Wrapping Up Loose Ends on Our 1969 Bronco Project

The End Is Nigh

Christian Hazel peereth down from on high (no, not that kind of high, you silly potheads, but rather his comically tall editor-in-chief desk) and sayeth to lowly Tech Editor Verne Simons, "Verne, I command thee to wrap up this never-ending Bronco build within no more than two final articles or else I shall smite you with my all powerful smiting pencil." And the Verne, a follower of the Christian (on Instagram), being of (mostly) sound mind and generally strong bowels, sayeth to the Christian, "Yes, yee wise editor-in-chief, Christian, leader of ourn very own favorite off-road magazine. It shall be done!"

It's about time we wrap up this project anyway. Nothing we've done involved reinventing the "Early Bronco wheel." The build has followed what could be a fairly solid pattern for making a Bronco work well on- and off-road. We refreshed the James Duff suspension that has been under the Bronco for decades (June 2019), hammered out a few dings and dents, bolted and welded on a new panel here and there (Aug. 2019), cured some nasty rust, and generally cleaned the old Ford up. We also slung in a BluePrint Engines 306ci Bronco Edition small-block V-8 (Jan. 2019), adapted and added a 6R80 six-speed small-block Ford Street Smart Package from Performance Automatic, and capped it with a freshly rebuilt T-shift Bronco Dana 20 (Sept. 2019)—we can't wait to drive this combination. We've also added a ton of parts from Wild Horses 4x4 from a fiberglass hood to a stainless steel gas tank. In addition we've asked lots of questions of our local Early Bronco expert, Randy, from Driven Auto Parts in Phoenix, Arizona.

Truth is the Bronco is getting close, but there are still many loose ends to wrap up. For one, we need to bolt parts to the engine to get this thing running. We also need to tie up the Bronco's interior in so, so many ways. Here's what we got done in our penultimate Early Bronco build.

