We happened upon this Ford Bronco earlier this year in Johnson Valley, California while we were in town for King of the Hammers. Held since 2007, the annual off-road race combines desert racing and rockcrawling, drawing hundreds of teams and tens of thousands of spectators to this small town outside of Yucca Valley, and Taad Janson’s 1968 Ford Bronco certainly looked to be in its element among the vast array of off-road vehicles on hand.
“When I was still in diapers, I saw a picture of a desert buggy that my Dad had built,” said Taad Janson of Fountain Hills, Arizona, of his earliest gearhead memory. “It was basically a stripped-down shell of a car with a V8 and huge airplane tires. They used to race around in the desert sands with it.”
That proved to be a formative moment in Taad’s life. Growing up, he would explore various aspects of hot rodding, building a ’68 Firebird street machine with a 400ci mill hooked to a four-speed, along with a ’64 Chevy Nova drag car, a big-block ’72 Oldmobile Delta 88, and even a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia in the years since. “There were many more along the way, but those were my favorites – aside from the Bronco, of course!” he joked.
“I have loved the first-gen Ford Broncos since I was an early teen,” Taad explained. “Back in high school, a buddy of mine had one. I had an F-100 4×4 and thought I was a badass, but his stock Bronco could run rings around my truck in the trails. It hooked me on their capability.”
How It All Began
Purchased back in 1995 in very rough shape, Taad mentioned the Bronco has been in a constant state of modification ever since. “After I retire and have lots of time on my hands (and my Rock Buggy build is done), I’ll bring the Bronco back down from this extreme wheeling setup and get it back to a ‘purdy’ condition again. I can’t say how much I’ve invested in it so far or my wife would kill me! Let’s just say many times the original purchase price.”
While Janson’s Bronco proudly wears plenty of scars from its numerous battles with the elements, the upgrades he’s done to the Ford – most of which champion function over form – have resulted in one seriously capable off-road machine.
Riding on Allied 15×8 beadlock wheels wrapped in Goodyear Wrangler MTR 37×12.5 rubber, the front suspension benefits from upgrades that include 3.5-inch BC Bronco springs. Dual Rancho RS9000XL shocks at each corner are attached via ProtoFab hoops, while 4.5-inch Wild Horses 11 leaf, progressive springs hold up the back end. An additional two-inch Wild Horses body lift gives the Bronco extra clearance.
The Ford gets its motivation from a 302-cube Ford V8 with an Autolite 2100 2 bbl – “the best damn off-roading carb ever made,” says Taad – which is hooked to a C4 automatic that’s been upgraded with external cooling components.
The rearend is a Ford nine-inch unit with 31-spline axles and an Eaton Detroit Locker, while the front is a Dana 44 with Warn axles and CTM universal joints. For the transfer case, Janson is using a stock Bronco Dana 20 mated to a Marlin Crawler low-range transfer case section.
“The Dana 20 low-range is 2.46:1 and the Marlin low range is 4.70:1,” Taad explained. “So I have gearing capabilities of 1:1, 2.46:1, 4.70:1 or 11.56:1. This is why I can get away with 4.11 gearing turning 37-inch tires – gearing is not a problem!”
In terms of body modifications, Janson personally cut and enlarged the wheel wells and installed the flares for tire clearance, and added other pragmatic modifications like custom hood louvers to aid in heat extraction.
“The custom dents and dings were performed by me, over years of hardcore trail running,” he quipped. The bumpers were custom made with 3/16-inch rectangular steel tubing that was cut and welded into shape. “They are very stout and high and tight to the body, providing great protection,” said Janson.
The truck’s uniquely weathered look has a backstory of its own, too. “When I took ‘My ole Bronco’ (nicknamed after the Luke Bryan song) out for its first wheeling trip after getting my Zolatone paint job done, I watched in horror while washing the mud off of it, as parts of the Zolatone paint came off with the mud,” he recalled. “That’s what has given the Bronco the unusual patina it has now, what I call Arizona Sandstone Camo. Oddly enough, I’ve had lots of positive comments about how it looks with the botched paint.”
Inside, driver and passenger sit in Beard suspension bucket seats while a full two-inch roll cage made from DOM steel tubing and PyroTec four-point racing harnesses keep the Bronco’s occupants safe. Although the Bronco forgoes HVAC systems for obvious reasons, Janson made sure that tunes were still available out on the trails by way of an Infiniti receiver he purchased from a spa supply company, a unit which is water and dustproof.
Since this is a never-ending project by Taad’s own admission, his road map for future modifications is already planned out to some degree – a low-mileage, fuel injected 5.0-liter Explorer motor is on the way soon, as well as a new wiring harness and some additional LED lighting. “It’s been a trusty steed, and it has many more years of wheeling to come,” Janson told us. “It will stay in the family as long as there is gas and parts to keep it running.”
Be on the lookout for the classic off-road rig in the deserts of Southern California. Where would be the first place that you would take the Bronco? Tell us in the comments below!