The Nickel-and-Dime Bronco: A Rusty Horse in Search of a Trail
More Than a Trend For Some
I started out looking for an FJ-40 Landcruiser in 2002. The FJ-40, built by Toyota starting in the late fifties, is reminiscent of the Jeeps that frequent the rural area in which I live, but so much rarer. My father had a Landcruiser for a short time which made the prospect of owning one ever more appealing.
I ended up settling on a classic Bronco a long time before they were trendy. The model ran from 1966 to 1977. My first was a '76 model, chock full of Jerry-rigged quick-fixes and eaten through with rust. I decided to tear it down after graduating high school for a ground-up nut-and-bolt restoration. Except the itch doesn’t dissipate after driving one. I had become quite fond of it.
Getting There's Half The Fun
I started looking for another Bronco to get my fix in spring of 2009 while the ‘76 was being worked over. I searched the internet high and low for something suitable. I ran across several offerings, most out of my price range or beaten up so badly they weren’t worth the effort. I didn't want a show-stopper or a beater relegated to mud-pit and trail duties on the weekends. I wanted something I could drive.
I kept running across a boxwood green ‘71 Sport model. The quarter panels were uncut and it had the original running gear: the 302 V-8, the column shifted three-speed manual transmission, and the Dana 20 transfer case that split the engine's power between the Dana 30 front axle and Ford 9-inch rear axle. The rocker panels beneath the doors had rusted away which made me leery of the offering, but I still felt drawn to it.
After passing it up every day for over a month I found myself driving halfway across the state of Georgia to look at it. I was impressed. With the exception of an aftermarket roll bar and steering wheel, most of it was original, even the paint. I bought it on the spot. The brakes were sticking but that wasn't going to stop me from getting it home. I drove it north up I-85, right up the center of Atlanta, in rush-hour traffic.
Rough Road Ahead
The next morning, I removed the hard top, did a quick brake job on the rear drums, and drove it to dinner at the parents', after which, the Bronco erupted in a ball of flame. It was extinguished quickly so the damage was minimal, but it set me down a path of doing much more work than I was anticipating to the little truck.
The derogatory “fix or repair daily” acronym for Ford pops into mind. There was a quarter-inch end play in the crankshaft, but it still ran smooth as silk. The front axle shafts needed to be repaired as the old Dana 30's axle shaft bearing surfaces were done for, but it still pulled its weight. The transmission and transfer case leaked incessantly. The rocker panels needed to be replaced, which was surprisingly the only rust repairs it really needed. Repairs of this nature were to be expected considering the truck was over forty years old, but I wasn't expecting this much so soon.
Stuck In A Rut
Multiple setbacks ranging from family illnesses to loss of interest made me push it aside for well over two years. My other project had taken a backseat to this one. It seemed it needed something done to it every time I wanted to drive it. I finally had enough and decided to see if I could sell it. I came close to accepting low-ball offers for it as it sat on the side of the road for several months, but I knew what it was worth. I couldn’t justify accepting the shameful offers considering the work I had already put into it. Eventually, as my parent’s health started to improve, my father started badgering me to get it drivable. After a plethora of repairs, big and small, it finally got to the point where they were limited.
Journey Over Destination
As these trucks become rarer, I find myself enjoying it even more. There is a certain satisfaction that comes with doing things yourself. I did all the work with the exception of the exhaust with only the help of my father. I’ve had offers for more than twice what I have in it now, but it doesn’t account for the sentimental value it holds for me. I see the patinated features that come from the passage of time, things like worn through paint on the driver side door where the original owner rested his arm while driving that many try to replicate, and I realize those things can’t be duplicated.
Besides that, I enjoy driving it too much. People stop me to compliment it. I’ve had people pull beside me on the interstate and take pictures of it going down the highway. Yeah, it's still a work in progress. It's missing a windshield wiper, it leaks oil, a headlight is burned out, and half the gauges don't work. There's never going to be a shortage of things to do where classic 4x4s are concerned, but that's part of the allure to me. I look at everything this little truck and I have been through, the memories, good and bad, the places it has taken me, the lessons about patience and persistence, the attention it has garnered, the time I’ve had with my father working on it, and I can’t begin to put a price tag on that.