When the guys at our sister mag Recoil approached us about building a “bug-out vehicle” we knew it could be a fun project. The problem is when you mention the term bug-out people get really serious about what does and doesn’t qualify for an escape vehicle during bad times, be it a natural catastrophe, civil unrest, or a foreign invasion. So we discussed the project further with the Recoil folks and determined that this project is less about doomsday survival and more about getting out of town to go shoot off a few thousand rounds at a favorite local desert gun range. It’s not a full-monty zombie apocalypse machine; it’s a gun-toting dirt machine able to support whatever firepower testing they need. With that, the Ballistic Bronco project was born.
Iain Harrison, editor of Recoil, soon had the keys to a ’79 Ford Bronco. Equipped with a 460 big-block, an automatic transmission, an NP205 transfer case, and front 44 and rear 9-inch axles, this truck has power but is still nimble enough to go exploring. Plus it’s old and looks cool. The truck was a desert native with sandy matte tan paint, a few scuffs around the edges, and plenty of character, so we weren’t worried about adding more brush pinstriping or a ding or dent from backcountry travel or hot flying shells. Though not perfect, it was a good candidate for an Arizona gun truck, and we dove right in to spruce it up.
It’s a gun-toting dirt machine
The first stop on the way to transforming the used SUV into a ready-for-abuse Ballistic Bronco was a local 4Wheel Parts store. If you’ve never been to a 4Wheel Parts you really need to check one out. They’re all across the country, and each store offers something for any type of 4x4 you own.
The Bronco needs to work off-road and haul gear, guns, and ammo, so we opted against a new suspension. We went with just a set of new tires and wheels. We shipped a set of Pro Comp Steel wheels out to H&M Metal Processing to be nitride coated. What is this process? The website says that “a two-part surface layer is formed, an outer iron nitride layer with a nitrogen diffusion layer below it.” What that means is that the wheels have the same high wear resistance and corrosion resistance as many fire arms, plus it gives them a very cool dark metallic look. Around the wheels we wrapped a set of 315/70R17 Pro Comp Xtreme MT2 mud tires (roughly 35x12.50R17) to help the mission get accomplished no matter what desert weather the Bronco encounters.
The Bronco already had an old suspension lift, so the tires fit without trouble, but the ride quality wasn’t perfect. One way to improve the comfort of the Bronco was a set of Smittybilt seats. These reclining seats have a vinyl cover, so they can hold up to open-topped exploring. We are getting a set of Smittybilt mil-style G.E.A.R. seat covers with tons of attachable storage pockets for tools and gear.
Atop the Bronco we fitted a Defender roof rack and four Pro Comp off-road lights. The rack attaches directly to the sheetmetal roof of the Bronco. The big lights will allow the Recoil team to find their way home after a long night of infrared night-vision target shooting.
With the truck spruced up and ready for rougher terrain, we left the 4Wheel Parts store and headed to Gibson Exhaust for a solution to the mess of pipes running from the 460.
The old exhaust was a hodgepodge of rusty pipes and flex tubing with a less than stellar muffler. Gibson doesn’t have a bolt-on exhaust for the old Bronco the way the company has for many other new 4x4s, so the Gibson guys pulled the Bronco into their R&D shop and soon mandrel-bent exactly what we needed.
A mandrel bender is a giant machine that makes production exhaust systems by pulling a die through the tubing as it is bent to the desired angles. This allows a smooth-flowing exhaust with fewer restrictions, thus better engine sound and performance. Gibson uses machines like this for the majority of its production exhaust systems.
The 3 1⁄2-inch stainless steel Gibson exhaust routes through a model Superflow muffler and out to a 5-inch matte black tip. We were stoked at the perfect exhaust note when we cranked over the big 460—not too loud, no drone, and plenty of growl to let you know there’s no V-6 under that big Bronco hood. Return in 30 days for some more custom fabwork on the Ballistic Bronco, or watch the Dirt Every Day episode on the buildup airing January 15, 2015, on the Motor Trend channel on YouTube.