By on July 18, 2012

“Hey Sajeev, it’s Mark. We’re up in Tomball looking at a ’95 Bronco. We could use some advice.”

Without sarcasm, a laugh, or any explanation, Sajeev replied with one word, “Run.”

 

Being a Canadian in Texas, where gas and well-used V8 SUVs are cheap, I was inclined to make very questionable choices which went against my ethos as a Canadian. Things like considering getting rid of a perfectly good Ranger and buying a mid-90s Malaise American SUV with unknown lineage. The Ranger, an amazing little truck that conveyed myself, two dogs, two motorcycles, and my other worldly possessions all the way from the east coast of Canada to Houston, had lots of life and could have had air conditioning bolted on to the 3.0L Vulcan V6 for a pitance.

But, sometimes when an idea is stuck in my head, all I need is similarly minded, common sense lacking friends to say “go for it”.

Kevin, a Z-car driving graphic designer who knew just as much about Broncos as I did at the time, drove me up to Tomball to check out what could have passed as an Al Cowlings Signature Edition Bronco. Very 90s, white grille and semi-removable top included. From a distance, it didn’t look all that bad. I thought Sajeev was a nut for telling me to run, yet when we ended the call I felt dejected. Then Kevin passed me his phone to talk to someone on the other end of the line.

“His name is Jim. Super smart guy. Loves Fords. Races Mustangs,” he blurted out while shoving his iPhone in the general direction of my face.

“Hey Jim, this is Kevin’s friend Mark. Tell me what you think of what I am about to get into,” I inquired, after I’d already partially given up on the purchase.

“Without seeing it, I can’t really say, but it’s probably good…”

It’s at this point my brain completely tuned out the rest of what Jim said. He could have warned “good at being a paperweight” or “good for low speed highway chases”. It didn’t matter at that point. I heard “good”. We are going with “good”. I can live with “good”.

The phone is hung up. The owner of the Bronco is met. The SUV is given the once-over test drive and the prospective buyer (me) ignores all the tell-tail signs of this being a disastrous transaction waiting to happen. By the end of the night, I was the proud new owner of a Ford Bronco XLT with a 5.8L V8, but drove home without the multi-ton monstrosity.

The next day, my roommate drove me back up to Tomball to complete the transaction. On arriving to the single family home on a cul-de-sac, his jaw dropped, eyes opened wide, and he uttered, “Oh my, Mark. You can’t be serious.”

To say the drive home was scary is a total understatement. The Bronco at highway speed felt like being attached to a looping roller coaster with bungie cords, my hands grabbing the wheel so hard that Klan members would be jealous of my knuckles. Keeping the aging Ford in its own lane was an exercise in futility. But, at least I had air conditioning…

As soon as my brain recognized the one good thing about the Bronco, my well air conditioned brow felt a massive blast of hot air. This is now officially the worst automotive purchase I have ever made.

After arriving home with the Bronco, it sat in the garage for a total of three months straight, except for a single trip to an auto journo meetup where it became the laughing stock of the evening. “Mark got rid of his crappy truck with no air for another crappy truck with no air,” and “Mark, you need a plate that reads ‘NO AC’ since you don’t have air and you aren’t Al Cowlings,” were the common commets of the evening.

However, almost everyone in my automotive circle of knowledge and skill helped with getting the Bronco back in running order. The V8 I thought I purchased was actually a V7, as one of the cylinders had a serious miss. All brakes and bearings, including the ones in the rear differential, were shot. Kevin, most of all, felt guilty for supporting me in the decision to take it home. Other than myself, he was the one who spent the most time working on it, which I still appreciate to this day. Sajeev, on the other hand, rightly never offered to help. He warned me.

We did get the Bronco into somewhat acceptable condition and I drove it for maybe a total of 500 miles before selling it. After all that work, money, getting gallons to the mile due to a seriously sick 351 powerplant, and other miscellaneous bullshit, I still miss the hell out of that truck. I’d have another one in a heartbeat, too. Maybe I’m cursed with some kind of defeatist mentality.

But, the moral of this story? I should have listened to Sajeev and got out of there quicker than parachute pants entering the 90s. But, if I had listened to him, I would never have developed the relationships with the people who helped me fix that truck, nor would I have learned as much as I did working on it. It’s all about what you want out of a car or truck. I got what I wanted.

After selling the Bronco, I asked Sajeev and Steve for advice on what to buy and followed on one of their suggestions. This time, I couldn’t be happier. More on that another time.

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34 Comments on “Dr. Sajeev Mehta, or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bronco...”


  • avatar

    Great story! You got rid of the lemon and kept the pitcher of lemonade.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    No air conditioning in Houston and with a dark pickup to boot? I call that a terminal case of masochism.

