No 4x4 project in the history of the world has ever been done. Given more time, more money, and more experience there is always something you would change or replace. You can't stop it. It's four-wheel-drive evolution.
Every month we do our best to fill these pages with as many of your plans as possible. We figure that by showing you what to expect, you'll be better prepared when you get around to adding, removing, or fixing that next thing on your 4x4.
However, this time it's a little different. We're showing you how to get started. If you read about Fred Williams' Suzuki Samurai last month, you saw how he took an abandoned 4x4, got it running, fitted it with bigger tires, and then blew the head gasket on its first testdrive--all for under $1,500. Hopefully you learned something from Fred's experience. I know I did.
Which is why, for my Cheap Truck Challenge 4x4, I went looking for a truck that I could fix up, and counted on the factory hardware to make it a capable trail machine. Most of my $1,500 budget went into replacing things that had worn out and upgrading things that I couldn't afford to have fail. Fred's 'Zuki might be more fun to drive around on some backwoods trails, but my Bronco is closer to being a driver that won't break down when you take it off-road. We'll let you be the judge.
The ad in the local paper read, "'84 Ford Bronco, V-8, needs radiator, $700." It was more than I had to spend, but cheap enough to get my attention. Sure enough, when Fred Williams and I went to go see it, we found a fully loaded XLT model complete with the broken vent window, parking lot rash, and zero maintenance options. It was a mess, but it was complete; and those two things are the makings of a good deal. The owner told us the last guy had passed on the truck because he thought the transmission was shot. Turns out the transmission was fine but the transfer case had been shifted into Neutral. The engine fired up, had good oil pressure, and sorta-idled. So I gave the guy $400 (Williams was convinced he would have taken less), shifted the NP208 into 2-Hi, filled the radiator, aired up the two flat tires, and drove it 35 miles back to the office.
Budget Left: $1,100
The worst part of the truck was the interior. The headliner was falling out, the seats were torn, and everything was filthy. But most of the gauges worked and thanks to the hole in the carpet I could tell the Bronco didn't have a hidden rust problem. So far all I've done is torn down the headliner and stuffed it in a garbage bag with the other trash I've found in the truck. My plan is to replace the carpet and fit the seat with a cover, but for now I just wear some grungy clothes when I drive it.
Budget Left: $1,100
You can tell a lot about a Ford from the body tag located inside the driver-side doorjamb if you have the factory service manuals. I didn't, so I had to buy a set off eBay for $120. Now I know that my truck has a C6 transmission (Trans code: K), a Ford 9-inch rear with a limited slip and 3.50 gears (Axle code: H6), and the front Dana 44 with the optional limited-slip differential (Axle suffix code: 2). Truthfully, I could've figured all of that out by making a few phone calls, but I needed an excuse to buy the manuals.
Budget Left: $980
I was surprised to find a two-barrel 351W V-8 under the hood instead of the more common 302. Thanks to California smog laws you could only get the HO 351 four-barrel engine in the other 49 states. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. I replaced the $59 air pump (it seized) and installed the Bosch spark plugs the previous owner left in a NAPA bag on the front seat. I never got around to changing the oil, but I should since there was a new Fram filter in the bag with the spark plugs. As you read this I'm probably still working on replumbing all those vacuum lines for the emissions system. And I'm a little worried about why there was a spare radiator in the back seat when I bought the truck....
Budget Left: $921
The main reason I got a Bronco for the Cheap Truck Challenge is the fact that they come with a lot of desirable parts, even for a Chevy guy like me. Because my Bronco has the optional 351 engine, it left the factory with the 1-ton-tested C6 transmission and a rare Ford-spec NP208 transfer case. Most GM truck owners swap their 208s out for the older NP205 to get rid of the factory slip yoke, but Ford owners can enjoy the 208's lower gearing (2.61:1 low-range versus 1.96:1 of the 205) because they came with a fixed-yoke rear output shaft. I also like how the Ford 208 is clocked up to be level with the framerail. I wish my Blazer's transfer case was like that.
