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Owner Review

1985 Ford Bronco (4x4) Review

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I'm staring out of the big windscreen of the Bronco, the familiar uneven drumbeat of the idling 351 is the only sound in the cabin.
Goliath awaits.

Its the early years of the 21st century and we've taken a day off from pounding the waves off Coral Bay in our Haines fishing boat to soak up the winter sun with the family at the 'Lagoon' - a few kays north of the settlement. The shadows are growing longer and the cool sou'wester has blown all the holidaymakers and their 4X4s back over the sand hills to their rented abodes.

The obstacle in our path was a formidable one - the hordes before having chopped it into a rutted meringue, and two GQ Patrols had put the finishing touches on this mess by winching/snatching/digging and pushing for the best part of an hour. This left me in no doubt that this sandhill would be the big red wagon's toughest challenge yet.

4 adults, 3 kids, all our gear and a 45kg Malamute. Tyres at 17psi, tailgate backed up against another sandhill - our run-up looked way too short for the height of this monster.

Three fingers off the XF steering wheel click from D to 2 then 1- kids hugged tighter, butterflies and a twitchy right foot, it's now or never.

A big boot full on the go-pedal and - my heart sinks. All this load combined with a tall first gear, square-shouldered BFGs, and 3.5 diffs has the motor groaning through its inlet tract and making pitiful progress through the thick powdery sand.

Failure at the first hurdle beckons as the big Ford churns through the sand, engine moaning like a Wookie as I try and think of a plan 'B'.

Just as despair mounts, we smash into the first deep ruts on the run-up path. Strangely this helps as the front wheels grab some air and spin up wildly, allowing those two V-heads to start shifting some inlet charge. Now the wookie has made way for some V8 animal sounds and we're on our way. Reach for that selector - that hasn't really differed from Dad's XY - and grab second gear. We're in the meat of the torque band now and the heavy Geelong-cast crankshaft takes the big ratio jump in its stride and we're making hay as Goliath looms up.

We smash into the base of this behemoth and once again my heart sinks - the speedo and tacho needles plummet towards fail as we splash into the powdery quagmire, foot jammed against the tan carpet, willing the machine on but preparing for failure and the hell of reversing down this treacherous slope.

There's one shot left in the locker and its time to pull the trigger. A vicious wrench of that abused gear stick back to first and the big Cleveland snarls back at me - hope soaring in an instant. Its got a big cat growl and now feels unstoppable.

We thunder up the face - bonnet and blue sky is all we see, tyres clawing at the loose sand, bumps smack the traction beam axles against their rubber stops, but these same long arms give plenty of droop, allowing those chunky T/As to bite into the chest of Goliath, sending rooster tails skywards and propelling us ever forward and closer.

With the mighty 5.8 singing like Robert Plant and the crest within our grasp, it's absolute elation as I have to back off before we grab six feet of air over this mother. In this moment of victory, pumped with adrenaline, this dopey driver manages to sail straight past the turnoff and then plunge down the back slope of the mountain descending to god-knows-where and threatening to wipe out any gains in an instant. “F***en idiot!” I mentally scream at myself, desperately scanning the myriad tracks and hills, looking for an escape route and praying for a get-out-of-jail-free opportunity.

To our left is a narrow track where the quad bikers have been accessing a wide open face of another massive sand dune.
It’s dangerous because it’s going to be a horizontal run across the face with only centrifugal force to hold us up there, but if we make it there is a ridgeline that will get us back on top of Goliath and that turn-off.

A mental image of the Channel 7 chopper - its blades slowly rotating next to a mangled Bronco with a stern faced reporter stating to camera: “Idiot in Bronco injures two families in single car rollover” but I manage extinguish that thought with a savage stamp on that abused throttle pedal.

We're in first gear still and light on our feet as we were descending when the power comes on with that beautiful deep howl. Four wheels start spinning and the big Ford feels wonderfully controllable with a mild powerslide that brings us onto the face with a pace that pins us to the wall like a cyclist in a velodrome. Not a word is spoken. White knuckles abound. And just when the tension is too much, my mate’s 9 year old daughter lets out a staccato giggle that would shame woody woodpecker. The irony of innocence thinking it was all a game releases the tension and gives us much needed relief. The final climb onto the ridge is a doddle and we once again perch proudly atop Goliath, heart thumping in my chest and hands tingling to the fingertips.

There is one more act to this play as I manoeuvre the big bonnet to face west and watch the progress of our friends in their new 80 series GXL.

Was it all a fantasy, and will the flash Toyota with its EFI, DOHC and four valve configuration humiliate the old horse?
Will the long wheelbase and coils all-round sit this brash Oz/American on its rather ample butt?

Alas for the Holden/Toyota fans, the smooth white beast barely made it half way up, despite aired down tyres and driving it like you stole it. A second, third and fourth attempt and finally, with 7 psi barely holding the tyres to the rim beads and the engine screaming for its life, Goliath went down to the last vehicle off the beach as the sun dipped into the Indian ocean.

Over a few Coronas and emperor fillets that night we relived the moment, with my mate still gobsmacked at how “Easy the Bronco walked up the sandhill”. I assured him that it was balls to the wall but he still shook his head in amazement. He still reminds me to this day and I love it when he does. The Bronco had its quirks, but when it was good, it was very good.

So, a blast from the past and hopefully an insight as to why so many of us had a passion for these beasts and indeed the whole F100, F150/250 bandwagon.

It was probably my favourite car, mainly because it was so far ahead of everything else back in the early 80's. You must remember that 4X4s back then were gutless, lumbering, bone-jarring slugs that were a real chore to drive. The Bronco was the polar opposite - fun, fast, cool and tough. You could chase sports cars through roundabouts and tow big boats. It was technically ahead of the Japanese and didn't break down every week like a Range Rover.

I could give you a list as long as your arm of niggles with the Bronco, not the least of which was the crappy budget left to right conversion performed by Ford Australia, but it seems churlish to nit-pick something that was in a class of its own back in the day.
With the imminent arrival of the new Bronco after a 24 year hiatus, I am frankly horrified of what Ford may dish up. The idiotic execution of the Ranger Raptor and Ford completely misunderstanding their customer base has really put a damper on expectations and I can only hope the American influence will put the emphasis on all-round performance - where it should be.