There's just something about Paul Perry's '77 Ford Bronco; it radiates a special aura. Part of that is the reflection of the traits it borrows from Paul himself. It doesn't feel like you're looking at some random late-1970s Bronco. It seems to be holding time within its sheetmetal. Rust, the passage of it. Modifications, the places visited and awareness of journeys to come. Strength, once a source of weakness.
It also wears Paul's passion—his passion for 4x4s, overlanding, travel, and mission work with his wife, Joy. And, of course, a passion for designing and engineering a Bronco customized to his lifestyle. It evolves as he does.
"I've always been involved in camping since I was a little boy," recalls Paul. "My first vehicle I owned was a 4x4 Datsun truck. I would love exploring dirt roads and finding out where they led to, or following the power lines as far as I could." Getting married and having kids didn't change a thing: "We have always been a camping family; what we call overlanding today, we called 'car camping' years ago. I always kept two stacks of camping gear—one for backpacking and the other for car camping or overlanding with the family."
Paul did everything himself, aside from the paintjob. "I've asked a lot of our Bronco. I've purposely, continually modified it to perform many different jobs. It's my daily driver, tow rig for our small camper, and does off-roading and rockcrawling, among many other things," he says. "I can't say it's necessarily the 'best' at any one of those, but it certainly gets the job done beyond expectations." Inspiration has come from the "volumes of 4x4 magazines I've collected over the years and friends' rigs I wheel with on the trail," including at Bronco-only events. "No two Broncos are the same, and you get a lot of ideas from others."
What did change was the vehicle. "I had been driving an '86 Bronco since college, and the reason I fell in love with the early Broncos—the '66s-'77s—was largely due to an article in your very own Four Wheeler magazine way back in 1989. I actually built my Bronco around the one in the article." We met Paul and Joy when they brought this Bronco on our 2019 Overland Adventure. He'd purchased it in 1995, "from a local gentleman, who had owned many Broncos in his life and had been teaching me the ins and outs of what to look for when buying a Bronco. After a year of searching, Mr. Dunn, who had been helping me search, decided to sell me his personal Bronco. I bought it that day and have never regretted it." The Fleetwood camper came from Craigslist.
"The Bronco has always been my daily driver, so with few exceptions, when I do any modification it's a weekend job, one thing at a time," he says. "I believe it makes you appreciate that one modification all the more. When it's done that way, you can notice an immediate change or improvement." But he admits it's going to always be a work in progress, and does so by way of his motto: "One does not simply finish building a classic Bronco."
Under the hood resides a stroked Ford 302 that makes about 383 horses and 402 lb-ft of torque. It has a Comp Cams Xtreme Energy XE266HR cam with .544 lift, 4.030x3.400 bore and stroke, and compression ratio of 9.60:1. The machine work was by Lick Creek Restorations in Virginia. Along with an HEI distributor is a triple-pass copper radiator and Ford GT40P heads. Single exhaust is via shorty headers. Paul's particularly happy with the addition of the FiTech fuel injection. It changed everything about rockcrawling.
Paul dumped the three-speed transmission and added a 4R70W with Overdrive, which is linked to a US Shift computer. There's a remote cooler for towing. "I had driven the Bronco for more than 15 years before installing the Overdrive; it felt like a completely new vehicle cruising down the road." In fact, it was an upgrade he didn't expect would be such an improvement for both highway speeds and crawling at slow speeds. He had saved his pennies for an Advance Adapters Atlas 4 four-speed T-case and couldn't wait to install it. "The Atlas has totally changed the experience driving off-road. The added control, the low gears make ascending and descending steep hills seem effortless."
Paul added all sorts of driving comforts: heated seats, Vintage Air A/C, cruise control, Jensen head unit and speakers, Tuffy center console, Garmin GPS, Cobra CB, and a dash-mounted Rugged Radio. In front are bucket seats, but the rear still has the factory bench.
Paul got the matte Anthracite MHT Fuel Off-Road wheels from 4 Wheel Parts, and they spin along with BFGoodrich KM2s. The camper's tire/wheel combo matches, as he wanted to be able to use the Bronco's spare on the camper.
All lights are no-namers from Amazon, but he's since added a KC Lights Gravity Pro6 LED lightbar to replace what you see here. He's a big fan of the look of a round light on a vintage truck, so Tom's Bronco Parts was the source for the headlights.
