Click for Coverage
Due to the EU’s Global Data Protection Regulation, our website is currently unavailable to visitors from most European countries. We apologize for this inconvenience and encourage you to visit for the latest on new cars, car reviews and news, concept cars and auto show coverage, awards and much more.MOTORTREND.COM
  • JP Magazine
  • Dirt Sports + Off-Road
  • 4-Wheel & Off-Road
  • Four Wheeler

1985 Ford Bronco II - $3K ThrillRide

Posted in Features on March 1, 2013
Share this

Ford introduced the Bronco II back in 1984 as a scaled-down version of the venerable fullsize Bronco that was so popular. It was met with mixed emotions, as it is to this day. However, I was always intrigued by the mini Bronco and decided it was time to give one a try—especially after some of our Off-Road staff unaffectionately dubbed it “one of the worst 4x4s ever.” I was determined to prove my colleagues wrong, and I liked the idea of the TTB coil front setup and the basic leaf spring rear. I found an ’85 Eddie Bauer version on Craigslist advertised for $1,400. It turned out to have a rust-free body and ran fairly decent. After a little haggling, I handed over $1,100 and was soon driving away in the baby Bronco.

It was the perfect vehicle to make a $3K ThrillRide out of.

And if you don’t remember our $3K ThrillRide mission: Find a good off-road vehicle platform and do whatever it takes to make it a cool and at least semi-reliable off-road toy … for less than $3,000. It’s a challenge, but how cool is a truck that you built and can have a ton of fun in for less than $3K?

Initial Inspection
The Bronco II ran well when I picked it up, but it didnt have a lot of power. The auto tranny shifted fine and the fluid looked good. A quick drive revealed that the shocks werent the greatest, but the steering and suspension seemed to be in decent shape and the little truck tracked down the street fine, even up to 65 mph. The current owner had been using the Bronco to explore desert trails, so it hadnt been sitting idle for an extended period. Recently, he had installed a new battery, spark plugs, and wires, and he had the carburetor rebuilt. The power steering pump had an incessant leak somewhere, and the valve cover gaskets were both oozing oil down the sides of the engine block. 4WD engaged without issue in both high and low range.

The ’85 Bronco II was a 28-year-old Arizona vehicle. I typically prefer to buy 4WDs that have seen little or no off-road use, but I was OK with the fact that this one had been used for a while to explore some local dirt roads and trails. I at least knew the owner had been doing some maintenance and repairs as he was using it.

The Plan
These small Broncos sit on a 94-inch wheelbase, so they offer a good turning radius and decent breakover clearance even with smallish tires. The Bronco already had a 2-inch coil spacer lift up front and the previous owner had been using air shocks in the rear for a cheap lift. I was happy with the lift height, but the air shocks had to go. I decided to upgrade to aggressive 31-inch tires, which would be a big improvement in traction and provide a little more ground clearance without sacrificing stability. This would be a fun, basic trail/exploring rig that could also be a daily driver on streets or highway.

The early models, such as this one, used a carbureted 2.8L V-6 that didn’t offer tons of power. When I got the Bronco, the engine would fire right up and drop to a smooth idle. It had just had an oil change, along with new oil and air filters. The vehicle registration had recently expired and it was due for emissions in a month. The day I bought it, I decided to add some gas to the tank and run it though emissions to see where I stood. Fortunately, it passed right away and I had the title transferred and a new license plate in hand the following day. One concern put to rest quickly.

The engine was somewhat of a grease ball, so some degreasing was in order. The coolant hoses looked aged, so I replaced all of them and flushed the radiator. I also installed a new power steering pump and hoses, and I adjusted the freeplay in the steering box while I had easy access.

The Bronco has the A4LD four-speed auto backed by a BorgWarner 1350 transfer case with a 2.48:1 low range ratio. The front axle is a Dana 28 and the rear is a Ford 7.5-Inch. The axles came with a desirable 4.10:1 ratio and the rear had a factory limited slip. A check of fluids in all the cases found them up to level and reasonably clean, so I left them alone. The driveshaft U-joints all looked and felt fine.

The brake system all seemed in good condition and was free of leaks. The front pads were somewhat worn but still had some life left in them. The booster was strong and the brakes slowed down the truck well.

The suspension was also in good shape, and the previous owner had replaced the track-arm bushings a while back. Since the front was already raised 2 inches, I left the coil springs alone. I added a set of Rough Country Nitro 9000 gas-charged shocks and one of their steering stabilizers up front. Out back, I tossed the air shocks and installed Nitro 9000s there, too. I went with a 1-inch shackle lift to gain back some rear lift.

The body metal was in excellent shape as this was an Arizona vehicle. There was only a small dent in the passenger rear fender and a little damage to the fiberglass hatch gate. The two-tone paint was sun-faded after all the years but was pretty solid otherwise. The factory chrome bumpers were in good shape, but I had plans to change the look of the Bronco a bit.

The Eddie Bauer interior was a nice factory set, but the fabric was aging and the cushions weren’t the best for a daily driver and off-road rig. I decided to upgrade for comfort and safety. I removed all the old interior carpet and coated the interior with Durabak bedliner material for easy care and a change of looks.

The Bronco is a fun little trail rig and can cruise down the highway, as well. Flat terrain at 65 mph is not a problem, though the smaller engine struggles when pulling mountain highway stretches. Once we hit dirt, the little Ford was a fun trail rig. The 31-inch mud tires fit and perform well, and the wider track keeps the slightly top-heavy Bronco stable. There are not a lot of appendages hanging below the frame underneath, so clearance with the short wheelbase is good. The factory limited slip is far from factory fresh but still has some life left in it.

Last year, we had a story that included describing the Bronco II as one of the worst 4WDs, but not all our staff can agree on this one. This project serves as another example of taking a pretty cheap ride and building it into a fun off-road rig with some sweat equity and cash for upgrades. This one got better tires, a mildly upgraded suspension, and suspension seats. My total cost came in at $2,459, well under the $3,000 budget limit. With this Bronco II, I have a rig I can ’wheel now and continue to refine going forward. Hopefully these builds serve as inspiration to you to build your own budget project.

PhotosView Slideshow

Item Cost
1985 Ford Bronco II $1,099
Stock parts sold -$240
Rough Country shocks/stabilizer $190
Corbeau Baja SS seats $400
Corbeau five-point harnesses $198
BFG KM2 tires (used 31x10.50) $255
Durabak bedliner $120
Rear shackles $46
Spring bushings $12
Power steering pump, hoses $83
Valve cover gaskets $14
Coolant hoses $34
Transmission hoses $12
Camber bushings $44
Ammo can $21
Fluids, clamps, etc. $36
Aluminum sheet $24
Steel materials $37
Paint & supplies $17
Misc. hardware $15
Welding wire & shop supplies $42
Total Money Spent $2,459


Corbeau Seats
Sandy, UT 84070
Durabak Company
Aurora, CO 80014
Rough Country

Connect With Us

Newsletter Sign Up

Subscribe to the Magazine

Browse Articles By Vehicle

See Results