronco was cool because Ford saw fit to offer the Bronco with an optional 289ci V-8 engine, which, when combined with the Bronco's 92-inch wheelbase and 3,025-pound overall weight, made for a nimble 4x4 with an impressive power-to-weight ratio. Additionally, Ford engineered a smooth-riding, yet off-road capable coil spring and radius arm suspension system for the Bronco's solid front axle, a design that was the first of its kind and way ahead of its time.

Throughout the Bronco's production run, which lasted from '66 to '77, minor changes were made, such as an increase in engine size from 289 ci to 302 ci, and slight interior and exterior trim and styling upgrades, but the Bronco stayed true to its original design. Now, fast forward to the year 2000. In this day and age, vintage Broncos remain highly prized vehicles because of their original attributes. Lightweight, an overall wheelbase that makes for snappy handling, torque-y V-8 power, and classic styling is still in vogue, even decades after the first Bronco rolled off the assembly line.

With so many good things going for it, some would say the Bronco doesn't have much room for improvement. However, that philosophy isn't shared by Mike Shetler, owner and builder of this screamin' yellow Bronco. It's not often we find ourselves totally stoked over a 24-year-old SUV, but Shetler's Shetland is one trick pony.

The suspension setup isn't wildly radical, just functional and near bulletproof. K Bar S in Las Vegas supplied the lifted coil springs, the longer, stronger radius arms and track rod, and the upgraded steering linkage. Dual K Bar S front shocks damp the suspension travel and produce a sure-footed ride. The rear suspension also makes use of K Bar S components, including lifted spring packs, dual shocks and a traction link to limit axlehousing wrap. A K Bar S 2-inch body lift was also installed; it was required to clear the 35x12.50R15 BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/As mounted to 15x10 American Racing AR-136 polished alloy wheels.

The engine powering this thoroughbred is a Ford SVO 351ci V-8. The Blue Oval powerplant is quite healthy, sporting high-performance GT-40 aluminum cylinder heads, an MSD ignition system, an SVO Lightning intake plenum, upgraded fuel injectors, and a K&N Filtercharger residing within a custom aluminum housing. An SVO computer rides herd on the engine's ignition and fuel circuits, Hooker headers send exhaust gases on their way, and stainless braided lines from Earl's keep the fluids in check, while adding a stout look to the engine bay. Norman Kelly and the crew at J&B Conversions get credit for the engine assembly and installation; Kelly also fabbed the fan shroud on the B-Cool radiator.

Once power flows through the Mike Mercer-modified four-speed AOD transmission, it gets multiplied by an Advanced Adapters Atlas II T-case, which was installed by John White of J&B Conversions. A pair of custom driveshafts from Tom Woods sends power to the front Dana 44 axle, which is stuffed full of a 3.50 gearset, 30-spline Moser axles and an Auburn Gear limited-slip and to the 9-inch Ford rear axle, which is similarly equipped with 3.50 cogs, 31-spline Moser axles, and a Detroit Locker.

The Bronco's exterior and interior received subtle enhancements intended to complement, not overwhelm, the 4x4's appearance, comfort, and function. Al Lancto water-blasted the body's sheetmetal, after which Charles Breaux brought the Bronco's skin back to pristine condition and squirted it with PPG Yellow colorant. Norman Kelly modified and installed the Wild Horses bumpers and rollbar and bolted on the Warn winch, Toreaux Lining sprayed most of the interior with a rugged bedliner material, and Sulphur Sheet Metal reworked the dash, including the installation of Auto Meter gauges and a Lawrence GPS system. The OE seats were reupholstered by Jack Ivey of Walter's Glass, and a special mention goes to Bryan Lejeune, who supplied technical advice and performed much of the mechanical work on the Bronco.

While we doubt that the original designers of the Bronco could ever have envisioned that their creation would have such long-lasting popularity, we think they would be pleased with the modifications Mike Shetler has made to his '76, since said mods have kept the spirit of the original Bronco design intact, while enhancing its style and taking its engine and suspension performance to a Y2K-compliant status. Apparently, you can teach an old horse new tricks.

SPECIFICATIONS
Owner/city Mike Shetler/Sulphur, Louisiana
Make/model '76 {{{Ford Bronco}}}/Wagon
Suspension K Bar S 3-inch-lift springs; dual shocks (front and rear)
Wheels/tires 15x10 American Racing AR-136/35x12.50R15 BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A
Engine Ford SVO 351ci V-8 with {{{GT}}}-40 aluminum heads, K&N Filter, Hooker headers, MSD ignition
Transmission/
transfer case
Ford AOD/Atlas II
Axles Dana 44 with Moser axles; Auburn limited-slip diff, and 3.50 gears (front); Ford 9-inch with Moser axles, Detroit Locker diff, and 3.50 gears (rear)
Paint PPG Yellow

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