BUYING YOUR FIRST BRONCO by Chuck Phlem
A newbies guide to getting the right rig.
There it sits... your dream... parked in a vacant lot with a for sale sign taped to the window. You make a u-turn and head for the bank to empty your savings account, making a quick stop to return all those empties just in case the owner wont deal.
If you are wise to the ways of the Bronco world, you have hopefully learned a few things and can continue this headlong hurdle toward ownership of yet another. If this is your first Bronco, before you make that purchase and haul this hulk home, you should be aware of a few things.
Firstly. Are you signed up to a good Bronco e-mail list? The wealth of information available from fellow list members is staggering. If you can imagine it, chances are, one of these guys has done it to his or someone elses Bronco. If you arent signed up to the mail list here at Early Bronco Entertainment, take a minute and do it NOW. Go on... do it.... well still be here when you get back... Another good idea is joining a local club that is dedicated to, or at least has some members who own Broncos.
We cant be there to look over your shoulder as you make this purchase. Hopefully you are aware of the mechanical status of this truck. If not, bring someone who does understand what that puddle of oil under the radiator means. There are many good books and internet sources for helping you determine the drivablility of a used vehicle. Likewise there are many sources on the internet that detail the history of the Early Bronco. Rather than duplicate those efforts, we will attempt to determine which of the configurations that Ford offered through the years will best suit your needs.
That is where we will start. Before you pick up the want ads and start kicking tires, think about what you want in a Bronco. The early Ford Bronco is an amazingly versatile machine. In the 30 plus years it has been around, just about anything you or I can think of has been done to this breed of truck. With a little knowledge, you can find a truck that most closely matches what you have in mind for your rig. Choosing wisely at the beginning, and keeping your priorities in mind as you look for your Bronco will save you a lot of work and maybe even a buck or two. We find that where you live has some effect on price, almost as much as condition of the vehicle. In light of that, we wont get specific on pricing. If youve looked at enough Broncos and talked with friends or club members who have recently purchased Broncos, you will soon get a good idea of what your truck should cost.
This guide looks at Broncos in two ways. First we will explore the truck as you are most likely to find it in this day and age. Secondly, we will tell you a little of what to look for that is good and/or bad.
If you see this term in an ad, understand, it usually refers to the rear fenders of the Bronco. In its stock form, the rear fenders are pretty low and not at all apropriate for large wheels and tires, let alone major suspension travel. The largest tire that we are aware of that fits under a stock rear fender is 9.50 X 31. If your intent is to build a major rock climber, you can skip the stock truck and look for one that is already cut... there are plenty. The remaining uncut Broncos deserve to be left unmolested.. there arent that many of them out there. Also, the uncut trucks generally fetch a higher price because of the relative rarity. The uncut rig you will find will most likely have had a decent life. Since it isnt as capable in an extreme offroad situation, it most likely will not have been beat to death in the rocks somewhere. It still may have seen rough times as a tow rig or part time tractor on a farm, or just hammered on the backroads as a hunting rig. The good thing about a truck this old, if it was going to break, it would have already done so. Look out for homemade repairs, these are a good sign that the truck has been abused. An uncut truck may have a 6 cyl. engine, which is another consideration. These trucks have lower gearing (usually), but if you want to substitute a V-8, you will have to upgrade the radiator and most likely the suspension along with all those motor mount, exhaust and wiring issues.
The truck you are most likely to find in the classifieds will have cut rear fenders, possibly a lift of some kind, a full top and some modification to the engine, which will probably be a 302. If you buy a truck built before 1971-1/2, it will have a Dana 30 front end. Most hardcore climbing rigs benefit from a Dana 44 which was offered after this date. If you want power steering and/ or an automatic transmission, they were not offered in a Bronco until 1973. Front disk brakes were added in 1976 for the last two years of the Early Broncos production. All of these items can be retrofitted to the vehicle, but be realistic about your ability and budget to add these. If you know you wont consider a truck without these features, keep these years in mind, and be aware that most of them were options and you wont automatically get them just because you buy that year.
