More photos, history on first Ford Bronco truck

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Updated Dec 20, 2016
1966 Bronco half-cab. Photos courtesy of Gateway Bronco.1966 Bronco half-cab. Photos courtesy of Gateway Bronco.

The recent Hard Working Trucks story, “First Ford Bronco found, looks like a truck,” was so popular that we opted to do a follow-up and take a closer look at this very unique and storied legend.

The 1966 Bronco half-cab was once owned by Ford phenom Carroll Shelby. Its next owner paid Shelby $100 for the truck in 1979 and planned to restore it, but the pickup spent most of its next 30 years inside a barn and was never fully restored. (See pictures below.)

Bronco restoration company, Gateway Bronco, recently bought the truck, which experts say is worth at least $100,000. Gateway plans on completely restoring it and publishing a book revealing the restoration.

The historic Bronco will be on display at Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale for its first public appearance since the 1970s when Shelby rode in the truck during a parade in Alpine, Texas. The truck’s second owner Vinnie Yakubanski, who paid Shelby $100 for the truck, will be on hand to tell the stories of this Bronco during his ownership in Texas and Wyoming.  Gateway’s booth location will be near the Salon Showcase.

HWT talked with Gateway about the truck and learned more about its history and Gateway’s plans for its future.

HWT: Was the half-cab Bronco relegated strictly to prototype status? Or, did it ever go into full production? If so, why didn’t it ever take-off with consumers?

Gateway: The Bronco half-cab went into full production for the 1966 offerings by Ford and was available as one of three choices.  A U13 which is the Bronco Roadster, a U14 which is the half-cab and the U15 which is the wagon or what we can consider one of the original Sport Utility Vehicles. In the end, the roadster had limited utility without doors and available in a soft top was only produced 1966 thru 1968.  The half-cab was next in popularity and usefulness as one of the earliest small format trucks and was available 1966 thru 1972.  The U15 wagon was available 1966 thru 1977 or during the entire period of the 1st generation Bronco.  If we were to speculate why the half-cab didn’t take off, it could only hold two people and if we look at today’s trucks, the large majority are extended cab or crew cab.  When people are doing work or exploring the outdoors, they like to have company and the half-cab was limited in its ability to haul people.  Bronco competitor International Harvester had the same models in their Scout and people chose the wagon over the truck or roadster.  Again it’s speculation, but the consumer needs just seemed to be better met with the wagon.  The wagon provided the option to haul friends and family into the backcountry during the boom of the outdoor lifestyle in the 60s and 70s, bridging the gap between a 4×4 truck and the station wagons popular at the time.  The U15 Bronco was a unique blend of rugged off-road capability with the sensibility of a wagon capable of hauling both people and gear.  The Bronco introduced a coil spring suspension providing a surprisingly soft ride and incredible 33 foot turning radius out performing even the CJ-5 for turning radius and ride quality.  More maneuverable than a Jeep and the comforts of a wagon made the U15 version of the Bronco the most popular and a unique offering in the SUV category of the 60’s and 70’s.

HWT: What was the driving force behind the development of the half-cab? I mean, it basically looks like a truck.

Gateway: The half-cab absolutely is a truck, one of the first small format pickups.  Donald Frey, originally from St. Louis, who led the development of the Mustang and the Bronco wanted Ford to participate in the emerging sport utility market.  He pushed from day one to introduce the half-cab as a direct competitor to the Scout and CJ-5.  It was essentially one of the first 4x4s produced by Ford.  It was only a short time earlier that the first F-100 4×4 was available from Ford which was somewhat late to the dedicated 4×4 market.  The driving force in a statement from Frey: “This new vehicle, the Bronco, was created to be the combination of both a car and truck for men and women who seek adventure as well as practical transportation.”  The Carroll Shelby Bronco has been seen carrying a 1975 MX400 Yamaha dirt bike in the back by its second owner Vinnie Yakubanski.  We have seen a picture with the big Yamaha sitting cross-ways in the back of the little Bronco.  We plan to recreate that scene from circa 1978.

HWT: What kind of responses have you been getting since acquiring the first Bronco?

Gateway: People are making reservations to come visit our shop from across the country to hear the story directly and see the Carroll Shelby Bronco for themselves.  Generally, these are historians, enthusiasts and experts in the early Broncos that want to see the oddities we’ve found on this unique prototype.  In addition to individuals wanting to see the truck and its one-off features, owners of Broncos recognize that we will take good care of their restoration project and we have been receiving a steady stream of Broncos being shipped to Gateway Bronco for restoration.  Our January production slots are filled, February production slots are nearly filled and the March slots have started to fill as well.  Some of these vehicles are what we call heirloom restorations others are frame-off Restomods with fuel injection using our products as a baseline and customizing the Bronocs the way the individual wants their own Bronco.  They can test drive our Fuelie which is a 347 Stroker crate motor with fuel injection and compare that with our Coyote Edition Bronco and make a determination how they want to build their own.  We couldn’t be more pleased with the response and continued growth of our business.

HWT: Any big offers so far for the half-cab?

Gateway: Yes – we have received unsolicited offers.  A couple that are serious offers.

HWT: Any plans to sell it soon?

Gateway: Our plans are to tour the unique Bronco in its current condition thru 2017 before restoring it to the condition that Carroll Shelby had the vehicle.  We want to give the opportunity to the experts within the Bronco and early Shelby community the chance to look the truck over for any unusual parts, fully documenting everything before changing anything.  The truck will end up red with a white top and the intent to keep the original hi-po exhaust that is still on the car today.  We are writing a book on this historical and other historical Broncos to fully document this restoration.  No plans to sell in the near future.

HWT: It’s been reported that the odometer has been disconnected since Shelby owned it. Any plans on fixing that?

Gateway: Absolutely not.  That will stay just as it is!

HWT: Anything else you’d like to add?’

Gateway: At Gateway Bronco we like to think we are carrying on the Shelby tradition in our own unique way.  We are passionately working to enhance the ‘Sport’ feature of one of Americas most iconic SUV’s.  Our intent in every design is to bring out the Bronco’s strongest and most desirable character traits.  This is a continuation of what Shelby started in the sixties taking a 6-cylinder Bronco and turning it into one of the first v8 Broncos, then adding the first Sport trim package to match the new attitude of this v8 half-cab.  Fifty years later we are taking one of the best v8s Ford has to offer and making these great little Broncos even sportier than ever.  When we open the doors to our shop every morning, it feels a little like Shelby American of the sixties.  Trucks lined up in a row being transformed into sport machines.  Taking something good and making it perform like a modern day warrior with a little engineering and ingenuity to put a Coyote 302 into an early Bronco, we call it Breathing New Life into a Legend!






dscn02061966 Bronco half-cab. Photos courtesy of Gateway Bronco.