A Shelby Bronco? There was one, and a Boss Bronco as well

The Boss Bronco: Alas, the Boss was fired before production could begin
Carroll Shelby had his crew do engine swap when he got the first Ford Bronco prototype in 1966 | Gateway Bronco photos
Carroll Shelby had his crew do engine swap when he got the first Ford Bronco prototype in 1966 | Gateway Bronco photos

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised: The very first Ford Bronco produced ended up in Carroll Shelby’s hands, and he immediately replaced the six-cylinder engine with a 289-cubic-inch V8.

Not only that first Bronco’s story but the truck itself were shared last week at the Barrett-Jackson collector car auction, where the first Bronco, the prototype for the 1969 Boss Bronco and several resto-modded Broncos were on display in the Gateway Bronco booth.

When Ford was done with its engineering work, the Bronco went to Shelby to use on his Christmas Mountains Land & Cattle Company ranch at Terlingua, Texas, near Big Bend National Park and just north of the Mexican border.

But before the Bronco got to Texas, it was delivered first to the Shelby American workshop in Los Angeles, where it underwent an engine transplant — likely boosting it to 200 hp and 282 pound-feet of torque, or perhaps more, knowing Shelby — and was repainted red and white.

From LA the Bronco went to Texas and was used on the ranch until 1978, when it was sold — without its wheels and tires — for $100 to the local Ford dealer, Vincent “Vinnie” Yakubanski. The Bronco served as the Yukabanski family’s daily driver, and made frequent trips back and forth to Wyoming, often with hot dogs wrapped in tin foil and cooking on the V8’s intake manifold along the way.

Last October, Gateway Bronco owner Seth Burgett became the Bronco’s third owner, presumably paying more than $100 for the vehicle.

One of Gateway Bronco's Coyote Edition restomods
One of Gateway Bronco’s Coyote Edition restomods

Burgett has been a long-time Ford fanatic. He’s also an inventor who holds more than three dozen patents and who was able to pursue his passion after selling his former company, which created yurbuds, specialized headphones for athletes.

Burgett’s special interest in Fords focused on Mustangs and Broncos. He bought his first Mustang, a 1966 model, as a teenager, installed a four-point roll bar and nitrous system and pretty much destroyed the underside of the vehicle when he landed after getting airborne while racing over a hill. But he still has the car and plans someday to restore it.

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His primary mission now, however, is finding and updating original Broncos, especially those still with their original paint. Based in southern Illinois, not far from St. Louis, Gateway updates old Broncos with new Ford engines, leather interiors, contemporary brakes, suspension, etc., and offers them in turnkey Restomod Fulie, Coyote Edition Survivor and Modern Day Warrior versions, with warranties ranging from two to five years. Prices range from $80,000 to $160,000, depending on version and options.

Examples of those vehicles were at Barrett-Jackson, as were the ex-Shelby Bronco and the Boss prototype.

The Boss Bronco: Alas, the Boss was fired before production could begin
The Boss Bronco: Alas, the Boss was fired before production could begin

The Boss was a project by Ford prototype builder Kar-Kraft, designer Larry Shinoda and off-road racer Bill Stroppe. Their hope was that Ford president Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen would approve the souped-up Bronco for production, especially since they named for prototype for him, the Ford Division “boss.”

The Boss Bronco was built with a blueprinted 351 Windsor V8 engine — basically the engine that powered the Shelby GT350 Mustangs — a high-performance four-speed automatic transmission, 4.11:1 front and rear limited-slip differentials, Stroppe’s own Baja-racing style suspension and power steering, 10-inch wide chromed wheels (with rear fender flares for clearance), and even the hood scoop from a Mercury Cougar Eliminator.

Everything was great until Lee Iacocca fired Knudsen. Fortunately, instead of being destroyed, the Boss Bronco became part of the Kar-Karaft liquidation sale in late 1970, though it wasn’t until last year that ancient Kar-Kraft documents were re-discovered and proved that VIN U15GLF31817 was, indeed, the Boss Bronco prototype.

A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at ClassicCars.com, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.