Classic Bronco Restoration GuideLast Updated August 8, 2023 | Meghan Drummond
Classic Broncos’ unique looks are timeless. Unfortunately, many of their mechanical parts are not. Restoring a classic Bronco means repairing or replacing the parts that have fallen into disrepair. Once you’ve found the right classic Bronco to buy, restoring it is the next logical step. The route that restoration takes is entirely up to you, though.
Many opt to restore their Bronco back to factory fresh. Others prefer to look at restomod options. Restomodding offers modern performance while preserving a Bronco’s vintage appeal. Every classic restoration is a little different. For early Bronco restorations, these are some of the most common considerations.
DIY vs Hiring Pros
One of the first major decisions is whether to restore your Bronco yourself or work with a shop.
Most people are interested in restoring a Bronco for the hands-on work involved. It can be satisfying to work under the hood of your own Bronco.
Of course, restoration shops have the equipment and experience necessary for more advanced services. This can include full body painting, engine re-machining, and frame-off restorations.
A frame-off restoration is where the entire body of a vehicle is removed. This allows for frame inspection and repairs. If you suspect that your Bronco may have frame damage, this option offers some valuable peace of mind.
Frame-off restorations are most valued by those considering showing their Broncos. A perfectly restored Bronco is a welcome sight at many classic automotive shows. But if you want to take home a prize, you’ll want to start your restoration process with a professional shop. Frame-off restorations allow for perfect finishes, detailed inspections, and total system installations.
Unless you have an absurdly well-outfitted garage, it will be somewhere between difficult and impossible to complete a frame-off restoration at home.
Professional shops offer many other advantages as well. Many shops specialize in “custom” restoration projects. This means they can help you recreate the Baja Bronco of your dreams, or create a classic Bronco with modern sound and comfort features.
There’s something about working on a classic vehicle of any kind, either alone or as a family, that captivates self-reliant individuals. A huge part of the allure of restoration projects is getting to know the mechanics of your Ford Bronco. For many, that experience is so valuable they’re willing to forgo a perfect restoration in favor of one that’s uniquely theirs.
How much of a restoration you can independently complete depends on the answers to several questions.
- Do you have a large workspace?
- How much restoration work does your Bronco need?
- How long are you willing to work on your project?
- How perfect does it need to be?
- How mechanically inclined are you?
Based on the answers, you can determine how much work you can do on your own. Even in DIY restoration projects, most people turn to professionals for engine machining and painting. It’s worth talking to professionals early on in your restoration. They’ll be able to answer questions about painting, renting workspace, and the costs of specific services.
Restomod vs Restoration
While restoration uses factory parts to bring a classic vehicle back to its “like-new” state, restomod Bronco options use modern parts. The result is a vehicle that looks restored but has modern amenities. There’s a wide range of modern features that have been integrated into classic vehicles. At this point, it’s fair to say that your options are only limited by your imagination and your budget.
There are a lot of reasons why Ford Bronco restomods make sense. Automotive technology has improved by leaps and bounds in the past fifty years. It makes sense that even if you love classic vehicle looks, you may want some modern features.
If you want a modern engine, a transmission with more than three gears, or a sound system with an auxiliary input, you’ll be looking at some degree of restomod.
If you’re a major history buff or nostalgic, then there’s no real replacement for a true period-correct restoration. It requires research and dedication. True restorers have been known to spend hours online chatting with fellow enthusiasts about stamping accuracies.
Many auto shows judge on period correctness. For people planning to compete, a complete restoration path may be better than a restomod one.
Classic Bronco Mechanical Restoration
Restoring the mechanics of your classic Ford Bronco is the most important part of your restoration. All the fresh paint and polish in the world won’t help if your Bronco can’t drive. When you bought your Bronco, you most likely took a test drive. If you weren’t able to at the time of sale, it should be the first thing you do at home.
If you can, take your Bronco out for another drive. Keep your windows down, listen for sounds, and record anything that seems like it needs to be looked at. Most mechanical defects, like a bad wheel bearing or clutch, make tell-tale noises. This can help narrow down your focus. Regardless of sounds, there are a few basics you should do to make sure your Bronco is mechanically sound.
Changing your vehicle’s fluids at regular intervals is an important part of vehicle maintenance. Since you most likely don’t know your Bronco’s service history, it’s a great way to start your restoration process.
Fluid changes can also serve as a diagnostic procedure. When changing out oil, metal flakes in the “spent” oil can indicate engine issues.
Removing some fluids entirely for the restoration process is also a good idea. No one should be sanding metal near a leaky fuel line, for example.
