The Bronco Project -- Japan Style
A not-so-brief history
It was a dark and rainy night... oops, wrong story. It was a typical Seattle autumn day in 1991 when the US Navy told us we were moving to Australia, to a naval base called Naval Communications Station Harold E. Holt. This little base was in the northwest corner of Australia, far, far, away from anything resembling a city, with only a few small towns within several hundred miles.
We made contact with the base and asked some of the typical questions "what is it like", "what is the weather like", and most importantly "can we bring a car?" The answer was a resounding maybe (If you have ever dealt with the government you should understand). The answer depended on the ability to get parts, maintain your own vehicle and it really, really, really needed to be a four-wheel drive. mmmmmm...
I was then employed at a Mustang shop (Bel-Kirk Mustang, 12760 Bel-Red Road, Bellevue, WA 98005 (360) 455-1199) and knew that I really had a pretty good handle on late '60's early '70's Ford products, so an older Ford 4x4 seemed the ticket. Then I thought about taking friends with us and the only answer that came up was the Bronco (Well, truthfully, we thought about an F250 with a canopy, but then the beer isn't all that accessible -- definitely a problem area at the time).
So the great "Bronco Hunt" was on! First of all, I needed to find out what an Early Bronco (EB) was as I really had no clue about what years they were produced, what options were offered during what years, and most of all, how much it was going to cost. We were looking for an EB in reasonable condition... rust was a bigger factor than running condition because I could handle the mechanicals with no problem, but I HATE rust.
As we looked around the Seattle area all the EB's we found were too expensive, too modified or too rusty... and time was getting short. So I did what any gearhead does when he is in a quandary, I hit the beer store, hit the magazine rack and picked up any magazine that had "4x4" or "Four-Wheel Drive" or even "Truck" on the cover, looking for enlightenment... the beer didn't give me any, but the magazines did. There were ads from a few companies that actually mentioned Broncos, so I did the second thing a gearhead does when he is in a quandary, I broke out another beer and got on the phone. The first place I called was Tom's Broncos in Medford, Oregon.
Well, they said that they knew what I wanted... an EB in good condition, little or no rust (did I mention that I HATE rust?) and reasonable mechanical condition, and that they had one for sale. And as an added enticement, they offered to send me a video of the EB in all its glorious splendor, all for the nominal fee of $15 (plus shipping and handling, of course).
So I figured that our visa card could handle the $15 charge (at least I hoped it could) and agreed to get the video. And they agreed to hold the truck for 10 days so that I could see the video and make a decision. All kidding aside, that right there probably sold the EB for them -- good customer service always sells me.
Well I received the video, looked at it and decided that the EB was worth buying. So I sent off a deposit and planned on how to get the rest of the money to buy the EB.
And then the wonderful Navy stepped in. Guess what??? Your not going to Australia, The government has decided that they no longer need a radio facility in the middle of nowhere (figuratively speaking) and we had to go somewhere else. So we called the man with the plan, and begged and pleaded to go there anyway... we didn't care that we would be that last ones out of there... we just wanted to go... and guess what... they said OK, you can go.
So we get a loan for the EB, I call Tom's to make arrangements to pick up the truck and could they please have it road worthy, and I will pay for any additional work that needs to be done to get it to Seattle. They said no problem and I called my dad and we drove from Seattle down to Medford, OR on a Saturday night.
Tom was nice enough to meet us early Sunday morning and show us around the place, take my money then give me the paperwork on the truck (and he threw in 2 tanks of gas too!). I get the truck, do a tune-up and oil change in Tom's lot (they may have given good customer service to this point, and may have even changed the oil the night before, but it was MY truck now!) and headed north.
About 2 hours north the truck starts to run hot and we pull over let it cool off, get something to eat and to check things out. As soon as I pulled the radiator cap off and saw the mud that I was using as coolant, I got a mite angry (especially since I asked them to make sure it would make it to Seattle), So we drained the radiator, put in some fresh water and decided to try and make Portland where we have relatives and do a real flush on the cooling system
Outside of Portland we stop to get gas (these EBs don't get very good mileage do they?) and I filled the aux. tank and went to fill the main tank... and gas was pouring all over the place... especially on the exhaust pipe exiting below the fender... (grrr.....) so I put the tank selector on main (or so I thought ) and we headed north, dripping gas all the way.
Well made it to Portland, flushed the cooling system, checked the gas leak (cracked vent hose) and headed north again... where my dad and I parted ways... he headed east (Eastern WA) and I continued up I-5... when it started to rain. I turned on the wipers (when I figured out what knob they were in the dark!) and realized that the blades were really long thin pieces of charcoal (Grrrrr...) so another stop to try and fix this beast (did I really want an EB anyway???) So I went into a K-Mart to try and find some wiper blades... which of course weren't in their cross listing... so I got some Jeep ones instead that seemed to work and was off again... and made it home.
And the Navy struck again.... You're not going to Australia... you're going to Guam. So we begged and they said "You're going to Sasebo, Japan.
So, there I was, sitting in Seattle with a '69 EB and orders to Japan.. so what did I do? I started fixing it up. I took it into the shop I worked at and went to work on it after hours... I replaced both floor pans -- rust (did I mention that I really HATE rust?) rebuilt the front end (Dana 30), a new rear differential, put in ALL new Polyurethane bushings throughout everything, rebuilt the engine (when I opened it up to take a look the rod caps went 1-3-5-2-7-8-8-5, NOT a good sign), the transmission, the transfer case, all new brakes, a Smittybuilt roll bar, '92 Mustang GT seats, carpet, console, and then promptly parked for 3 years while I went to Japan.
Then the Navy stepped in again and said "You're staying in Japan" and I said if I am staying, I am bringing the Bronco over here 'cuz I need a project and oh what a project it has been... If you still want to see more click on the link marked "Current Status".
He wanted the damn thing, I said no and he bought it anyway, and now he spends too much damn money and time on it!
Original work on this page copyright © 1997-1998 by Eric Neasham. All copyrighted material is property of its respective owners. All rights reserved