The '06 Fleetwood Neon Element camper got an off-road/overland functionality overhaul. He yanked the lightweight factory axle and replaced it with a larger axle with trailer brakes for the big rubber, and there are leveling jacks at each corner. He also repaired small holes in the roof and sprayed the top with Line-X bedliner, which is color-matched to the camper.
You could say Paul really built two vehicles once you notice how much work he put into the camper. He built fenders to cover the larger tires and also to hold a 5-gallon water can on either side. He added an articulating hitch, air conditioner under the bench seat, and heater for winter, which is connected to a small, external propane bottle mounted on the fender. Two deep-cycle batteries are linked to a 3,000-watt inverter, and solar panels on the roof link a Victron Energy MPPT solar charger to the battery pack. He monitors charging and battery levels through an app on his phone.
The custom roof rack was something Paul spent a lot of time thinking about—and still does. He wanted to add it over his Rampage soft top to carry his kayak (and gear). "I had an idea for an external rollbar coming off the fenders and going around the soft top. Then I thought how seldom I actually lower the whole top; the Rampage top allows you to zip out the side and rear windows, which is how we usually drive." He ended up cutting four holes in the soft top and mounting the roof rack directly through the top to the six-point rollcage. Those are two small cattle gates from a tractor supply store, by the way. "I cut them in half, welded them together, and welded some expanded steel across the whole top. I do still intend on going with an external mounting design in the near future, but this design has worked flawlessly so far."
Items under the Bronco include a leaf-spring rear suspension with Rancho RS9000XL adjustable shocks; a Ford 9-inch rear axle with Warn full-floating rear axle kit, 4.88 gears, and an ARB Air Locker; coil-spring front suspension, James Duff radius arms; sway bars with disconnects; and Rancho RS9000XL adjustable shocks. The steering system includes a drop pitman arm, Heim-jointed linkage, ram hydraulic assist, and a Rancho stabilizer. Braking comes via the factory front discs and rear drums, plus hydro-boost. The fuel tank was upgraded to 22 gallons.
The Perry family's goal is to find new, out-of-the-way destinations. If there are any issues along the way, there's a Warn XD9000i winch, ARB kinetic strap, shackles, Hi-Lift jack, onboard air via Power Tank, and other survival and recovery equipment. Once there, the ARB awnings allow for a comfortable base camp, which Paul added to the rear and side of the camper. He even made walls to completely enclose the outside living area.
At a Glance
Vehicle: '77 Ford Bronco
Owner: Paul Perry
Stomping grounds: Conway, South Carolina
Build time: 24-plus years
Engine: Ford Stroker 347ci 302 V-8
Transmission: 4R70W w/Overdrive
Transfer case: Advance Adapters Atlas 4
Low range ratio: 5.44:1 (max)
Crawl ratio: 75.4:1 (max)
Front axle/differential: Dana 44, Yukon axleshafts, 4.88:1/ARB Air Locker
Rear axle/differential: Ford 9-inch, Warn full-floating axle kit 4.88:1/ARB Air Locker
Front: Coil springs, James Duff radius arms, sway bar, Rancho RS9000XL adjustable shocks, Rancho steering stabilizer
Rear: Leaf springs, Rancho 9500 adjustable shocks
Tires: 35x12.50R17 BFGoodrich KM2 Mud-Terrain
Wheels: 17x8.5 aluminum MHT Fuel Off-Road
Lighting: Amazon-sourced LED off-road lights and lightbar
Armor: Custom six-point rollcage, double-tube front bumper w/brushguard, double-tube rear bumper with custom tire/gas can holder
Cool stuff: FiTech fuel injection, Comp Cams camshaft, drop pitman arm, Heim-jointed steering linkage, hydraulic-assist steering, air conditioning, heated seats, custom roof rack, Duracell 3000-watt converter, 2-in hitch receiver, 22-gal fuel tank, Canyon Cooler, Rugged Radios communication, 2-in body lift, Jensen head unit, Cobra CB, Garmin GPS, front bucket seats, Tuffy center console, Warn XD9000i winch, recovery bag, snatch blocks, towstraps, ARB kinetic strap, shackles, soft shackles, shovel, axe, Hi-Lift jack, Power Tank