TRIM AND STUFF
Ford offered the Bronco in a few different trim levels in addition to the full cab, half cab and roadster models. As early as 1968 you could buy a Sport model, which basically got you some chrome trim and upgraded interior. Later, the Ranger and Explorer options were added with similar trim and equipment offerings. The ultimate optioned Bronco was known as the Stroppe Bronco. They were offered through the Ford dealers, built by famed racer & builder Bill Stroppe. These trucks are readily noticeable with their red/white/blue and black paint jobs. They are the rarest of the rares and normally command a higher price. Beware of fakes though. There are ways to tell a real Stroppe. Andrew Nortons Baja Bronco site (www.bajabronco.com) details the finer points of the Stroppe phenomenon. Adding trim to a truck is feasible, but fairly expensive. We know of one online bandit who will sell you an entire chrome trim package for about $1300. Makes that simple white grill and bumpers look pretty good now that I mention it!
As we mentioned earlier, the Bronco was offered in three different configurations. The full cab, half cab and roadster. The full cab, or station wagon, is the most common way the Bronco was built. At the time they were originally built, the half cabs were fairly uncommon. Given the fact that the pickup bed behind the bulkhead of a half cab was too small to haul much around and the cab was restricted to driver and one passenger, it wasnt all that popular.... which of course, makes it rare today. Half cabs can cost a little more. True original roadsters are even more rare. Since the door inserts are readily available from most Bronco suppliers, it shouldnt be considered THAT much of a cost increase to get one.
Your Bronco will no doubt have some rust issues. Those that dont are the lucky few. In fact, if you are looking at an obviously repainted Bronco, be extra observant in looking it over for rust. We tend to trust the ones that sport faded original paint .
Common areas to look for rust are:
- Rocker panels
- Floor boards (check under carpet, floor mats and crawl under the truck)
- Inside the tops of the fenders
- Inner fenders up high
- Top of the firewall
- Body seam around the rear fenders
- Bottom of the doors and tailgate
Most body panels on a Bronco are available from the usual suppliers. More rare (meaning more expensive), but still out there are NOS (New, Old Stock) body pieces. Replacement panels are sometimes inferior to original parts. The metal thickness may vary and the fit is not always as good as factory pieces. When you can find good used pieces at swap meets or suppliers who deal in used parts you will be ahead of the game. The bottom line is that replacing body panels can get expensive FAST. Be realistic about your abilities and resources.
There are many volumes written on and offline about checking over mechanicals on a used vehicle. You should familiarize yourself with the basics of how a 4 wheel drive system SHOULD work. If you are looking at a truck that runs and drives, take it somewhere where you can at least put it in 4 wheel drive, lock the hubs, shift around in both 4 wheel ranges and be sure it all works. It can all be repaired, but dont just assume it all works. Watch for the telltale signs of a tired engine (blue smoke, oil leaks, rod knocks). Again, if you dont know.... bring someone who does!
Over the years there have been many modifications to Broncos. The paint had not dried on the first Bronco before Ford and every aftermarket company at the time were creating new and diffrerent ways to personalize your Bronco. We have sen everything from PTOs to Pop-top campers. Some were good ideas, some were not-so-good. You should know what is stock and what isnt.
Be a little wary of engine changes. The stock 302 is a damned fine little motor. Its bigger brother, the 351 WINDSOR motor is another good choice. More and more, 5.0 SEFI motors are finding their way into Broncos. The injected motors are great.... if the conversion was done correctly. If you are looking at a Bronco that features a 5.0 conversion, look at how well it was done. There are computers involved in this swap. How neat is the conversion? How many cobbled pieces are there? Not many professional shops are doing this conversion, so it will likely have been done by the owner. Do you trust his capabilities? Be VERY wary of other types of conversions. See how the engine was mated to the transmission and what else was affected by this swap. Broken down in the middle of BF Egypt is the WRONG time to find driveline surprises.
Even though the automatic transmission, power steering and disc brakes didnt find their way onto the Bronco until later years doesnt mean that your 66 roadster cant be so equipped. Basically unchanged throughout its entire build cycle, the Bronco can be retrofitted with any of these options and more. Just be aware what was stock for your year and check the work of any upgrades.
Generally, the old saying you get what you pay for applies nearly everywhere. There are a few 40,000 original mile Broncos parked in some old barns, but they are the exception and not the rule. Keep your eyes open and your wallet closed until you are sure the Bronco with that for sale sign is the one you want to take home.
This guide is intened to grow. Our experience in the wonderful world of Early Broncos changes and grows all the time. If you are a Bronco expert, we value your tricks, tips and advice. If we have overlooked something in this guide that you feel is essential, please e-mail the author and if we like you OR your suggestion, it will be included along with your name.
Now..... GET OUT THERE AND BUY A BRONCO!!