    On an unrelated question, what company made the filmstock in the first image? Not that long ago, it would have said Kodak all over, and ocassionally on would find a Fuji, but I can’t recognize RVP.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    You could have developed those relationships and learned just as much while working on a car worth keeping.

  • avatar
    autojim

    What I *said* was couched heavily in the ability to get parts for them. And work on it. That Bronco had potential; the only problem was you needed something where the potential has been fulfilled. Yes, being a Texas truck, the body and frame should be good. The mechanicals would need to be thoroughly checked — which proved prophetic.

    I learned a few things from that experience, too. Foremost: stop giving advice sight-unseen over the phone. Look at the damn thing first.

    Also: get help when trying to move my traveling/car trailer toolbox. Damn thing weighs close to 150 pounds.

    But… made new friends. And that was worth it.

    • 0 avatar
      autojim

      The other aspect of that call was it happened while I was waiting for a table at a Galleria-area restaurant. Kevin was excited when he called me.

      It was dark outside.

      They didn’t tell me Sajeev told Mark to run away. That bit of information would have been useful. I didn’t discover that fact until the Matt Hardigree Memorial Fleeing-Texas Happy Hour that Mark mentioned in his story.

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    In our business we call this, “Polishing a turd.”

  • avatar
    dswilly

    I’ve always had a soft spot for those Broncos, in good condition they are handsome trucks. I had nearly the same truck in a ’96 F-150 4×4, Fit and finish was horrible but mechanically it was pretty solid. The Twin I-beam suspension will eat tires and shocks at a disturbing rate too. Gas mileage on mine with the 4.9 six was 13mpg, highway, city, uphill, downhill, tailwind, headwind, mountains, with trailer, without trailer, it didn’t matter, 13 mpg. The AC in mine would turn the cab into a deep freeze on a 100 deg day, awesome.

  • avatar

    For the record: I don’t need to wrench on another crappy old Ford. I already got like 18 of them in the Mehta garage. Granted most are in better shape than Mark’s Bronco…but that’s not the point.

    You learned the hard way, my friend. Too bad about that.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Not to be a prick or anything, but this falls very much into the “what were you thinking?” department. If I’m not mistaken, the Ranger is a good, well-made truck, sized appropriately for most things the average guy would need a pickup for (meaning it won’t suck a Texas oil well’s worth of gas to drive from Houston to, say, Austin). As a person who moved to Houston in 1973 from a somewhat more temperate climate (Washington, DC), I can relate to the need for a/c in a car. Within 6 months of my having moved, I sold a car which I dearly loved (a VW Karmann Ghia) because it could not be fitted with an air conditioner (there were some insane people who fitted an air conditioner to the air-cooled VW motor, but I didn’t want to join them) and bought one that was air conditioned.

    Even in the modern era, I assume that there are still some aftermarket A/C units available for random Canadians and others from the frozen north who have the misfortune to move to the Swamp Coast of Texas.

    Maybe you could have trade your engine block heater for an a/c unit! ;-)

    • 0 avatar
      Mark Stevenson

      Bruce — I am not going to try to rationalize my decisions. Instead, I am just going to say the Texas heat and Shiner Bock made me do stupid things.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Air conditioning is absolutely necessary in Texas if one plans to drive in the afternoon during the summer. Driving skills get impaired with heat exhaustion and the discomfort can drive you to do dumb things.

  • avatar
    dolorean

    Mark, love the Bronco. Always have. Can’t own one for the very reasons you stated. Floaty boat on the highway, gas mileage that would make an owner in 1959 cringe, and an engine that harkens back to that Eisenhauer era. The 5.8L’s only period of greatness is when SVT shoehorned fifty of them into the 1995 Mustang Cobra R. Best to jetison that motor faster than Rush Limbaugh with a carrot for the much more reliable and still motivating 302 5.0L V8.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Are you into S&M? Even when those things are running right they seem pretty miserable for anything but… I don’t even know, what is a Bronco good for?

  • avatar
    fincar1

    My carpool driver had a 1980 black Bronco, 351 and overdrive 4-speed manual transmission. After it got some age on it and with her typical lack of maintenance there came a time when she ran out of gas on a freeway exit, and I got out on the passenger side to discover that the Bronco was on fire. It wasn’t much of a fire, just some dried brush that had hung up near the exhaust pipe, and I put it out by throwing some handfuls of roadside gravel at it.

  • avatar

    My sister had a ’92 in high school. Dad waaaaay overpaid for it.

    Caught fire twice in 2 years, but was otherwise a great machine. We all liked driving it.

    As a former tire monkey, I can tell you that TTB front end (basically a solid axle with a hinge in the middle) doesn’t take well to deferred maintenance. Somewhere around 70k miles, your best bet is to replace every bearing, bushing and shock in there.

