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1969 Ford Bronco Project

Posted in Project Vehicles on September 18, 2017
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Photographers: 4-Wheel & Off-Road archives

Recognize this Bronco? It’s some gray 1969 Bronco on 36s, right? Nope. If you remember this 4x4 you have been paying attention to off-road magazines for a long time. Everyone thinks their 4x4 is unique and rare, but this one really does have a little history—at least, history within a few different off-road magazines.

Back in 1999 (as near as he can recall) former 4WOR Feature Editor Craig Perronne bought this Bronco in the greater Los Angeles area. Perronne grew up obsessing about exploring and racing Baja, so he already had early Bronco dreams imprinted in his brain thanks to the likes of Rod Hall, Bill Stroppe, the Moss Bros, and other early innovative drivers, builders, and teams that were tearing up the Baja 500 and 1000 races in built Broncos. He bought this 1969 Ford to simply use off-road, but like so many of our editors’ personal vehicles, it soon became fodder for tech articles in 4WOR.

The project’s highlights included a full early-design prototype long-arm suspension from James Duff, an NV4500 swap with an Atlas II transfer case, one of the first AGR ram-assist steering installs, ARB Air Locker testing, some of Parnelli Jones “new” Dirt Grip tires, a story on how to build a custom ’cage, and even a “paint your 4x4 at home” endeavor. Editor Hazel was working with Perronne at the time and recalls that the painting story kept Perronne out of the office for what seemed like a month as he sanded, sprayed, buffed, sprayed, sanded, buffed, and sprayed over and over again. And after Perronne moved to our sister magazine Four Wheeler the stories continued.

Sometime in the midst of all this, your author, a then-strapping and young Verne Simons [Well, you got “young” right. —Ed.] was hired on as feature editor of another sister publication, Jp magazine, and got to meet the 1969 Bronco. I remember being impressed by how the rig worked and how good the gray paint job looked coupled with black steel TrailReady beadlocks and the “new” 36-inch Dirt Grips.

Fast-forward to the tail end of 2016 and Perronne realized he hasn’t had time to mess with the Bronco since 2003 or 2004 where it had sat outside at his parents’ home in Malibu, California. It ran but needed lots of TLC, and everything was now covered with surface rust from the Pacific Ocean air. Perronne sold the Bronco sight-unseen to former full-time 4WOR staffer, frequent freelancer, and all-around amazing photographer Harry Wagner. Wagner borrowed a truck and trailer, loaded the Bronco and a ton of spare tires, winches, and other off-road crap Perronne had amassed at his parents’ place in the event of an off-road apocaplypse, and trailered it back to his home in Reno, Nevada. Well, most of the way home. On the return trip much the drivetrain blew apart on Wagner’s borrowed tow rig, which you can read about in our story “Do Trucks Have Souls? Because This Truck Is Evil,” Mar. 2017, goo.gl/9J4Fwe.

This is one of our favorite old photos of the 1969 Bronco. It’s from a circa 2002 article in which 4WOR Feature Editor Craig Perronne added a PreRunner Guardian front bumper from Wild Horses. Why do we like it so much? Because you can see Perrone’s mug! The bumper design is still cool today, which is good news since it’s still attached to the Bronco!

As a result, Wagner was poorer not only from the purchase price of the Bronco but also because he had to repair the borrowed truck. Thus, with a very fresh and very sour taste in his mouth, he sold some parts off the Bronco (namely the NV4500 transmission and Atlas II transfer case) before deciding to just to sell the entire Bronco.

That’s where I came in. For reasons as simple as (1) I’d never owned a Bronco and (2) I had fond memories this particular one from those first days during my off-road magazine carrier, I asked Wagner about buying it. Sucker! He and I struck a deal, and soon the Bronco was Phoenix-bound for a new home in the same 4WOR family.

What’s next? We are going to make this thing awesome again! But before we turn Perronne’s Bronco back into a potent trail rig that is also comfortable on the road, enjoy the backstory and the results of a decade of abandonment and neglect.