- Fluids to Change: Oil, Brake, Coolant, Transmission
- Fluids to Top Off: Windshield Wiper
- Fluids to Remove: Fuel
Bronco Engine Options
If your Bronco’s engine is in good shape, you can clean it and then leave it alone. Unfortunately, Broncos’ age and mileage can rule out that possibility. If you’re interested in keeping your Bronco’s original equipment, the engine can be rebuilt. This is a complex process that’s best left to professionals or mechanically-inclined people with lots of time.
Books on how to work with Ford’s small block engines can be a worthwhile investment if you choose to rebuild it on your own.
Otherwise, you can look into an engine swap. There are period-correct engine replacements available as well as modern engines, like the Coyote engine, that can work in a Bronco.
Transmission Replacement or Repair
The only transmissions available for the first-generation Bronco were a three-speed toploader and a C4. These are both durable transmissions, that should still be functioning. Though you may need to change out your clutch or flexplate, it’s unlikely that the rest of the transmission will need much servicing.
One reason to swap transmissions is to get features that weren’t available at the time. An overdrive transmission saves fuel and reduces noise and vibration while cruising on the highway. Upgrading to these transmissions is a good investment for Broncos that will be driven frequently.
The first-generation Bronco also didn’t receive an automatic transmission option until 1973. If you have your heart set on a Bronco made earlier than that, you could always do a manual to automatic transmission swap. This is an involved mechanical swap, but it’s the only way to get a ‘69 Bronco with an automatic transmission.
Transmission swaps are also frequently done as part of an engine upgrade. Modern engines produce more horsepower and torque than classic transmissions can handle. Replacing the transmission and engine together can help save you time down the road.
Drum or Disc Brake Repair or Replacement
Most Broncos will come equipped with drum brakes. Drum brakes rely on springs that lose their tension over time. If you’ve already noticed that your Bronco isn’t stopping the way you’d like, then a drum brake rebuild kit replaces your brakes’ springs and shoes.
Front disc brakes were added to the Bronco in ‘76 and ‘77. This makes it relatively easy to perform a front disc brake replacement on earlier Broncos if you’d like. Disc brakes and drum brakes have many differences. For most people, disc brakes are the preferable option even if they’re not period-correct.
Refreshing Your Bronco’s Suspension
Your classic Bronco initially used a coil spring front suspension and leaf spring rear suspension. Both of these are straightforward suspension styles that shouldn’t require much maintenance.
If your Bronco’s ride is a little shaky though, or you’ve noticed your steering wheel shaking, it’s possible the problem is in the suspension. With early Broncos, most suspension problems are due to worn bushings.
Bushings are simple polyurethane sleeves. They’re designed to absorb bumps and prevent parts from rubbing, which causes vibration and noise. These are very susceptible to wear and tear, but also to basic dry rot.
You can often get replacement bushings in kits. Replacing them requires hard work, but not much in the way of equipment.
Replacing your suspension can let you go past a basic restoration. Consider installing a Bronco suspension kit to lift and modernize your classic Bronco.
Electrical System Inspection
Given the Bronco’s age, it’s not surprising that electrical issues are common. Though you’ll want to talk to a professional for any serious issues, there are a few basic diagnostics that everyone can do.
First, if you’re working on your Bronco, the battery should be disconnected. This is especially true if you’re working on the electric system. Batteries can cause electrocutions and have even exploded.
In many cases, you’ll find that the battery is actually the root of the electrical problem. Most automotive shops will be able to loan you a voltage tester to make sure your battery is up to snuff. If it isn’t, it will need to be replaced.
A wire brush can clean the battery terminals, which will give you a better connection. While looking at these connections, also check your battery cables themselves. Rodents have been known to chow down on these cables.
Inspect your electrical fuses and bulbs for any obvious defects. If there are blown fuses with no obvious causes, you’ll likely need a professional. Though you can replace fuses yourself, and should if the cause is known, knowing why a fuse blew is important.
Your owner’s manual should include a wiring map. Look to see if aftermarket connections or wires have been added. Sometimes bad alarm wiring can be the cause of issues.
Mechanics may be the most important, but exterior restoration is possibly the most satisfying. Exterior restoration is what takes a classic Bronco from rust bucket to jaw-dropper. While your first body restoration tasks will be removing issues, afterward you’ll get to polish your Bronco till it can turn heads.
Rust Removal and Prevention
Rust is a common problem in older vehicles. The Bronco is no exception to that rule. Rust typically forms wherever dirt and water can collect. This includes likely candidates, like the rocker panels and wheel wells, but also the hood cowl area and floor pans.