    If you don’t go crazy with the tires, that 351 is a kickass motor in a truck that small.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    It was that big rubber radius-arm bushing that gave the Twin-I-Beam suspension a bad rap. They’d wear out pretty quickly so I’d swap in a poly-whatever TRW bushing in minutes by backing off the nut, chaining the left or right I-beam to a tree and backing up slowly.

    The TIB worked better than a solid axle or IFS of it’s day. Today, long radius-arms are back in solid axle 4X4 Super Dutys, but with a much improved bushing set-up.

    These Broncos were built off of F-150s and could take a lot more abuse than they usually saw.

    • 0 avatar

      Good to know. I will remember that next time, as I also thought Twin I Beams had an unfixable flaw.

      • 0 avatar
        Wheeljack

        Just to be clear: Twin-I-Beam is the term used to describe the 2-wheel drive front ends. The 4×4′s are called Twin-Traction Beam or TTB for short.

        Like Denver Mike said, they are bushing and shock killers. It’s a lot of semi-sprung weight levering against those poor pivot and radius arm bushings, and when the shocks wear out (honestly, at about 20-30K miles they are less than effective) it simply aggravates matters.

        I’d have no issue with buying a used Bronco if it all checked out. To me the biggest issue with the 5.8L is that it always comes attached to an E4OD, which were problematic for many years, and I have many reservations about rebuilt/remanufactured transmissions. Even though many people seem to think the AOD used behind the 5.0L and 4.9L are “weak”, I’ve seen less of them fail in the real world when compared to the E4OD.

        The ideal drivetrain would be the 4.9L I-6 attached to the old Warner T-18 4-speed manual, but I forget what year they stopped offering that drivetrain combo.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      I ditched my E40D at the 1st sign of trouble and put in a C6 with every shift kit and upgrade available then backed it up with a Gear Vendors splitter overdrive.

      It was the most awesome, bullet proof combo I’d ever seen and I miss it.

  • avatar
    wstarvingteacher

    Welcome to Texas Mark, from beautiful Conroe.

    Coming down here is a decision you will appreciate all winter and rue all summer. Trading your Ranger for a Bronco, however, has no flip side. As you know by now, you can pick up pretty nice cars on the cheap and run them for a long time thanks to the absence of tin worms. Don’t let one false step (albeit a big one) keep you from enjoying yourself.

  • avatar

    I’m the infamous Kevin from the story.

    When we test drove it I think we both knew it was going to be a tragic/hilarious outcome, but we thought, “How bad could it be?”

    On the test drive, it smelled like gasoline, the steering was dangerously sloppy, and the shocks were mismatched but all we really cared about was to make sure that the roof still came off. We were so distracted how awesome it looked that we purposefully ignored all the other glaring defects.

    I mean, I had this idea in my head that working on a Bronco would be like working on a 60s muscle car: Easy access, cheap parts and straightforward to put together. Instead everything was gigantic, rusty and dumbfoundingly complex. That the locking front axles requiring disassembly to replace the brake rotors seems impossibly short-sighted. It’s as if Ford never planned for maintenance to be done on this vehicle. Once you pulled the thing apart, there really was no hiding that it was made as cheaply as possible.

    Also, it’s worth mentioning that Mark ordered a stylish new grill and headlights despite so many critical mechanical components being broken. That was a classy move.

    Overall it was fun, and importantly, it wasn’t my problem. Good times were had and beer was consumed. Isn’t that all that really matters?

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    I’ve always harbored a secret desire to find a clean, well cared for 1993 Ramcharger Canyon Sport. 1993 was the last year for this old soldier, and it was the first year for the newly “Magnumized” 5.9L that finally made significantly more power than the 5.2L, which was “Magnumized” several model years earlier and was arguably better than its larger brother.

    I love that these Ramchargers still had a solid front axle and could still be had with the old iron Warner 4-speed manual transmission behind the 5.2L. I may be mistaken, but I think the manual transmission vehicles still used the gear-drive, iron cased NP205 transfer case as well. The ultimate in impervious drivetrains. I came this close to buying a plain white ex-forest service Ramchager with this very drivetrain and rubber floor to boot! Let the zombies attack!

  • avatar
    Dave Klingler

    Huh. I’ve got an ’84 Bronco XLT, not markedly different other than that it’s carbureted. Gets the same mileage. And I’ve rebuilt the brakes. Not difficult at all.

    I love it.

    It gets 13 mpg, by itself or doing 80 mph towing my Honda Accord back from California after it blew a head gasket in Death Valley. The air conditioning’s great, the truck’s comfy…I dunno what else to say about it. It’s just a big old-fashioned American truck, built for a time when gas was cheap. When I realized that newer trucks didn’t do any better, I stopped complaining about the mileage.

    In summary, I don’t know what the big deal is. I find mine to be an endearingly useful tool.


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