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321239

1978 Ford Bronco: Freewheelin’ in Florida!

How this truck went from a rugged off-roader to a sleek must-have.

Ah, the 1978 Ford Bronco. What a beast!

1978 was a good year, y’know? Cool stuff happened that year. Superman jumped off the comic book pages to the big screen. Garfield became the OG Grumpycat without even knowing it. Van Halen taught us how to play air guitar properly! (Don’t act like you don’t know the solo to Eruption.)

It was also the year Ford took the Bronco from the barnyard to the backwoods (or the beach). We’ll get into why in a minute.

Suffice it to say, though, if somebody offered me any vehicle from the year I was born, this is what I would pick. 

Before I forget, let’s get the details out of the way. The links below will take you the Tractor Zoom listing where you can get all the details and see more photos of this beautiful Bronco.

1978 Ford Bronco Ranger XLT Freewheeling Edition

Auction Date: December 3, 2021 - 10 a.m. ET
Location: Punta Gorda, Florida
Auctioneer: Premier Auto Group
See the rest of the trucks on the sale. (There's some REALLY cool stuff on this auction!)

Before we look at the sweet Bronco on my Christmas list, though, let’s look at the first-generation Bronco.

We want a vehicle that will do everything

Apparently the F-Series trucks were too big for some people in the mid-1960s. They wanted something that would compete with a Jeep CJ or IH’s Scout. And oddly enough, farmers were actually part of that “some people” group. They wanted a smaller, go-anywhere (e.g., through the gate into the pasture) kind of vehicle. A pickup didn’t cut it for that, according to them. Personally, I think those farmers were really looking for a side by side. (You don’t think it was an accident that Polaris called theirs the Ranger, do you?)

Anyway, Ford put some stock in the project and put some pretty talented minds on it, too. Donald Frey and Lee Iacocca – the same fellas who designed the Mustang – were basically told, “Go build us something that’ll beat a CJ. We’re all counting on you.”

A red Ford Bronco sitting in a patch of grass
Photo credit: Tractor Zoom

First-generation Broncos were good-looking little things, but the emphasis is on little. They’re smaller than the new 2021 Broncos! (This particular red one was from a Minnesota collection sold in the summer of 2020.)

And that’s what they did. The first-generation Broncos were pretty neat and fairly capable offroad. They were light on creature comforts and horsepower, but that all kind of fit the image Ford was trying to project – the Bronco was a light and rugged machine. Ford saw their primary market as being farmers and ranchers who would use the little trucklet as a utility vehicle.

A fact about the Ford Broncos
Photo credit: Tractor Zoom

Successful...ish

It didn’t take long, though, before the spartan nature of the first-generation Bronco ultimately backfired on Ford. They sold well but not just to the farmer/rancher crowd. Almost as soon as they hit the market, customers started buying them for fun second cars. Moms wanted to cart the kiddos around in them during the summer, and they wanted to be more comfortable. At the end of the day, it was hard to do that in a shoebox.

Ford did add more creature comforts here and there, but ultimately the voice of the customer grew louder. And since these little summer fun-mobiles were expensive to build (they didn’ share parts with much of anything else), they started looking at a re-design in the early ’70s.

Generation II: Luxury and power...and so much room for activities!

In the meantime, Chevy hadn’t been sitting around watching paint dry. They learned from Ford’s misread of the market, and they responded with a bigger, much-cheaper-to-build option, the Blazer. It was bigger but not too big. It had some creature comforts, too. It was also based heavily on the truck lineup, so it shared more parts. Good thinking on their part!

Ford’s redesign went the same way; they based it on the F-Series pickups, and gave it more of what they thought the people wanted. More space, more power, and more style. And had it not been for the gas crisis of the early ’70s, the Generation II Broncos would have been released in 1974. But, with just two engine options – both thirsty “big small blocks” – and long lines at the pump, Ford opted to hold the release until 1978.

A sketch of the Gen-2 Ford Bronco
Photo credit: Tractor Zoom

This is a late-1972 concept sketch for the Generation II Bronco. (Internally, Ford called it Project Shorthorn.) There’s a lot that made it into the final product!

While they were designing the Generation II, Ford was also digging into the data (something we at Tractor Zoom can appreciate) on who their customer actually was. They determined that they could no longer hang a marketing strategy on the farmer/ranchers. Their target demographic eventually ended up being the under-30 crowd. People who marched to the beat of their own drummer; they might work in a town or the city, but they’d really rather be outdoors. (Boy, that sure sounds like a pretty current marketing strategy for the new Bronco. Weird how that works.)

Numbers don’t lie

Depending on who you ask, you’ll hear two different stories about the 1978 Ford Bronco. Some will tell you the reception was just so-so, and some will tell you it was huge.

The numbers don’t lie. Even though the Generation II truck was only around for two years, they were big years. In 1978 alone, Ford built nearly 78,000 Broncos. That’s over five times as many Broncos built in 1977.