We ran one last trip (maybe) to the media blaster to clean up the the last few old but still good parts. This included the exhaust system that was on the Bronco when we bought it, which was well done and has a nice clean side exit in front of the passenger-side rear tire. There are also some pulleys, steering parts, dash and firewall parts, and more.
Next we slathered black epoxy paint all over some of the freshly cleaned bits. This should keep the evil rust monsters at bay for a few years at least and certainly will give our Bronco that newly restored 4x4 feel. We like to let our parts bake in the sun a few hours between coats to ensure that the paint is hard as possible.
While paint was drying we honed the position of the Bronco's body using a custom-made body lift. To do this, we recycled the aluminum spacers that made up the 2-inch body lift the Bronco had on it when we bought it. We cut down these aluminum spacers into several pucks using a saw and lathe at Rob Bonney Fabrications. We made about 10 pucks ranging from 3/4-inch down to 3/8-inch and in between. By moving the location of the thick and thin pucks we were able to set the door gaps on the old Bronco pretty well. Shimming the doors only will do so much to fine-tune the door gaps.
We spent lots of time prepping the doors that came with the Bronco, banging out dents, priming, adding body filler, sanding, priming again, and finally painting. For some reason we had it built up in our heads that reassembling the doors would be a nightmare. It really wasn't. With a combination of some new parts from Wild Horses 4x4 (like the heavy-duty red plastic and steel rod clips, some new door mechanism rods) and some of our good used parts, we were able to assemble the doors in a solid shop day. We used both a can of spray lithium grease and a tube of lithium grease to lubricate all the moving parts in the door. An exploded diagram of how the door latching mechanisms go in the door was a big help and available online.
There is a sequence that you need to follow. We first assembled the latches, handles, locks and so on, and then moved onto the windows. We installed the window regulators and then the glass. We found best place for the window glass during assembly is inside the door in its normal orientation and pushed outward in the door as far as it will go. Then you can install the wing window with its new felt installed in the channel. With the wing window in place, you can now move the window glass into the plane it will occupy, slide in a new window regulator bushing with clip into the channel on the bottom of the glass, and pop the arm of the regulator into the bushing. Then carefully roll the glass all the way up and install the forward and rearward window channels with their felts inside the door. Then roll down the door and install the new felt pieces to the top and back of the upper door channel.
With the doors opening and closing like butter and the glass happy in its newly felted channels, we switched gears to bolting some parts under the Bronco's hood. There are many options for radiators for Early Broncos, and we generally gravitate to a combination of function and cost. Right in the sweet spot of this paradigm for Early Broncos is this unit from Duralast (PN B521). It's a new stock replacement soldered brass radiator, and at $266.99 it's a pretty good deal. It has a limited lifetime warranty and uses the factory Early Bronco radiator mounting system. We also added in a Duralast Mechanical Water Pump (PN CWP-645HDA, $48.99) a brand new, heavy-duty unit for use with our late-model BluePrint Engine's Bronco Edition 306.
After tracking down some stock replacement radiator hoses, band clamps, a 190-degree thermostat, and a can of old Ford Blue engine paint at our local AutoZone, we were able to paint the water pump and our cleaned up old thermostat housing to match the engine. We then figured out which bolts would work with the water pump (although we may have to swap some out when adding the other engine accessories) and thermostat housing and gaskets. It's a small step, but it gets us that much closer to a running engine and thus a driving Bronco.
Sadly, the shorty headers that came on the tired 302 that came with our Bronco were pretty rusty and pitted from life near the California coast. We decided not to reuse them because they would surely show their age when under hood with all these new shiny bits. A trip to our local Early Bronco shop, Driven Auto Parts, yielded these beautiful Ceramic Coated Shorty Headers from Wild Horses 4x4. While we were there we also bent Randy, the owner of Driven Auto Parts about how we should make up for our Bronco's lack of inner front fenderwells, but more on that later. For now, ogle these beautiful headers with us . . . ahh!
With the new shorty headers in place we were able to reuse the aforementioned well-done exhaust system. We did have to clock one bend slightly differently and added in a spacer to span a slightly larger gap. Quick work with our trusty Miller MIG welder and spent exhaust gasses can leave the engine bay easily. You'll remember that we had the exhaust media blasted to remove some light rust, so prevent any further rusting we added we soaked the header back exhaust with VHT Flat Black Flameproof High Heat Paint, also from AutoZone.
Early Bronco's came from the factory with sheetmetal inner fenderwells. They provide protection for the engine and underhood components as well as providing some structural integrity to the front fenders and radiator core support. Sometime since 1969, our Bronco had parted ways with its front inner fenderwells, we may never know why. As said, we talked to Randy at Driven Auto Parts in Phoenix, who recommended we build two bars (one per side) to span the gap from the firewall to the radiator core support. This also provides structure for the Wild Horses 4x4 hood props. Once heavy tacked, we pulled the bars, fully welded the bars, and slathered them in more black epoxy paint.
One thing that we waffled about both in person and in print over reusing the rollcage that came with our Early Bronco. In the end we decided to call in yet one more favor from our pals at Wild Horses 4x4. They sent us one of their timeless San Felipe Tube Bar and Cage kits (PN 4240, $388.98). The San Felipe Tube Bar is a bolt in roll bar that comes in bits that can either be bolted together or welded together (we will weld ours together). The Cate Kit adds weld-in right and left A-B pillar hoops and a spanner bar to further protect the front passengers of the Bronco. Of course, the Cage Kit requires a little trimming and coping of the A-B bars. We used our old and reliable JD Squared Tubing Notcher to cut the copes for a tight fit on the San Felipe Tube Bar.
With the Cage Kit and Tube Bar in place, we'll cover the fresh paint and fresh glass with a welding blanket and final burn-in of all the tubing junctions. Then we'll pull the cage and paint it to match the newly installed original dash shown here in Ford's own Wimbledon White.