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Backward Glances: Bronco Jack’s Unrestored 1974 Ford Bronco Ranger

Posted in Features on July 2, 2018
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Occasionally, you get to see a true “time capsule,” and Jack Niederkorn’s ’74 Bronco Ranger is it! This Bronco was built on November 29, 1973, and special-ordered by a customer from St. Paul, Nebraska. Jack Niederkorn bought this gem from the original owner in 1988 and has maintained it in original condition ever since. Other than touch-ups here and there on the exterior paint and repainting some trim, normal repairs, and maintenance, it’s as “1974” as it can possibly be. It’s showing only 68,000 miles on the odometer.

The Ranger was the Top Dog trim package for the Bronco and debuted in 1973 as a step over the Sport. It carried all the chrome goodies of the Sport but added a higher-end interior, exterior striping, swing-away tire carrier, and the “Bronco Ranger” bucking bronco tire cover. The Ranger package would stay with the small Bronco for the rest of its run and carry on with the larger Broncos as well.

By the time Jack’s Bronco was built, Ford had finally lavished some attention on the little pony. Historians have noted that after its 1966 intro, Ford did very little to update the Bronco. The SUV market was growing by leaps and bounds, and the most successful products were those with the most carlike qualities. The introduction of the Chevrolet Blazer in 1969 and the resultant buyer’s stampede towards that full-featured, fullsize SUV was not lost on FoMoCo, or anyone else in the industry. That’s when Ford had to make some serious decisions on the direction its SUV program needed to take.

Jack Niederkorn’s ’74 Bronco looks like brand new…because it’s still wearing all of its original paint and chrome. The paint is Bold Orange, Code 5, and that’s a one-year, Bronco-only color used in 1974. Only 805 Broncos are listed as being done in this color for the year, and 264 were Rangers. The stripes were part of the $405 Ranger package, as was the bright trim. The Dayton Trans Trac LT tires are visually comparable to the BFGoodrich or Uniroyal mud and snow tires that were optional for the ’74 model year. Generally, you specified the type of tires desired, in this case G78-15B mud and snows, and Ford put on whatever brand they were stocked up with at that moment. The list price for this Bronco as equipped was about $4,900.

GM’s success with the Blazer inspired Ford to start work on a comparable model in 1972, with a projected debut of 1975. It made financial sense not to invest more into the “old” Bronco than was necessary, and some of the things most people deemed important features did not appear as soon as they probably should have. Among them were power steering, an automatic transmission, and a higher trim level. Well, that’s hindsight. A general financial downturn and the ’73 Arab Oil Embargo caused execs at Ford to hesitate on completing the new, bigger Bronco development. So to keep the little Bronco a player, they altered course and invested engineering money into some updates, and Jack’s Bronco shows several of them.

Power steering and an automatic transmission were godsends to most of the Bronco-buying public. The C4 automatic (a $236 option) was only available with the V-8, and if the numbers of V-8 automatics sold for the 1974 model year are any indication—15,628 of 25,826 total Broncos sold—that means it was quite popular. By then, the Bronco model lineup had shrunk to one, the Station Wagon. The Roadster model had left after the ’68 model year and the Sports Utility Pickup was gone after the ’71 model year. Three trim levels were available: Base, Sport, and Ranger, with lots of a la carte choices available.

For 1974, the standard engine was an 89hp, 200ci six, a derivative of the small inline-six that had debuted in 1960s small cars and would be offered in 144, 170, 200 and 250ci displacements over its approximately 23 years in U.S. production. Just the next year, the 200 would be eliminated and the Bronco would be V-8–only from the ’75 model year to its last year, 1977.

Short and sweet! This rear view shows two parts of the Ranger package: the swing-away tire carrier (also optional a la carte for $32) and the Bronco Ranger tire cover (which is the original, by the way). The ball hitch is a period aftermarket piece, but like the Ford dealer-installed part. The Bronco was recommended to tow up to 2,000 pounds (max 200 pounds tongue weight) if it had the high GVW package, 302 V-8, extra cooling, power steering, and minimum 3.50:1 axle ratios.

Standard behind all engines was a Ford Model 303 three-on-the-tree manual, backed up by the Ford version of the Dana 20 transfer case. The rear axle was the legendary Ford 9-inch with a drop-out carrier and a Traction-Lok limited slip was optional (not purchased for Jack’s Bronco). There were two axles offered: the standard 2,900-pound GAWR (Gross Axle Weight Rating, commonly spoken as “gauer”) with 28-spline ’shafts, and a 3,300-pound unit that came with the higher GVW packages and had larger wheel bearings. Up front was the Dana 44, which had replaced the original Dana 30 for 1971. For the V-8, two ratios were offered: 3.50:1 (standard) and 4.11:1. The six had standard 4.11s and 4.57:1 was optional.

Even with this being his 30th year with it, Jack still has agonizing moments of wanting to “restore” the Bronco. Then, common sense kicks in. A vehicle like this is only original once, and as such, it’s a guide to restorers—despite whatever flaws it may have. When you see this well-kept Bronco in person, your impression would be of a well-maintained vehicle that is three or four years old.

Oh, and this Bronco isn’t Jack Niederkorn’s first rodeo, either. Besides this, he has a superbly restored ’71 Stroppe Baja Bronco, a ’72 Bronco that’s built up for the trail, and a recently purchased ’67 U140 Sports Utility pickup with the Sport package, of which under 100 were built. So, yeah, the name “Bronco Jack” fits!

The lap of luxury…or at least as close as it got in the Bronco for 1974. Factory air was not available in this era, but dealers installed aftermarket kits, or you got them installed elsewhere. The interior color was called Ginger (Code D) and was the only interior color-keyed to the Bold Orange exterior. A rear seat was optional at $104 on all trim levels, but it was a required option for the Ranger package. The AM radio was another option that cost $59.
The engine compartment is just the same as when it rolled off the assembly line. The $236 302ci V-8 option was a good fit for the Bronco—just the right amount of power combined with compact dimensions and low weight. In this era, the SAE net power was 137 hp with a two-barrel Motorcraft carb that was tuned to operate in the four-wheeling environment. The repro Autolite battery adds to the vintage look. Power steering (with a cooler) added $131 to the price.
Jacobs Ford in St. Paul, Nebraska, population 2,300, is still in business and has been a going concern since 1940. It’s where the Bronco was shipped after it was built on November 29, 1973. The original owner ordered it special and the Bronco was delivered on December 20, 1973. This plate is a replacement that Jacobs had left over from the era, and the dealership was kind enough to send it to Jack.

The Details

Vehicle: ’74 Ford Bronco Ranger
Owner: “Bronco Jack” Niederkorn
Estimated value: $45,000
Engine: 302ci V-8
Power (hp @ rpm): 137 @ 4,200
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm): 219 @ 2,600
Bore & stroke (in): 4.00 x 3.00
Comp. ratio: 8.0:1
Transmission: Ford C4 automatic
Transfer case: Dana 20
Tires: G78-15B mud and snow
Front axle: Dana 44
Rear axle: Ford 9-in, 3,300-lb GAWR
Axle ratio: 3.50:1
GVW (lb): 4,450
Curb weight (lb): 3,735
Fuel capacity (gal): 12.2 main/7.5 auxiliary

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