It isn’t uncommon for wheelers to add wider axles to their rigs. Whether it’s Toyota axles under a Samurai or 1-ton axles under a TJ, the benefit is not only stronger axle assemblies but also pushing the tires out to help keep the sheetmetal away from rocks and other obstacles. Jes Lewis took a different approach to keeping rocks away from the sheetmetal of his 1971 Ford Bronco. “Wider axles aren’t always helpful on many of the Sierra Nevada trails that I frequent,” he shared. So instead of wider axles, he narrowed the body of his Bronco by eight inches. The surgery was so well done that it is difficult to even notice at first glance.
Removing metal from the hood, tub, windshield frame, and bumpers isn’t as easy as just chopping eight inches out of the center though, and Jes spent a lot of long nights in the garage. Fortunately his wife, Melissa, is very understanding and supportive. “In order to retain the transmission tunnel we took four inches out of each side of the tub,” Lewis explains. The Bronco he cut into thirds has been in the family for over 30 years, originally purchased by his grandfather. “It gets used, but I didn’t want to beat it up and dent it either.” The narrowed Bronco fits just about anywhere without a scratch, making all of the hours of body work worthwhile.
Jes Lewis took four inches out of each side of his Bronco to allow it to fit through tight spots like this one. The interior was coated with Line-X and Spray Craft laid down the orange paint. The finished product is so well crafted it is difficult to even notice at first glance.
775 Fabrication built the rollcage out of 1.75-inch, 0.120-wall DOM tubing and tied it into the frame in six places. The aluminum panel on the roof not only keeps the sun away but also provides added protection in the event of a rollover.
Jes pulled out a rowdy 289 engine in favor of a more manageable 5.0L built by Superior Machine in Sparks, Nevada, with higher compression and a custom cam for low-end torque. The long-block is topped with Mustang fuel injection and a Griffin aluminum radiator has no problem keeping the engine cool.
Bronco bodies are 69 inches wide from the factory. Since a “Narrowed Edition” was never offered, Jes Lewis had to make his own, right down to the emblems.
Inside, two heated PRP suspension seats sit in front of the 36-inch-wide rear bench. A Wild Horses Gear Banger offset shifter rows the gears in the NP435, while a hand throttle allows Jes to up the RPMs while his two feet are on the clutch and the brake.
The Hanson front bumper was narrowed to match the body, and holds a Warn XD9000i winch wrapped in synthetic rope and topped with a Factor 55 thimble. The Rigid Industries LED light bar works in conjunction with Peterson LED headlights to turn night into day.
The 6.68:1 First gear in the NP435 and the 4.86:1 Rock Eater gears in the Dana 20 transfer case combined to provide a 134:1 crawl ratio. This allows Jes to keep the rocks away from the orange paint, even in the most technical of situations.
The front end uses a high-pinion Dana 44 from an F-150 that was narrowed by BMC Motorsports to Early Bronco width (60-inches). The axle is filled with 4.10 gears, an ARB Air Locker, and Dutchman chromoly axleshafts. Steering is all from PSC, with the hydraulic-assist ram located behind the tie rod and in front of the axletube.
The front suspension uses extended radius arms from James Duff and the coil springs have been replaced with Fox 16-inch-travel remote-reservoir coilovers and air bumps. The dual spring rates on the coilovers allow for a smooth ride over small bumps but can still soak up larger hits without bottoming out.
In the rear the leaf springs were ditched in favor of a custom triangulated four link with 4.5-inch Wild Horses coil springs. The suspension locates a 31-spline Ford 9-inch from a Lincoln Versailles that came from the factory with disc brakes. The third member is filled with 4.10 gears and a Detroit Locker, and the housing has been shaved for added ground clearance.
1971 Ford Bronco
Engine: 5.0L V-8
Transmission: NP435 four-speed manual
Transfer Case: Dana 20 w/ Rock Eater gears
Front Axle: Dana 44 w/ 4.10 gears and ARB Air Locker
Rear Axle: Ford 9-Inch w/ 4.10 gears and Detroit Locker
Springs & Such:
Tires & Wheels
: 37x12.50R17 BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain KM2 on 17x9 Walker Evans Racing beadlock
Steering: PSC steering box, hydraulic-assist ram, pump, and reservoir
Lighting: Peterson LED headlights, Rigid Industries 20-inch LED light bar, LUX LED rock lights
Other Stuff: Narrowed body, narrowed Hanson bumpers, Griffin aluminum radiator, Warn XD90009 winch, Factor55 thimble, 775 Fabrication roll cage, Viair air compressor, Optima Red Top battery, PRP heated suspension seats, 12Volt Unlimited switch panel, Magnaflow exhaust, Line-X interior, Hydrotech hydroboost brakes, Speed Hut digital gauges