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A Showroom Fresh 1979 Bronco

Posted in Features on December 16, 2016
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The ’78-’79 Broncos were Ford’s first ride on the fullsize SUV bandwagon. That market had become very big after the Blazer arrived in 1969 because it met the “three bears” just-right-size benchmark. Built for two years, these first big Broncos were very popular and nearly 182,000 of them rolled off the line. More importantly, they laid the foundation for another 16 years of fullsize Bronco production.

Work on a truck-based Bronco began in 1972, with an anticipated debut in 1975 or 1976. The 1973 oil crisis and a general financial downturn in the U.S. hit American carmakers hard and caused a shift in outlook and long-term goals. Among other things, it made Ford hesitant to spend money developing a new Bronco. It didn't help that what had looked to be an easy adaptation of the F-100 truck body was more difficult than anticipated. It was decided to bring the costs down a little and make the larger Bronco development part of a Ford truck facelift scheduled for the ’78 model year.

The bigger Bronco made quite a hoopla when it debuted late in 1977. Motor Trend called it, “The Ultimate Bronco.” Bigger is what the SUV buying public wanted, and bigger is what Ford gave them. Little of the previous generation translated to the new Bronco. The monobeam coil-spring front suspension was the most notable one that did. The new Bronco was a much closer relative to the F-100 and F-150 truck than the ’66-’77 U100-series Bronco. It also had the F-100’s basic light 1/2-ton load- carrying and towing capabilities, which were well above the older Bronco.

Cliff Brumfield’s ’79 Ranger XLT has the special two-tone color combo in Jade Green and Wimbledon White. It was ordered with the five-slot alloy wheels, which Cliff is having restored, but in the meantime, he has a set of ’78 vintage Appliance Turbo Vec alloys installed.

These two Bronco model years were the only years prior to 1993 in which a base six-cylinder engine was not available. The base engine was the 351M (132 hp with manual transmission, 137 hp with automatic transmission), which Ford began to call the 5.8L. The optional upgrade was the 400ci, or 6.6L, at 149 hp. Both engines were relation to the vaunted 351C “Cleveland” and another branch on that 335 engine family tree. The 351C had first appeared in ’70 cars and lasted through ’74. The 400 debuted in ’71 cars as a tall-block, longer- stroke version of the 351C and was built to replace the 390 as the baseline two-barrel “torque monster.” The 351M was a destroked version (3.50-inch versus 4.00-inch) of the 400 tall-block. Both the 351M and 400 were torquey engines that adapted well to truck use, though not so much to high performance (which is why you never saw performance versions). Most important to Ford was that they were much more emissions friendly than the FE engines (352, 360, 390, 428, etc..) which was the primary reason they existed. In general design, the 351M/400 closely resembled the 351C but also the 351 “Windsor” engines, as well as the 385 family of big-blocks (429/460).

By the way, the 400 is technically not an “M” engine, and you wouldn’t call it a “400M.” The meaning of “M” itself is the subject of some debate. Most certainly it was designed to separate the family from the others, the 351 Cleveland and 351 Windsor. If it had any other meaning, such as “Modified” or “Michigan,” it was not indicated on any known factory documents

For both years, there were two Bronco models: Custom (base) and Ranger XLT- (base and top dog). For ’79, the Ranger XLT package cost $637 and included chrome bumpers and bright trim, body side mouldings, full carpeting, insulation package, upgraded interior trim with woodgrain inserts, sport steering wheel, vinyl or cloth/vinyl upgraded seats, and a spare -tire cover. In ’78, the Custom had round headlights, while the Ranger XLT had rectangular. In ’79, both models had rectangular headlights.

This Bronco was ordered with the optional 32-gallon fuel tank ($98); heavy-duty trailer towing package ($285), which included the Extra Cooling Package; gauges; heavy-duty suspension; larger battery and alternator; towing mirrors; auxiliary transmission cooler; and the “Towing Special” badge. The swing-away tire carrier was an $80 option.