In other cases, you’ll need to talk to a body shop and look into patch welds. It’s important to treat rust at this stage in the process. If you continue and paint over rust that isn’t removed, you’ll end up getting a strange bubble effect. You’ve likely seen this on other restorations, and it’s always unfortunate. Completely dealing with the surface rust now will prevent future deep rust.
Dents and Ding Repair
While major bodywork or a bent chassis requires pros, there are ways to hammer out dents and dings on your own. This process is time-consuming, but good bodywork is something that differentiates a high-quality restoration. It’s worth putting the time in.
Read our guide on eliminating dents and dings, and don’t be ashamed about going to a pro when necessary. It’s easier to do a job correctly the first time than to undo hasty work.
Painting Your Bronco
On your Bronco’s data plate, there will be a color code. Using our Bronco Paint Color table, you can find out what your Bronco’s original color was. Depending on the state of your Bronco’s existing paint and your build goals, you may decide to accurately repaint, totally repaint, or just do touch up.
Touch-up paint can be easily applied in your own garage. A top paint tip is to do the touch-up painting in a dry location but on a rainy day. You should also wet down your surrounding garage floor. This will keep small hairs and dirt from floating up and getting stuck in the paint while it’s still wet.
To apply touch up paint, use a small brush or toothpick. Hold the paint close to the area that needs it applied and allow the space to “suck in” the paint. This will help to avoid brushstrokes or other unsightly application marks.
Whether you want to paint your Bronco its factory-correct shade or freshen it up with a new hue, you’ll want a professional paint shop. Painting a vehicle is a huge undertaking. Without professional equipment, you’re already at a disadvantage.
Though fewer people will get to see the interior of your fully-restored Bronco, it’s an important part of finalizing your restoration. If you’re driving your Bronco routinely, your interior is one of the parts you’ll be engaging with the most. It’s also a place to show your attention to detail.
It’s worth it to make sure that your interior is comfortable for you.
Bronco Trim Packages
The early Bronco had several available trim packages. These trim packages customized the interior and often included premium features. Though you’ll want to stick to your factory equipment for show Broncos, others have more selection. You can opt to get the nicer options or choose something entirely different.
Seat Upholstery Replacement
The seat upholstery of the ‘60s was prone to cracking and ripping. The Bronco suffers from this and often has it worse than other vehicles since it was an off-roader.
If your Bronco seats are in horrible condition, it may be worth replacing them entirely. This is especially true if the frames are badly bent or if you suspect there may be black mold in the seat foam.
If only the upholstery seems damaged, then reupholstering classic interiors is a possibility. Though time-consuming, this option preserves most of your original equipment. This guide walks you through how to reupholster your seats. Though written for Mustangs, most of the steps will be exactly the same.
Dash/Steering Wheel Evaluation
Most of the hard plastic parts of your Bronco should be salvageable. A good interior detailing will help clear your Bronco of its dirt so that you can appraise each part. It’s important to use gentle cleansers through this process.
Many people have accidentally caused irreparable interior damage simply by using an overly harsh cleanser. It’s better to do multiple rounds if you’re invested in preserving your original equipment.
On the other hand, many recommend buying a new steering wheel regardless. These parts tend to get grimy, and sometimes it’s just better to start out clean. Likewise, if your interior parts have succumbed to UV damage, getting them clean may not be enough to make them look like new.
Tips and Hints
Though no two restorations are the same, these are some tips that have helped us with vehicle restoration.
Have a Plan
Classic vehicle restoration is a time-consuming process. Make sure you have a plan in advance. What will you do if you run over schedule? Or over budget? Early Bronco restoration costs can vary significantly.
Is everyone in your household okay with you occupying the garage for that entire time, or might you need to rent a space?
You’d think with how time-consuming restoration is, everyone would be eager to declare it finished, right? But with restoration, there’s always something else that could be done. As such, restoration projects can go on infinitely if you’re not careful.
Define what a successful restoration looks like for you. Whether that’s just making your Bronco road-worthy or making it a gold medal winner.
Getting advice from professionals is always a good move. You can consult with your local auto enthusiast’s club, talk to classic Bronco owners online, or read Bronco literature. These are great places to get some advice about how to conduct your restoration.
Your Restored Bronco
Restoring a classic Bronco is a huge undertaking and a worthwhile one. Best of all, when you’re finished, you’ll have a restored Bronco. There are few vehicles quite as eye-catching or unique.
Whether you choose to take your Bronco to shows or your family camping, your restored Bronco is sure to be custom-tailored to your needs. As your needs change, you may need to engage in future Bronco modifications. Sign up for CJ’s newsletter to get deals on Bronco parts, and check out our Bronco installations on YouTube for inspiration.