Free Wheelin’ Project: 1979 Ford Bronco XLT

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Determining whether a classic is desirable can sometimes be challenging, but this 1979 Bronco XLT Free Wheelin’ leaves no doubt. The auction action has been frantic on a vehicle requiring a total restoration. The seller includes some parts to get the ball rolling, but the winning bidder faces many hours of hard labor to recapture this classic’s lost youth. If you feel up for the challenge, the Bronco is listed here on eBay in Charlevoix, Michigan. Bidding has scorched past the reserve to sit at $7,300.

The seller supplies only this single image of this Bronco’s complete exterior, and it tells quite a story. The vehicle retains its Raven Black paint and distinctive Chamois, Orange, and Russet stripes but looks pretty tired. A refresh is on the agenda, but the winning bidder faces significant cutting, grinding, and welding before this classic is rust-free and ready for the spray gun. Rust has impacted many typical areas, including the lower body extremities, door frames, and floors. The seller includes some older rust repair panels, a pair of quarter panels, and a tailgate as a starting point. However, the new owner will be on a first-name basis with their steel supplier before this job is done. The glass and bright trim pieces look acceptable for a driver-grade build, and the wheels require restoration or replacement to achieve respectable presentation.

Lifting this Ford’s hood reveals one of the significant challenges facing manufacturers during The Malaise Era. The engine bay houses the Bronco’s range-topping 402ci V8, producing 156hp and 277 ft/lbs of torque. The original owner paid a premium for this motor over the entry-level 351M powerplant, raising the question of why. The smaller engine pumps out 168hp, which is marginally higher than its larger counterpart. The 400 trumps the 351 on torque, but only by 15 ft/lbs. The company’s performance figures confirm that power and torque are delivered at identical spots in the rev range, and the two engines are inseparable across any standard industry performance measure. This Free Wheelin’ sends its power to the road via a three-speed C6 automatic transmission, with power assistance for the steering and brakes making life on the move pretty effortless. The seller supplies no information on how the vehicle runs or drives, but, as we will see when we discuss the bidding history, that hasn’t dampened interest.

This Bronco’s interior is a surprise packet because its most pressing needs are a new carpet set and a replacement for the cracked dash pad. The upholstered items look good, with no significant wear or damage on the seats that would justify a retrim. The remaining surfaces are tidy, the faux walnut hasn’t deteriorated, and there is no crumbling plastic. There might be a couple of aftermarket additions like a CB, but any changes are easily reversible. This Bronco hails from a less complicated time, so optional extras don’t weigh it down. However, the factory air conditioning, folding back seat, cruise control, and AM/FM radio are welcome inclusions.

Ford nearly retired the Bronco badge when First Generation production ended. It persisted, and the approach paid dividends with massive sales increases. The 1979 model year was the most successful to that point, with 104,038 buyers taking one of these classics home. That figure deserves perspective because it took the First Generation Bronco nearly six years of accumulated sales to achieve that feat. This Free Wheelin’ has generated plenty of interest, receiving thirty-nine bids at the time of writing. Are you tempted to make it a round forty?

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. HoA Howard AMember

    “Free Wheelin”,,,, :), can anyone tell me what that really meant? And it had nothing to do with the drivetrain. It’s anything but clean, and borderline beater/cushy plow truck status. There’s much nicer Broncos to be had. This thing will get “gallons per mile”, if that’s an issue, and a much better use, is a long driveway/ rural plow truck, and put it back in the weeds. I’m really beginning, no wait, have for a while, there’s no way 40 people want this for that kind of money. Believe what you want, I think it’s mostly BS. I would give you a grand for this rust bucket,,,plow truck.

    Like 8
    • HoA Howard AMember

      Again, Free Wheelin’,,,aw, go ahead, nobody will judge you 40(?) years later.

      Like 4
    • Big C

      The old men in the ad agency were trying to be “hip” when these came out. Thus Free Wheelin’ Bronco’s, Pinto Cruisin’ Wagons, and the faux “custom” vans that were offered by Ford and Dodge. It was the 70’s fer cryin’ out loud.

      Like 4
      • HoA Howard AMember

        Pretty close, it was to mimic( honor?) the cartoon character Free Wheelin Franklin, one of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, a very popular underground, counter-culture comic strip by R. Crumb. Car makers were indeed very hip, they had to be, because they knew it was who was buying a majority of their vehicles. These were our WW2 war heroes kids making the decisions and was a fun time, fo sho!

        Like 2
      • Big C

        These “kids” in the auto industry were as hip as Pat Boone. No self respecting “vanner” would be caught dead in a new “Cruisin’ Van.” We customized our own.

        Like 1
  2. rbig18

    I guess if you are convinced these will be worth $150K or more one day it might make sense to restore this. It is going to take a full body off and possibly even frame replacement. Do people really just start bidding and paying serious money based on a couple pictures from the internet? I have my doubts sometimes. I like these and want them restored but I can’t see how anyone would just go frantic to pay 10K or so for something they know is going to cost 75K or more to restore properly and then not worth what you have into it.

    Like 4
    • John M STecz

      I would think that’s a 400 V 8 not a 402. Not trying to trash your article

      Like 0
  3. Leslie framer

    Actually the price isn’t too terrible but I’d have to see the whole vehicle in person and it’s a job to do it but everyone here is to cheap evidently and besides the craze for broncos is dropping out of the market now because people didn’t use their heads and just bought them thinking they couldn’t find many

    Like 1
  4. Scrapyard john

    I just miss the stripes and odd colors from the 70’s. You used to see a lot of this body style (mostly trucks) with similar stripes. My dad had a 1976 F150 (Ranger? Whatever they called the half ton then). It was green on green with similar stripes, but yellow. It looked like a Sprite can. 6 cylinder, three on the tree. A doo doo brown 1982 f150 long bed replaced it. I think my dad bought vehicles cheap because no one else wanted them due to the color/configuration. We had a 1973 doo doo brown Caprice with a 454 also. Looking back, I wonder if he got a deal on it because of the whole oil embargo deal and the color!

    Like 3
    • John Irwin

      1976 was a cool year for trucks. Both light and heavy duty. I love the looks of those 76 Chevy Sport pickups. They only came in half ton and they were available in only 5 colors I believe? I loved the black stepside with the white stripes that wrapped around the fender on the bed and had stripes on the hood too. It came with white wagon wheels and a rollbar in the bed. Another one was the dark maroon fleetside with the white stripes. Both awesome trucks! And the early to mid 70s Ford high boys were just TOO Cool! They had such an awesome stance. Trucks today are over complicated, way over priced and very boring

      Like 2
    • Barzini BarziniMember

      In the 1970s Ford and Dodge raised the stripe package to an art form.

      Like 1
  5. John M STecz

    I would think that’s a 400 V 8 not a 402. Not trying to trash your article

    Like 2
  6. John Irwin

    These were such cool Broncos! My buddy’s Dad had a 79 white with the same stripes. We used to cruise around in it and I just loved that Bronco. I drove it a few times and I remember how much fun it was to drive. A little bouncy and that’s okay it just adds to the fun 😊

    Like 2

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