Broncos Regular and Rare Show up in Milwaukee

Broncos Regular and Rare Show up in Milwaukee


Story by John Gunnell, photos by Christa Haley

In 1966, Ford dove into the fast growing off-road vehicle market with its all-new sports utility vehicle, the Bronco. The Bronco was a clean-sheet design and shared little with any other Ford product at the time. It was equally unique in the marketplace.

With its trim proportions, advanced coil-spring front suspension and available Pickup, Wagon and Roadster body styles, plus a myriad of factory options, the Bronco was the first sports utility vehicle to truly offer sportiness, a fact not overlooked in Ford’s marketing of the day.

With its 92-inch wheelbase and a scant 34-foot turning circle, the Gen 1 Bronco was an ideal off-road machine. Those same attributes also made it just as entertaining on a highway. It was exceptionally well-suited to either plowing snow or plowing through it to get to the ski resort.

Early Broncos found great success in off-road racing events, conquering everything from the Mint 400 to the Baja 1000. More importantly, the early Broncos produced from 1966 to 1977 had soul. People loved them for their charm, their pluck, their ability to constantly punch above their weight and their ability to do these things in ways that made every minute behind the wheel a fun experience.

For all these reasons and more, the 2017 Milwaukee Concours d’Elegance presented a special class for early Broncos. Some of the examples featured in the lakeside car show included special interest models and historically significant Broncos.

Tim Hulick of Indianola, Iowa, brought a turquoise-coloured 1966 Bronco Roadster to the event. Referred to as the U13 model (the last three digits of the VIN number), Hulick’s Roadster features many first-year-only items such as unique hub caps and bumpers, a distinctive tailgate, silver upholstery, a gray painted dashboard and more.

The very early Bronco Roadsters used bodies made by Budd Body Company, and had unique touches like an “eyebrow” grille, transfer case shift levers topped with a patterned knob, front transaxle covers fitted with a square fill plug and forward facing rear shock absorbers. Only 4,090 Roadsters were produced by Ford for model-year 1966.

Tom Belsham of Glenville, Minnesota, showed up with a 1972 Bronco with modifications honouring off-road race car builder Bill Stroppe. This Baja Bronco model was first released on January 28, 1971 as a limited production copy of Stroppe’s team vehicles that had won both the Baja 500 and the Baja 1000.

Based on Ford Motor Co. records, only 460 Stroppe Broncos were produced between 1971 and 1975. They featured the Stroppe colour scheme of a blue rooftop, white upper body and orange lower body. They are very desirable Broncos to have in a collection today.

Adam and Rachel Kruse of Mequon, Wisconsin brought out a clean, mostly original 1977 Bronco with light blue finish and a white upper body. They are the third owners of the SUV, that came from the Southern part of the United States and survived in great condition. The Kruses know the complete history of the vehicle, too.

A fourth Bronco at the show was the 1974 Bronco Ranger that Jack Niederkorn brought up from Barrington, Illinois. The yellow SUV sports a 302-cid V-8 engine and automatic transmission. This Bronco has the upgraded Ranger interior package with colour-keyed full carpeting, colour-keyed door trim panels and wood-tone accents. The vinyl seats also have colour-keyed houndstooth inserts.

On the outside, Niederkorn’s Bronco has the original tape stripes on the hood and lower body sides. Also featured is a swing-away spare tire carrier with a Ranger spare tire cover. Full wheel covers complete the truck’s upscale appearance.

Colin Comer of River Hills, Wisconsin—a Mustang and Shelby expert and muscle car author—brought a very rare Bronco to the concours and also served as chairman of the Bronco class. His SUV is a 1969 “Boss” Bronco prototype with a 351-cid V8.

In 1969, Ford was looking to create a regular production high-performance version of the Bronco. It quickly lifted the name “Boss Bronco” from a hot Mustang model and it was expected to become a part of the company’s new Boss brand.

A company named Kar-Kraft that served as a “skunkworks” for Ford innovations was contracted to build this prototype. Bill Stroppe teamed with Kar-Kraft engineers to cram the fully blueprinted GT350-type 351 engine into the Bronco ahead of a C4 automatic transmission. Then, 4.11:1 ratio limited-slip axles were used front and rear. The Boss Bronco prototype also incorporates a roil bar and numerous other high-performance goodies. The Boss Bronco project came to a halt in September of 1969 when Ford President “Bunkie” Knudsen was fired. The prototype was actually built for him.

At that point, the project was cancelled and the Boss Bronco prototype was inventoried by Kar-Kraft and put into storage. It was tagged “Non-Resalable” and plans were made to scrap the vehicle out. Somehow, the rare Bronco survived. It was discovered in 2016 by a Kar-Kraft historian. So, one of the most historically significant early Broncos returned after 45 years. Even more amazing is its condition, which is unrestored and as if it was kept in a time capsule.

Cana Comer—the wife of Colin—also brought a neat Bronco to the Concours. This one is a 1977 and represents the final year of the early versions. It’s an “uncut” base level edition with orange finish and a white top. The truck features factory power steering, power brakes, and a 302-cid V8. Since it was used in Phoenix, Arizona most of its life, the Bronco has add-on air conditioning. Cana Comer purchased it five years ago and drove it 2,400 miles to its new home in Wisconsin. Much of the trip was over the famous Route 66.

Chuck Wegner, also of River Hills, Wisconsin, showed a 1969 Holman & Moody “Bronco Hunter.” This is a specially-built truck that Ford gave to the factory-backed racing team that stock car builders Holman & Moody and off-road racer Bill Stroppe joined forces to form. The concept was to build a very special street Bronco.

The Bronco Hunter was assigned a Holman & Moody serial number that included the name “Bronco Hunter.” The truck featured a gaggle of non-production items and also had equipment that would not be seen on a factory-built Bronco until the Baja Bronco came out in 1971. The truck is totally a one-of-a-kind vehicle and a piece of Bronco history.

Last, but certainly not least, in the Bronco class was a 1966 “Half-Cab” model owned by Seth Burgett and presented by his company Gateway Bronco. This timeworn, unrestored truck is the first Bronco built. It was constructed in Ford’s pre-production plant in Michigan.

Burgett’s Bronco has been verified to be the one that Donald Frey used. It appears in Ford’s original literature for the Bronco and was the first Bronco to feature Sport trim. Carroll Shelby came to own the prototype Bronco and used it from 1967 to 1977. It was kept at his ranch in Texas. The first registration of the vehicle was in 1967 and it was registered to Hi-Performance Motors.

Categories: Features, Off-Road Plus