On the powertrain front, both engines came standard with either a Warner T-18 four-speed manual or the NP435 four-speed. Application depended on what was available at the time. In California, the four-speed manual was not available, only the automatic. Optional for $219 was the Select-Shift C6 automatic. An NP205 part-time T-case was standard, but the full-time NP203 was a no-charge option for automatics only. Up front was mounted a Dana 44, 3,550-pound-capacity axle. The most common axle ratio was 3.50:1 and other available ratios were 4.11:1 (except with 400 four-speed) and 3.00:1 (again, not with 400). The rear axle was Ford’s legendary 9-inch dropout rated at 3,750 pounds. A 6,100-pound GVW was standard, but with the heavy-duty suspension ($110), it went as high as 6,550 pounds. Quad heavy-duty shocks up front, combined with rear heavy-duty shocks, were a $79 option.

This particular Jade Green/Wimbledon White two-tone Ranger XLT was ordered in the fall of 1978 from Cascade Ford of Belleview, Washington. Delivered on January 6, 1979, it remained with the original owner until 2011. Current owner, Cliff Brumfield, is a fan of ’78 and ’79 Broncos and bought this one in 2014, and it is one of two he currently owns. As of this writing, it’s showing 28,564 miles. The original owner never used it as a daily driver, so it only saw occasional use for about the first decade of its life, after which it was stored until it was first sold in 2011. It’s almost flawless, about like it was in those years when the original owner was using it. Mainly, it required a good cleaning, and by careful hand cleaning (no pressure washing!), Cliff has exposed many of the inspection marks left during its construction. Cliff’s ’79 Bronco is one of those time machine rigs the cosmic “Wayback Machine” occasionally lets us see.

The 351M is a much misunderstood engine. In the Ford high-performance world, it’s generally on the “meh” list. It was a strong, long-lasting engine, and worked well in trucks, but various aspects of its design and construction don’t lend themselves to the hot-rodding world. The bore/stroke ratio and long connecting rods are a part of the reason. Maybe that’s why Ford never offered a four-barrel carb for the 351M/400. The Windsor engines (5.0 and 5.8L) proved more versatile in later years, but the 351M/400 series got Ford through a tough period as they fought through the development of emission-friendly engines.

The Details:

Owner: Cliff Brumfield
Estimated value: $30,000
Engine: 5.8L V-8 (Ford 351M)
Power (hp @ rpm): 137 @ 3,400
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm): 257 @ 1,800
Bore & stroke (in): 4.00 x 3.50
Comp. ratio: 8.0:1
Transmission: C6
Transfer case: NP205
Front axle: Dana 44-9F
Rear axle: Ford 9-inch
Axle ratio: 3.50:1
Tires: L78-15 (original)
Wheelbase (in): 104.5
GVW (lb): 6,100
Curb weight (lb): 4,950
Fuel capacity (gal): 25
Min. grd. clearance (in): 7.8
Approach angle (deg): 37.5
Departure angle (deg): 23.4

Jade Green was also selected as the interior color on Cliff’s Bronco. There were four no-cost seat options for the XLT, and the standard vinyl (shown) had smooth bolsters and an accenting color vinyl “weave pattern” in the center. A similar bench seat was available. Bucket and bench seats with color accented cloth and vinyl made up the other two choices. For $369, cloth and vinyl captain’s chairs were available. The center console was a $93 option, and the AM/FM stereo radio cost $201. A rare option is the CB radio that piggybacked onto the stock radio and cost a whopping $337. Cliff found one of these NOS and installed it. The sport steering wheel was part of the Ranger XLT package.
Here you see the biggest reason why the two-door fullsize SUVs faded away. At least the Bronco had a nice step-down for leg comfort, but it required some climbing to get in here, and there was room for only two passengers.
The muscular fixed-yoke, left-drop NP205 T-case was to fade away in Ford Broncos after ’79. The NP203 full-time system was a no-cost option, but again, it would fade away after ’79.
The legendary Ford 9-inch was rated for 3,750 pounds in the ’79 Bronco. It had 31-spline axleshafts and three optional ratios: 3.00:1, 3.50:1 (the most common), and 4.11:1. Any ratios aside from the standard 3.50:1 cost $45 retail. The 3.50:1 was the only one available with all engine and powertrain choices. Ford’s Traction-Lok limited slip was a $185 option but not in all ratios, transmission, or engine combinations.
The Dana 44 of this era had 30-spline inner axleshafts and 19-spline outers, accompanied by the 297-style U-joints. Optional was a Dana Trac-Loc limited slip at $185, but only with the rear Ford Traction-Lok ordered in back and, only with the 3.50:1 ratio and not with the full-time four-wheel-drive option.

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