Stroppe Racing Broncos: An Early Example
by Todd Zuercher
In the infant years of off-road racing, Ford Broncos ruled the desert landscapes of the Nevada desert and the Baja peninsula. Thanks to the efforts of Bill Stroppe and others, the rugged little bobtails found their way to the top of the heap in nearly all the early contests staged in the southwestern U.S. and beyond. The trucks raced in the first year or two of competition varied little from their production counterparts as Stroppe experimented with various ideas on how to make the trucks more dependable and sturdy for the rugged desert terrain they traversed at speeds far greater than the common, everyday Bronco.
In the late 1960s, James Garner, the famous TV actor, saw the excitement of the emerging sport and decided to try his hand at desert competition. Naturally, he turned to the best man in the business and soon Garner and Stroppe had teamed up to prepare trucks for the "James Garner Racing Team". Stroppe was in charge of prepping the trucks and Garner and others handled the driving. Garner, with pavement racing star Scooter Patrick riding shotgun, achieved moderate success with the Broncos for about a season or two before moving on in later years to driving Ramblers and Oldsmobile Banshees down the Baja peninsula. In 1972, Garner returned to Stroppe's stable, driving an F100 pickup with Slick Gardner.
So whatever happened to Garner's racing Broncos? Since Garner stopped racing Broncos over thirty years ago, finding one of the original trucks would appear to be as difficult as finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. So imagine early Bronco collector Larry Newell's surprise when a neighbor told him he had James Garner's racing Bronco for sale in his backyard-where it had rested for seventeen years! Larry has never sanded the current red paint to look for the original colors(peeling blue and yellow paint showing on the floorpans may be hints) but there are many other clues which point to this being a Stroppe race truck from the late '60s, even if it isn't the truck Garner himself drove.
Unlike the other examples of Stroppe's trucks which still exist, this truck has a 4 speed toploader manual transmission, manual steering, and 4 wheel drum brakes. This is a common Stroppe combo up until about 1970 when Saginaw power steering and C4 automatics made their way into the trucks. One very unusual feature on this truck is a Dana 44 front with with kingpin steering knuckles. According to longtime Bronco vendor/former Bronco racer James Duff, Ford produced 10 of these DSO axle assemblies-Duff received one for his truck and Stroppe was given the rest. These axles were sometimes known as Dana 33s. Larry's truck has 4.88 axle gears (stock with 4.88 Ford tag!) in each heavily reinforced axle, another indication this truck was not your run-of-the-mill Bronco. The rear leaf springs have Air-Lift overload coil springs attached to frame with internal air bags, adjustable in-cab via shraeder valves. This was a common Stroppe addition to his trucks. The rear axle houses a Detroit Locker. Another Stroppe style upgrade is the frame-mounted braces behind the front bumper. Inside the engine compartment resides a 289 with Jardine headers and a Shelby GT-350 aluminum 4 barrel intake. There is also custom sheetmetal behind the grille forcing more air into the radiator.
The frame mounted rollcage is Stroppe's signature style, with the
driver's/passenger's kicked out arm bars still intact. The roof is covered
with an expanded metal cover, which Stroppe insisted on for his all his
open-topped Broncos. The interior is sparse, highlighted by Bostrom suspension
seats, a padded steering wheel, battery box at the passenger's feet and a
large speedometer mounted in the center/passenger side of the dash. The rocker
panels feature exhaust tips exiting just behind the door insert opening. One
unusual feature on this truck is the "frenched" gas tank filler hole in both
rear quarter panels. In all photos from the period, Stroppe's trucks always
had a filler tube above the quarter panel. The origin of this feature is
unknown. This truck has a windshield frame and tailgate - obviously added
after the truck's racing days were over.
Today, Larry enjoys occasionally driving his Bronco around the L.A. area where he lives. With 4.88 gears he doesn't take it for long highway trips, but Larry does enjoy bringing it out to the Fabulous Fords car show from time to time. Will the future hold a complete race-style restoration of this truck? Only time will tell!