Total production of the first-generation trucks was just under 226K over 11 years; total production of Generation II was just under 182K in two years.

Like I said, the numbers don’t lie. The Generation II Bronco was a massive hit.

And that, my friends, brings us to the one I’ve been drooling over for the past day or two.

A brown Ford Bronco ready for auction
Photo credit: Tractor Zoom

The 1978 Ford Bronco up for auction

Stepping away from the fact that it’s a beautiful truck for a minute, let’s talk about what makes it interesting.

It’s a Freewheeling Edition that was spec’d just right. The Freewheeling package wasn’t anything super-crazy; it was mainly just a styling thing. Stripes, all black mirrors, black bumpers, and a bigger wheel/tire combo. It was available as an option on the Custom and Ranger XLT trim levels (think mid/high-spec vehicles). Depending on which color you chose, Ford would apply stripes (there were several options within the stripes themselves) in one of two color sets – tan/orange/cream like you see here or blue/white/green. The tan/orange/cream sets are far more common than the blue/white/green.

At any rate, this particular Bronco is one of only 1,432 built in 1978 with these options and color package. If you crunch the numbers, that works out to about 1 of every 55 Broncos built in 1978. Not super-common!

An image of a Ford Marti report
Photo credit: Tractor Zoom

Wonder where I got those numbers on color/option combo? The Marti Report is a deep dive into a Ford vehicle’s VIN. It’s amazing what you can learn from these things! (This one is the seller’s report, and it goes with the truck.)

What I know

Honestly, I don’t know a lot about this truck, other than the fact that it’s been restored/resto-modded. The seller provided lots of photos of it on the lift, but sadly, that’s about it. The lift photos show both body and frame have been blasted and recoated. It’s got a 6-inch suspension lift, too, and it tucks 35s quite nicely. No interior photos, unfortunately.

A brown Ford Bronco up on a repair lift
Photo credit: Tractor Zoom

Here’s a shot of the Bronco up on the lift while it was being built. They’ve definitely treated the underbody nicely.

The seller lists that the stripes are original, but that paint looks way too good to be original paint. My guess is it’s been repainted and those are reproduction stripes. Still, this was an original Freewheeling package truck, so the truck did originally have those stripes. The seller also calls the truck a survivor, which we know it’s not (no black bumpers, different wheels/tires, yadda yadda).

This 1978 Ford Bronco came from the factory with a 351M (the highest-performing variant of the 351 V8) making a whopping 156 horsepower, but no self-respecting custom builder would leave that motor stock like that. Basic bolt-ons, exhaust, and a tune-up would probably get that motor to 350 horse without working too hard, so I would suspect that’s been done as well.

What’s a 1978 Ford Bronco worth in 2021?

A whole lot. I’ll bet you need $40K+ to even think about playing in this game.

The market for Broncos, Blazers, and Ram Chargers is absolutely white-hot right now, and it’s been that way ever since the pandemic hit. Five years ago you could hardly give one of these things away unless it was in perfect shape. Once the pandemic hit, and upwardly mobile young professionals looking for toys to play with outside drove the price through the roof. And it shows no signs of stopping. They’ve been selling at Mecum auctions all year long for $40 to $70K, depending on how crazy the restoration is!

Pro Tip: If you have one of these trucks sitting around in the barn and it’s relatively clean, air up the tires, put some gas in it, and take it for a drive on a Friday or Saturday night. I’ll be shocked if somebody doesn’t holler at you, “Hey, whaddya want for it?”

When they ask, be prepared to shoot ’em a number – a high one.

Why?

When I was a high school freshman, there was a senior named Jake who had a bright red, lifted ’78 with a 460 in it. Big dude. Varsity offensive line. Man, I thought that guy was the coolest cat on the planet.

These were cool when I was in high school, and now that a certain subset of buyers my age have some disposable cash, they’re looking for what they thought was cool when they were in school.

It’s the nostalgia, man. I totally get it.

Plus, this one just looks “right” y’know? Dark Brown Metallic with the tan/orange/cream stripes on tan interior? It takes me back to when I was growing up. Somebody is going to think so too, and they’re willing to pay dearly for it!

It won’t be me, unfortunately, but it will still be fun to watch and see where it ends up!

Here are the details one more time.

1978 Ford Bronco Ranger XLT Freewheeling Edition
Auction Date: December 3, 2021 - 10 a.m. ET
Location: Punta Gorda, Florida
Auctioneer: Premier Auto Group
See the rest of the trucks on the sale (there's some REALLY cool stuff on this auction)!

Ryan Roossinck
TractorZoom.com
Hi! I’m Ryan, and I love tractors. It doesn’t matter if it’s a showpiece, an oddball, or seen its share of life ... if it’s unique and it’s listed by one of our auctioneer partners at Tractor Zoom, I’m going to show it off a little bit! This equipment is all up for auction RIGHT NOW so you can bid on it. I think it’s cool, and I hope you will too! This is Interesting Iron!

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