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A Like-New Unrestored 1977 Ford Bronco

Frozen In Time

Jim AllenAuthor

It's been said that after a momentous birth, the infant Ford Bronco soon became a neglected child. When it debuted for 1966, it was a very timely upgrade in a sport/utility revolution that was gaining steam year by year. Looking at how it evolved from that point, a reasonable person might wonder why it almost immediately lost momentum versus the rest of the market.

The sport/ute "revolution" was real, but for a company the size of FoMoCo, dealing with a lot of mid-'60s success in other car realms (can you say Mustang?), it was chump change at that moment in time. Sales of 20,000-something to 30,000-something Broncos annually were a drop in the bucket compared to other models, and only 2-3 percent of truck sales overall. Bronco numbers didn't generate a high profit margin either, and bean counters were reluctant to release R&D and model upgrade money as quickly as they might for a faster-selling model. On top of that, there was the "executive attention-span factor," whereby money went to things the execs in power favored at the moment. Additionally, internal struggles over development and advertising money can always help to speed or slow a particular model's development.

The blacked-out grille and stripe were the two most visible and unique parts of the Special Decor Group. The chrome bumper and guards were not part of it, but they were part of the Sport Package, which included both interior and exterior elements.

Finally, at a certain point in 1972, spurred by the success of the GM Blazer, development started on a new fullsize Bronco model. At times like that, the old model always goes into minimal development mode as it nears the end of its run. A hitch came when the fullsize Bronco was delayed several years by the Arab oil embargo and an economic downturn, so the old Bronco had to soldier on longer than intended and it got some much-needed updates to keep it in the game.

All that said, we can still take note that Ford was modest in its trim-level offerings for the early Bronco. From '66 through '71 it came in only two levels: base and Sport. The top-end and super-popular Ranger came in midyear '72 for '73 and lasted to the end in '77, making for a three-trim-level Bronco lineup. During this time, let's not forget there were some other packages that kind of split the difference between trim levels and added sales pizzazz. One was the '72-'74 Explorer Package, which reappeared for a while in '76, and the Special Decor Group, one of the least-known Bronco packages.

The Special Decor Group appeared later in '76, but how many were made that year is unclear. It was a bit less elaborate than the Explorer package, but like the Explorer it could either bridge the gap between the base Bronco and the Sport or, when ordered on top of the Sport Package, it could turn the Sport into a slightly different flavor—kind of like toppings on your ice cream.

The Special Decor Group was mainly an exterior dress-up package that could be added to a standard or Sport Bronco. It differed slightly whether it was on a base or a Sport Bronco because the Sport included some of the Special Decor options. The two most unique and visible parts were the blacked-out grille with bright "F-O-R-D" lettering and the color-keyed body stripes. The stripes came in three colors depending on the base paint: white, black, or yellow. If you ordered it on a base Bronco, it also included wheel covers and bright window trim. These items (and more) were included with the Sport, so the Special Decor option cost a lot less on a Sport. Another option was added for '77: a body-color top versus the standard white top. The Special Decor Group was added late in '76 production, so it isn't clear how many were sold that year. There is a clear number listed for '77—just under 2,800 units—but it isn't clear how they were divided between the base and the Sport Bronco. Most of the survivors seen are Sports.

The Ranger tire cover is not part of either the Sport Package or Special Decor Group, but it was added by the original owner. When you are the sales manager of a Ford dealer, you get many spiffs, and no doubt the Ranger tire cover was one of those. The swing-away tire carrier was one of the original options, and surely the bare spare was calling to the original owner for a cover.

Not only is this featured Bronco unique in having the Special Decor Group, it has a great "barn-find" backstory. Built on March 1, 1977, it was purchased by a sales manager of the now-gone King Ford, in Alcoa, Tennessee, who apparently used it as a recreational vehicle shortly before and after his retirement. When he died unexpectedly in the late '80s, the Bronco was parked for 20 to 25 years in a basement garage before it was given to a family friend, from whom the current owner, Lee Gentry, bought it in 2012. The odometer showed a mere 52,069 miles when it was photographed in 2016 at the Bronco Super Celebration 50th Anniversary event in Townsend, Tennessee. Most of those miles came from the nearly 10 years of service with the original owner.

The Sport Package ($418.60) got you padded door panels with bright trim, an upgraded steering wheel, a lighter, an updated headliner, and an included passenger seat with a seatbelt and visor. The Parchment interior was standard on both the base and Sport Broncos. You didn't get carpet until you stepped up to the Ranger, which also got better seats with cloth inserts. The original owner ordered the AM radio ($79) and rear seat ($129.80). Bear in mind that this is an all-original interior that has seen nothing but cleaning since it was sold in June of 1977.

The Gentry Bronco is so original that you can still get a whiff of that new-car smell inside and it attracts a lot of attention from purist Bronco restorers looking to see factory correctness. It had been run sporadically during its basement sleep, but it still needed some TLC in the form of cleaning both fuel tanks and the engine fuel system to make it run like new. Beyond tires, battery, and a full fluid change, very little was done besides detailing. If you want to find rust, then you better bring your magnifying glass, and it still has many of the tags and crayon marks restorers like to see.

If you want to learn more about Broncos, check out Todd Zuercher's new book, A History of Ford's Legendary 4x4 Ford Bronco, published by CarTech (cartechbooks.com). It's available at amazon.com.

This engine compartment is as original as it gets, except for the "ah-oogah" horn. This Bronco was ordered with power steering ($188.10) and brakes ($68.20). With only 52,000 miles showing, the engine runs like a top. When resurrected from 25 years of storage in a basement garage, the carb and fuel tanks needed to be cleaned out, as well as general fluid changes and tuning. For 1977, the 302 V-8 was the only engine option for the Bronco. Ford gets the nod for offering the first bobtail V-8 in the Bronco, and the Windsor small-block (first 289, then 302 ci) was a perfect fit. Had the 351 Windsor been available in the early Bronco era, it would have been a heavenly combo.
Totally unaltered undercarriage! This rig was ordered with the optional stabilizer (sway) bar ($24). In back, the optional Traction-Lok limited slip was ordered and cost $76.20. The Ford locking hubs cost $95.70 and the automatic transmission was a whopping $315. Here's an interesting factoid for you: The Bronco was the first recipient for an open-knuckle axle from Dana. Ford wanted to offer a tighter turning radius in the Bronco, discovered that the Spicer Axle Division was working on it, and then worked with them to develop it for the Bronco. The open-knuckle design allowed much more steering angle than the closed type. This design became the universal constant in very short order.

The Details
Vehicle: '77 Ford Bronco Sport Special Decor
Owner: Lee Gentry
Estimated value: $50,000
Engine: 302ci V-8
Power (hp @ rpm): 133 @ 3,600
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm): 218 @ 2,200
Bore & stroke (in): 4.00x3.00
Comp.ratio: 8.4:1
Transmission: C4 3-spd automatic
Transfer case: Dana 20 2-spd
Front axle: Dana 441F
Rear axle: Ford 9-in
Axle ratio: 3.50:1 (w/Traction-Lok)
Tires: L78-15B M&S
Wheelbase (in): 92
GVW (lb): 4,600
Curb weight (lb): 3,540
Fuel capacity (gal): 19.7 (12.2 + 7.5)
Min. grd. clearance (in): 7.6

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