Budget Left: $921
This must have been one of the last Ford 9-inch axles ever made. The 3.50 gear and limited-slip differential in mine aren't that impressive, but the 31-spline shafts have proven strong enough for 35-inch tires. The same can't be said for the tailpipe, which unfortunately snapped off behind the last hanger. Now the exhaust likes to collect under the truck when idling, and work its way into the cab while driving. A $53 tailpipe from AutoZone should solve both problems.
Budget Left: $868
Another exhaust-related problem came from one of the catalytic converters (A). Over time the excessive heat caused the rubber radius-arm bushing (B) to deteriorate on the passenger side of the truck till there was metal-on-metal contact. Not good! Ford must have figured this out after my Bronco was built because later-model trucks come with a $10 heatshield that I can add (Ford PN E4TZ-3B463-A) to keep this from happening.
I ordered a set of $15 Prothane urethane bushings (red, left) from J.C. Whitney (PN ZX859558W) that I hope will cope with the heat better than the stock replacement type (black, right) that J.C. Whitney also sells.
Budget Left: $843
Turns out my wasted radius-arm bushings killed the TTB pivot bushings too. Now I'm beginning to understand why the truck has such spooky steering. J.C. Whitney's Web site didn't list the parts I needed, so I went down to AutoZone and looked through the Spicer chassis parts book (they keep it under the counter, so you have to ask for it) till I found the right part numbers. The two bushings were only $12, but I haven't had time to install them yet. I just hope that the pivot bolt hasn't ovaled-out the hole in the radius arm.
Budget Left: $831
With the front end halfway rebuilt, I decided to splurge and replace the steering linkage for $110.85, and the ball joints for another $67.80. According to J.C. Whitney's Web site, there are two different types of tie-rod ends: '80-'85 and '86-'94. My guess is the later parts have bigger ends that might be an upgrade for the early 1/2-ton Fords. I'd probably have to get the knuckles reamed out to use them, but maybe I could just swap to the later-model knuckles? I'll look into it and let you know.
Budget Left: $652.35
While the J.C. Whitney catalog was open I added a set of Heckethorn/Rough Country Nitro 9000 gas shocks for $119.80 to replace the worn stockers. Though the brand name is old-school, the dampening technology of these monotube gas shocks is first-rate. Too bad I screwed up and only ordered two shocks (instead of four that are required) for the front end.
Budget Left: $532.55
With just over $500 left I needed some tires. My plan was to get a set of 33s and mount them on the rusted chrome wheels that came with the Bronco. I looked on the Internet and found four Yokohama Geolandar A/Ts for $412 plus $75 shipping at The Tire Rack. That would leave me $45.55 to get the tires mounted and balanced. But...while I was online I also found this used set of 35x12.50-15 BFGoodrich All-Terrains on 15x8 Center Lines for $500.
The aluminum wheels and low-mileage All-Terrains weren't really my style but they came mounted and balanced so all I had to do was find a way to make them fit an unlifted Bronco. The first thing I did was pull the plastic inner wheelwells out of the front fenders. It was easy on the driver side and a pain in the butt on the passenger side. Amazingly the tires hardly rubbed at all. Granted, the suspension doesn't move much with short shocks and both sway bars connected, but I think fitting 35s without a lift on one of these trucks is very doable--especially if you don't mind cutting along the factory body line as shown.
Budget Left: $32.55
Out of Cash, and Just getting Started
So $1,467.45 later I have a Bronco that safely runs and drives on 35s. The downside is that the interior is still a dump, the truck is slow, and I don't trust it to get me to work. On the upside I would have killed to have a truck like this in high school.
For a daily driver, 33s would have been a better choice with 3.50 axle gears. As it is now I almost wish I could drive it on the street in low-range. Unfortunately my budget didn't let me replace all the fluids in the truck, or get the engine to pass the local smog test. My next $1,500 will go toward regearing the axles with 4.10s and slipping a Detroit Locker in the rear. The $1,500 after that will go to cleaning up the interior and a four-barrel carb swap. The $1,500 after that...well, you know how it goes!
The Tire Rack