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Bug-Out Bronco

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Anyone who has owned a classic car or truck knows that they come with some trade-offs. On the plus side, they tend to be astonishingly simple, at least by modern standards. Instead of a digital engine control module with tendrils woven into the ignition, fuel injection, transmission, brakes, and other critical systems, you get a distributor and a carburetor — systems that can be maintained in a driveway with basic handtools. However, these aging vehicles can also be more temperamental than their modern counterparts, so occasional tinkering comes with the territory.

Barton Bug Out Bronco
Barton’s Doberman is his canine copilot. He can often be found in the passenger seat with his tongue flapping in the breeze.

When Brandon Barton started shopping for a classic 4×4, he was well aware of these pros and cons. “I have always loved having an extraneous ‘fun’ car, but until I found my Bronco, they had been sports cars or the occasional sportbike. As I have gotten older, doing 0-60 in 4 seconds has become less important. I started thinking about the practicality of an older vehicle after reading William R. Forstchen’s One Second After.” That novel tells the story of the aftermath of an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack within the United States, which fried the sensitive electronics in newer vehicles, but left classic cars relatively unharmed. Barton admitted that’s an unlikely event, but liked the idea of a low-tech, easy-to-maintain vehicle that could survive a wide range of catastrophes.

Bug out bronco carburetor
The 43-year-old carbureted V-8 under the hood might not be pretty, but it has stood the test of time and always been easy to maintain.

After looking at a few Jeeps and International Scouts, Barton found this 1978 Ford Bronco: “She ticked all the boxes: mechanically sound, four-wheel-drive, pre-1980s tech with new tires and a lift to boot.” After taking the Bronco home, he decided to call it Lucille. He says he’s often asked if this name came from The Walking Dead, but it’s actually a reference to Kenny Rogers’ 1977 country song of the same name. “Old vehicles and Murphy’s Law being what they are, I figured if I were ever in a pinch, that would be when the ordinarily reliable old truck would ‘pick a fine time to leave me’ as the song said.” Despite the tongue-in-cheek name, Barton started building this truck into a rig he could use for camping, off-roading, or getting out of town quickly in an emergency.

Renewable Energy

With about $400 and a few hours of work, Barton assembled this solar power bank system. It includes 12V outlets and USB ports so he can keep his tools and small electronics running wherever he goes, without running the engine or draining the battery under the hood of his Bronco. You can read Part One of his DIY guide on OFFGRIDweb.

Lucille’s original 351M V-8 engine and four-speed manual transmission were still going strong, so Barton chose to leave them as-is. It also had a new 4-inch suspension lift, 15-inch Bart Wheels, and 32-inch BFGoodrich tires. However, the torn interior upholstery was patched with duct tape, and the exterior sheetmetal was showing signs of rust. Barton cleaned up the interior with some Saddle Blanket seat covers, and took the truck to Creative Colors in Clinton, Oklahoma, for some much-needed bodywork. There, the rusted fender edges were cut out and replaced with Bushwacker fender flares, and the body was repainted in Lead Foot Gray, a color offered on the late-model Ford F-150. For visual flair and improved durability, the lower body, bumpers, grille surround, fiberglass bed cover, and part of the hood were coated in Rhino bedliner.

brandon barton's bug out bronco doberman

In order to enhance the truck’s off-grid capabilities, Barton decided to add an onboard emergency power source. He started with a DIY power bank built from a deep-cycle marine battery, MinnKota trolling motor power center, and Peak mobile power outlet with USB ports. The whole setup cost him roughly $200, but its specifications are comparable to a $1,000 Goal Zero Yeti 1250. For another $200, he hooked up a 20-amp solar charge controller and a 100-watt monocrystalline solar panel to passively replenish the battery anywhere the sun shines. The panel is mounted on an inexpensive roof rack he found on Craigslist, along with a shovel and ax for vehicle recovery or road-clearing.

With the power bank, full-size spare tire, winch, and other survival gear, the small bed of the Bronco fills up quickly. Barton came up with a clever way to expand its capacity and add a comfortable, weatherproof sleeping quarters for camping and overland adventures. He bought the remains of a scrapped 1978 Ford F-100 pickup, and adapted its 8-foot-long bed into a custom trailer with matching paint, fender flares, wheels and tires, and a camper shell.

Barton says his Bronco has been at the center of many good memories. He taught his 16-year-old daughter to drive stick in it — unfortunately, she accidentally revved the engine too high, panicked, and popped the clutch, causing the driveshaft U-joint to shatter. They limped the truck home in front-wheel-drive, but it’s a day they can look back on and laugh about now. Lucille has also been a source of bonding with his stepson, through camping trips and car show attendance together. And it wouldn’t exist in its current form without assistance from Barton’s father, who “provided inspiration, guidance, help, and funding when I was short of all four.”

Like many classic car projects, Lucille is never quite finished. “At the end of the day, she’s nothing fancy or advanced, just a cool old truck that hopefully will run in the improbable event of an EMP. She still doesn’t have a radio,” he said with a laugh. 

bug out bronco

[Editor's Note: Pictures by Brennan King.]

1978 Ford Bronco

Engine: 351M 5.8L V8
Transmission: BorgWarner T-18 four-speed manual
Driveline: 4×4 with two-speed transfer case
Suspension: 4-inch lift kit with new coil springs, add-a-leaf springs, and shocks
Wheels & Tires: 15×8-inch Bart Wheels Super Trucker with 32×11.5R15 BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A 
Trailer: Modified 1978 Ford F-100 8-foot truck frame and bed with camper shell
Paint: Ford Lead Foot Gray with black Rhino liner accent


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