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Firing Order: That Time I Bought A Non-Running 1979 Bronco

Posted in Features on June 14, 2018
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There were a lot of things to look at on the backroad drive to town from my house in rural northern Illinois farmland. There were crops (gotta see how everyone’s corn and beans were doing), tractors and implements (never get tired of looking at those), and livestock (is that a bull in the pasture?). But what riveted my attention one day was the ’79 Ford Bronco sitting in a driveway of a house at about the halfway point to town.

It was spring of 1998 and a family had just moved into the ranch-style house on an acre of land, and along with them came the Bronco. A few months later I noticed the red Bronco was not being driven. After a few more weeks of seeing no sign of Bronco movement, I pondered the outcome of stopping at the house to inquire as to what was wrong with the rig and if the owner would like to sell it. I figured the owner would probably tell me to get lost, but I stopped anyway.

Turns out, the owner was furious with the Bronco. He recounted that soon after installing a new set of BFG A-Ts he was on his way to work and the truck emitted a large bang and the engine quit running. He speculated that the engine’s timing chain had broken. He had it towed to his house and had no plans to fix it. As a matter of fact, he had already purchased a new vehicle and he wanted the Bronco to go away. He said my timing was impeccable because he was “this close” to calling a salvage yard to haul it away. A brief negotiation ensued, which included a discussion of scrap price, the new tires, his distaste for seeing it in his driveway, and its non-running status. He floated out a $475 price, which I thought was reasonable and agreed to, considering I didn’t know how much I’d have to invest in the vehicle to make it drivable or if it was even fixable within monetary reason. I figured at the very least I could part it out and get my money back. Part of the deal was that I would remove it from his driveway ASAP.

What I got for my money was a Bronco that was surprisingly free of rust by northern Illinois standards (for its age) with a 400ci engine, C6 transmission, leaf-sprung 9-inch rear axle, and a coil-sprung solid Dana 44 front axle. The radio and battery were AWOL, but as I found out later, the four-wheel-drive system actually worked.

Turns out, the engine’s problem wasn’t the timing chain. The culprit was that the drive gear was loose on the distributor shaft. If I remember correctly, I installed a new roll pin and as soon as I turned the ignition key the 400 roared to life. I ended up replacing the factory distributor with an MSD unit and the Bronco ran great.

The main reason I wanted the Bronco was so I didn’t have to drive my new Wrangler TJ in the winter. Living in the Midwest I had seen the damage that road salt does to vehicles, and I didn’t want that to happen to the TJ. Anyway, the Jeep was my first brand-spankin’-new 4x4, so I guess I was overly protective. Hence, the Bronco pulled winter duty. It saw the worst weather and was perpetually covered in road salt. I used it almost nonstop during the winter months. I used it to haul our kids to school, it served as my transport to the airport, and it pulled general commuter duty. It also did more than its fair share of drift bashing during and after snowstorms. In the end, it was a reliable, fun rig and it served me well. I have many fond memories of that 4x4. I was also happy that I was able to extend its usable life for a few more years.

Have you purchased a non-running 4x4 and got it back into service? If you have, I’d love to hear about it. Send an email to the address below and include some info about its condition when you bought it, what you paid for it, and what it took to get it running. Oh, and please include a before and/or after photo!

—Ken Brubaker
ken.brubaker@fourwheeler.com

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