Blue Thunder - Rob Graves' Tricked-Out, Sand-Eating 1983 Ford Bronco Pre-RunnerPosted in Features on December 7, 2015
First you hear the deep-throated roar of a healthy V-8, then you see the nose of a ’93 Bronco pre-runner drop over one dune and rocket up and over the face of another, sand rolling out from underneath it like an air tanker laying down retardant on a raging forest fire.
It flies high, then settles back to Terra Firma like an open class stadium racer, the driver hard on the throttle as it roars out of sight throwing roosts of sand.
That was my first glimpse of Rob Grave’s Toyota Speedway Blue Bronco. On closer inspection it’s not a ’93 at all: it’s an ’83 underneath a lot of FiberwerX ‘glass stuffed bumper-to-bumper with gobs of trick suspension parts powered by a stout 550hp 434cid Ford stroker.
Looking at this Oregon-grown pre-runner sitting still you’d never guess Blue Thunder, as Graves’ calls his ride, has 16 inches of suspension travel in the rear and 17 inches up front. All that travel does a lot to soften the impact of the long leaps and high bounds Graves is so fond of doing when he’s playing on Oregon’s big dune complexes.
“The early Bronco’s TTB (Twin-Traction Beam) front end is such a awesome platform for go fast machines,” says Graves, the head fabricator and all-around customizer of off-road trailers at 99West Trailers in Sherwood, Ore.
“My friend Kevin Boutwell at Extreme Motorsports in Hillsboro (Ore.) gave me a ride in his Bronco about six years ago. We caught a lot of big air at the dunes. I was hooked. Went out, bought an old beater ’83, and started evolving and upgrading it into the pre-runner Bronco you see now,” says Graves, who has been a Dirt-Sports & Off Road subscriber since day one.
So just what does a hard-working guy from Molalla, Oregon, on a nickel-and-dime budget, handy with a wrench, and a big dream floating around in his head accomplish when trying to build a bad-ass pre-runner in an area that’s more about mud running and rock crawling than desert racing? A lot.
Check out the photos. You can see Graves – along with a lot of help from good friends like Boutwell and Allan Schneider who shared his same vision – did just fine. Blue Thunder rocks it.
Blue Thunder appears to be an early ‘90s Bronco. In reality it’s an ’83 fitted with FiberwerX fiberglass hood, fenders and rear quarter panels installed by Extreme Motorsports in Hillsboro, Oregon. Price Autobody in nearby Molalla, smoothed it all out and laid on the Toyota Speedway Blue paint.
Graves runs his pre-runner Bronco without the hardtop and spare tire (except during the winter) to keep it as light as possible. Full roll cage extends into the cab.
Don’t believe everything you see. Graves put the “427” emblem on when he originally thought that’s what be under the hood. He went bigger, having a 351W stretched-and-pulled to a healthy 434cid putting out in excess of 550hp.
The owner isn’t much on cosmetics, concentrating what money he has on parts that make a difference like this 434cid stroker built by Kenny’s Machine in Molalla. It’s Eagle 4.250 forged crank and Probe 10.5:1 cans are balanced and blueprinted, and the ARP studs and Ford Racing main girdle ensure it stays together. An Edelbrock Rollin Thunder cam and Pro-Comp 210cc Manley valves handle the delivery, and the Edlebrock Performer RPM Air Gap EFI system gets the air and fuel heading in the right direction. Doug Thorley long-tube, large-tube headers and dual 40-Series Flowmaster mufflers give it the thunder.
Graves fabricated his own center console to accommodate the Hurst shifter and Autometer Phantom gauge cluster. Blue Thunder runs a C-6 with TCI 2,500rpm converter, TCI deep trans pan, B&M shift kit and R Code Servo.
Safety first. Comfort second. Save money, third. That’s why Graves choose to equip his pre-runner Bronco with three PRP racing seats and Simpson belts (the third seat is in the back) and do the upholstery himself. Note full roll cage.
The MSD Digital 6A ignition is mounted on the driver’s front of the engine compartment so it’s easy to access and to keep it cool when running the dunes.
In true pre-runner style, Graves had Extreme Motorsports fabricate the engine cage to accommodate the King Coilover’s remote reservoirs.
Here’s the business end of Blue Thunder’s long-travel suspension: King 14”x2.5” coil-overs on four-inch custom drop brackets to allow the TTB front suspension a full 17 inches of travel. A Superlift Super Runner steering system and Extreme Motorsports custom radius arms help it all work in sweet unison.
Custom heavy-duty brackets, set forward from the front housing, anchor the base of the King Coil-over shocks.
Extreme Motorsports built these custom radius arms and brackets to replace the ‘83’s originals.
Blue Thunder utilizes a single custom-built traction-bar to control wheel hop and maximize the rear suspension’s 16-inches of travel. The trussed Ford 9-inch has Moser billet ends and is runs 4.10s.
Close inspection shows the frame rails have been boxed and the rear notched to provide maximum travel for the rear axle housing. King Coil-overs extend through the rear floor and anchor to the roll cage.
The rear of Grave’s ’83 has been stripped out and covered in diamond plate. Roll cage serves as anchor points for the 16”x2.5” King Coil-overs’ reservoirs, and a custom floor mount holds the battery and power components for the 1,200-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system he runs when taking a break from kicking the tops off dunes. Speakers are mounted to top of the roll cage and in the truck’s custom front door panels.
Graves built his own door panels to hold the 9-inch speakers and took used the same bright diamond plate that’s in the bed to give the stock doors a little more ‘tude.
PRP bucket seat gives the rear passenger a great view and the best seat in the house for the 1,200-watt sound system blasting through Bazooka speakers mounted to the roll cage. (Simpson racing belts are on the way.)
Blue Thunder is shod with 37/12.50R17LT BFG MT KM2s wrapped around 17”x9” KMC XD125 Enduro wheels.
Blue Thunder is shod with 37/12.50R17LT BFG MT KM2s wrapped around 17”x9” KMC XD125 Enduro wheels. Grave’s replaced the factory Bronco hubs with Warn’s premium heavy-duty units.
Grave’s likes to run the Oregon Dunes at night so he added a 42-inch double-row LED light bar and a pair of 3-inch LEDs angling off to the sides to augment the later-style Bronco headlights.
Extreme Motorsports fabricated the roll cage so the rear section incorporated the upper mounts to hold the King Coli-overs.
Rob Graves doing exactly what he loves most: hammer down behind the wheel of Blue Thunder, letting it all hang out on the Oregon Dunes.