When it comes to a coveted four-wheel drive, the 1966-1977 Ford Bronco may be one of the most cherished Blue Ovals. With Ford slated to bring the Bronco namesake back in 2020, we know we’re not the only ones hoping to see a strong resemblance to the early Bronco platform. Out of production for over 40 years, a first-generation Bronco on the road is an increasingly rare sight. Spotting one on the trail is even more surprising.
We bumped into John Sims while at The Flats Offroad Park in Marion, North Carolina. There, we got to ogle the Easley, South Carolina, wheeler’s 1973 Ford Bronco. While you’d be hard pressed to find a single panel on the Bronco that hasn’t incurred some sort of trail “love,” the classic styling of the rig is recognizable from a football field away. Having owned the Bronco for a little over two years, Sims gives much of the build credit to Steve Sharp and Gordon Bailie. An active wheeler, Sims uses his Ford to hit many of the Bronco-specific events and trails in the southeast.
Aside from the frame and body, there isn’t much original Bronco left, but the parts that were swapped in have helped create an incredibly competent crawler. From a low-buck V-8 swap from a Ford Explorer to the super-high-clearance TrueHi9 third members, this build is an excellent example of dollar-smart upgrades. Sure, some purists may cringe at the sight of wrinkled sheetmetal, but we love that this classic 4×4 is still running free on the trails, not tucked away in some barn for preservation.
Under the hood of John Sims’ 1973 Bronco you will find a 302ci roller-cammed V-8 that was plucked from a Ford Explorer. It’s fed by a Howell throttle-body injection kit, which works with an MSD Ignition module. To update the braking system, the original brake booster was swapped out for a late-model hydro-boost unit from a Ford Super Duty. This system powers four-piston Wilwood calipers secured at each axle end.
With rockcrawling being the primary focus, Sims backed the V-8 with a TH700R4 automatic transmission. This gave him a 3.06 First gear, which when coupled with the 5:1 low range in the Atlas II transfer case, makes for tractorlike crawl control. Attached to the gear-driven T-case are massive 1410 U-joints, with only slightly smaller 1350-series joints secured at the differential side.
Up front, a RuffStuff Specialties housing was paired with Reid steering knuckles and 35-spline RCV Performance CV axleshafts. Steering duties are handled by a PSC Motorsports fully hydraulic steering system, while 12-inch-travel shocks from ORI Struts suspend the Bronco at each corner.
Out back you will find another offset RuffStuff housing, which, like the front, uses a TrueHi9 third member fit with 4.88 gears and a Detroit Locker. Gone is the original suspension and in its place is a three-link using a track bar to isolate the axle.
If you’re going to spend time in the rocks, airing down will make for a better ride and allow your tire to conform more easily to the trail. Thanks to a set of 17×10 MRW double-beadlock wheels, Sims can drop the Bronco’s 37×12.50-17 BFG red-label Krawlers into the single digits off-road worry free.
Securing the Warn 8274 winch up front is a Bailie Bilt front bumper. Just like the Bailie Bilt rear bumper, these steel guards have some series trail scars. Show pony, this is not.
Keeping Sims and his passenger riding in comfort and safety are a set of Corbeau suspension seats and four-point harness belts. The custom ’cage surrounding them is compiled of 2-inch DOM and runs the full length of the cabin. Sitting in place of a backseat is a 15-gallon RCI fuel cell, along with other critical items such as a tool bag, recovery gear, and a fire extinguisher.
Although a little longer than stock, the Bronco’s wheelbase remains below 100 inches. This can make it lift a wheel from time to time, but the keeping the overall size down has some serious advantages in the tree-lined trails in the southeast.
1973 Ford Bronco
Engine: 302ci Ford V-8
Transfer Case: Atlas II, 5.0:1
Axles: Ruffstuff Specialties axlehousing, TrueHi9 third member, Detroit Locker, RCV Performance axleshafts, 4.88 gears (front and rear)
Springs & Such: Custom 3-link with track bar front and rear, 12-inch-travel shocks from ORI Struts
Tires & Wheels: 37×12.50R17 BFG Krawler (Red Label) on 17×10 MRW double-beadlocks
Steering: PSC Motorsports Full-Hydro, Reid Racing steering knuckles
Other Stuff: 15-gallon RCI fuel cell, Corbeau seats, Warn 8274 winch, Bailie Bilt bumpers, Wilwood four-piston calipers