Check out all the fresh parts shown in this photo pulled from a 2002-ish article on an early AGR Rock Ram Assist steering upgrade. Off Road Unlimited in Burbank, California, did the install. Many of these parts are still on the Bronco, but none look quite as good after almost 16 years of neglect. The good news is the parts are there, and with a little cleanup and some new bits the Bronco should soon be as good as 2002.
Here’s another blast-from-the-past image from Perronne’s off-road modeling career showing the rather nice TrailReady beadlock wheels and Parnelli Jones Dirt Grip tires. These tires and wheels are still bolted onto the Bronco. The only problem is the tires probably shouldn’t be used on the road and the wheels have some fairly serious rust.
After former 4WOR staffer and prolific freelancer Harry Wagner purchased the Bronco from Perronne, the NV4500 and Atlas II T-case were off-loaded for bail money (at least, that’s our story). After some hemming, hawing, wrangling, and haggling, I agreed on a price and met Wagner somewhere in the wastelands of Nevada to complete the deal. Perronne’s 4WOR Bronco was finally back home!
Wagner looked a little too happy with the deal. Hmm. Maybe we paid too much.
Once safely at my Arizona workshop and off-road laboratory, the Bronco was pushed off the trailer and admired. It’s funny how things change with time. The Bronco has a lot more surface rust since I last saw it, but all in all it is in great shape. It needs some replacement parts, a new transmission and T-case, driveshafts, and a little love, but it’s not too far from being a runner.
It looks like a New England vehicle, but this is actually the result of sitting next to the Pacific Ocean for a decade. Surface rust has made a home on everything that was once painted black. Anything that was chrome or polished—shock shafts, the steering ram, rod ends, and so on—is pitted and rusty. Luckily all these parts can be easily replaced.
Under the hood resides what Perronne calls a very tired 302, which is most likely the Bronco’s original engine. The 660-cfm Truck Avenger is a very early unit installed around 2002. We don’t yet know if it is too tired to mess with, but luckily the Windsor engine family was widely used in dozens of Ford vehicles up to modern times, so a junkyard replacement will be easy to score if necessary. According to Perronne and Wagner, the 302 drove the Bronco onto Wagner’s trailer during the first sale—so at least it “ran when parked.”
The interior of the Bronco is in fairly good shape with a stout Off Road Unlimited–built rollcage tied to the frame and a relatively low-mileage aftermarket wiring harness. Along with a hardtop, Wagner also threw in a few new MasterCraft seats that will make rebuilding the interior easy. There are also spare axleshafts for the swapped-in 3/4-ton Super Duty axles (don’t ask) and a few other trinkets in the back of the Bronco.
We’re not sure what this tiny steering wheel is about, but you can still drive with two hands, even wearing handcuffs.
The Parnelli Jones Dirt Grip tires look like they only have about 500 miles on them, but they are so dry rotted they aren’t safe for use on the street. We want to turn this thing into a driver, so we’ll probably pass them on to someone else looking for vintage, unique trail-only tires. We still love the look of these black steel TrailReady beadlocks with aluminum rings, but they all have a ton of rust inside the rim. We’ll probably have them sandblasted and then assess what to do with them.
Unfortunately, what used to reside behind the 302ci V-8 is missing since Wagner pirated the NV4500 and Atlas II transfer case (“The Ultimate Bronco Drivetrain,” fourwheeler.com/how-to/64438) before passing it on to me. We can’t blame him, and the price reflected their absence, but we were still a little bummed they weren’t included.
The suspension on the Bronco is an early prototype James Duff long-arm system that Editor Hazel remembers being installed in early 2000 at Off Road Unlimited in Burbank. It worked very well at the time, but the suspension has seen better days. The shock shafts are rusted, the bushings are brittle, and the links are rusted.
We contacted James Duff about some replacement parts, and the company got very excited that this suspension was still in existence. We agreed to swap the old system for the company’s modern version of this system for nostalgia’s sake and in case James Duff wanted to put it on display. The new system arrived shortly before this writing, so that’s where we will kick off the revamp of this project the next time you see Perronne’s Bronco. Stay tuned!

Sources

James Duff
Sequim, WA 98382
865-938-6696
jamesduff.com

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