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1979 Ford Bronco

Front Side View
Trenton McGee | Writer
Posted August 1, 2006
Photographers: Cole Quinnell

Showroom Stomper

Lurking about the rolling slabs of rock in Moab, Utah, we found Jeff Graham’s Bronco clawing through crevices and bounding up steep inclines with the elegance of a mountain lion—well, not quite. The impressive display of capability, however, reminded us how bulletproof ’78-’79 Broncos are right off the factory floor. By performing some simple mods, Jeff has turned an already competent truck into something downright burly.

Jeff, of Farmington, New Mexico, bought the ’79 Bronco from the parents of former owner Chris Hull after Chris who died in 1993. Chris, who was Jeff’s best friend, had just started fixing up the truck, so Jeff and his wife decided to finish the buildup in his memory. With the help of Jeff’s brother-in-law Ron Woods, the beefing began.

The Bronco was in rough shape with about six different colors adorning the sheetmetal, and it sported 33-inch street meats. Chris had almost finished the interior, so Jeff first concentrated on the body, which he had massaged and painted Victory Red by Fidel Lobato at Valley Auto Body.

The 33-inch tires were replaced by 35x12.50-15 BFGoodrich Mud-Terrains, which came courtesy of a Rancho 3 ½-inch coil-spring lift up front and 3½-inch leaf springs in the rear. Some fender trimming was also necessary to clear the larger meats. The tires are mounted on 15x10-inch Alcoa wheels. He also replaced the shocks with Rancho RS5000s and a steering stabilizer to steady the ride.

What makes these Broncos so capable right out of the box is the beefy hardware supplied: A reverse-cut Dana 44 up front and a 9-inch rear, which are linked to a NP205 transfer case and a T-18 transmission, make for an impressive lineup for a factory ½-ton. They also sport coil-spring front suspensions, which most people prefer because these suspensions offer very good axle-control and allow you to build awesome wheel travel into them.

The drivetrain components are well-known for their durability. The T-18 and the NP205 have been used for many years in a variety of 4x4s. They are respected for their sturdy construction, low gearing and low failure rate. The axler on the 9-inches (later models, such as those in the ’78-’79 trucks) and Dana 44s have larger diameters than most ½-ton stock axles. The larger ring-gear diameter also adds to the stronger construction. While owners of other stock vehicles spend countless dollars swapping these exact parts into their trucks, owners of ’78-’79 Broncos are ready to go with the stock trim.

Jeff, however, still found room for modification. Realizing that the stock 3.50:1 gearsets that came in the Bronco were inadequate for the 35-inch tires, he swapped 4.56s in both ends. The open differentials were tossed in favor of Lock-Right lockers at both ends. New Warn hubs round out the axle upgrades. Jeff’s Bronco is an excellent example of turning a good stocker into a great ’wheeler with just a handful of upgrades.

Step By Step

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  • Rocker panel protectors are a love-hate preposition: You love the protection from expensive body damage, but you hate to give up the ground clearance. The fender trimming (left) allows adequate room for the 35s to move.

  • The stock Ford 9-inch is more than up to the task of turning the 35s. Notice the housing has been rotated slightly to improve the pinion angle and compensate for the lift. The blocks, however, are narrower than the springs; ideally, the blocks should be the same width as the springs.

  • The reverse-cut Dana 44 allows a significant lift to fit the 35s without having a hideous front pinion angle. The careful routing of the improved exhaust keeps it out of the way of all moving parts.

  • The 400M uses TRW flattop pistons in freshened holes. A Competition Cams RV bumpstick was installed with a double-roller timing chain for durability. An Edelbrock Performer manifold and a Holley four-barrel carb are slated for the near future.