Googling things sometimes turns up more than just search results. Take Wes Eisenschenk’s discovery of a long lost, incredibly rare 1969 Ford Bronco prototype, which came up after he plugged the rig’s serial number into Google in 2016. As he puts it: “There it was, the missing 1969 Ford Boss Bronco prototype, in an expired eBay listing.” The internet had dredged up what amounts to a 40 years too early Ford Bronco Raptor ideated at the peak of the muscle-car era.
What Is a Boss Bronco?
A Boss Bronco? Yes, Ford built a prototype high-performance Boss Bronco 4×4 in 1969 at its legendary clandestine enterprise Kar-Kraft. The burly SUV featured a blueprinted 1969 Mustang Shelby GT 350 engine, a Hi-Po C4 automatic transmission, and 4.11 limited-slip gears front and rear, among other truly muscular details. Somehow, the one-of-one Boss Bronco survived under the radar for more than 40 years in fantastic original condition.
Wes, who uncovered the Boss Bronco, is an editor at CarTech, the publisher behind the book, “Kar-Kraft: Race Cars, Prototypes and Muscle Cars of Ford’s Special Vehicles Activity Program,” by Charlie Henry. Research for this book dredged up the VIN for the Boss Bronco prototype, which was built to prove the concept of a production high-performance Bronco for then-Ford president Bunkie Knudsen, who with his cohort from General Motors, Larry Shinoda, was largely responsible for Ford’s original Boss Mustang program of 1969-1971.
The original team at Kar-Kraft started with a specially equipped 1969 Bronco Sport, sent to them directly from the Ford assembly line. It was equipped with a 302 V-8, 4.11 gears, a limited-slip diff, and—likely as no coincidence—it was finished in a rare-for-the-year coat of Empire paint—a shade of yellow that was known to be Knudsen’s favorite color. After all, nothing is sacred when looking to have a prototype approved by the Boss’s boss!
To make sure this project—originally referred to as simply the “Special Bronco” in internal documents—was everything a high-performance Bronco should be, Kar-Kraft called in Bill Stroppe to oversee the build. Stroppe, who was running Ford’s off-road racing team, certainly had more than enough experience to know what it would take to build a righteous Bronco. After all, he’d fielded a team of the things to Baja off-road victories for Ford.
Among the modifications chosen by the Kar-Kraft team and Stroppe for the Special Bronco (which was soon re-named the Boss Bronco, ostensibly to tie it in with Ford’s existing line of Boss cars), was additional horsepower. Out went the 302 V-8 and in came a 1969 GT 350 210-S-code 351 four-barrel Windsor motor, although the one provided for the Boss Bronco by Ford was also balanced and blueprinted, much as the allegedly “bone stock” engines used for magazine road test cars were said to be back in the day. The V-8 exhaled through a true dual exhaust with glasspack mufflers. Backing up this warmed-over 351 Windsor was a custom Kar-Kraft-fabricated adapter that allowed a Hi-Po C4 automatic transmission to be fitted; it would be the first automatic transmission Ford put in a Bronco.
Stroppe dual shocks were installed at all four corners to help keep the big 15-inch chrome wheels and 10-15LT Gates Commando tires on the ground when the going got rough. Inside, a Stroppe padded steering wheel, Stroppe roll bar, and a Mustang shifter for the C4 were installed, along with custom upholstered panels and aluminum trim to finish the inside of the rear quarter-panels and tailgate for a more upscale look. The rear wheel wells were cut—sorry, first-gen Bronco fans!—and Stroppe fender flares installed for the needed tire clearance, a Cougar Eliminator hood scoop bolted on, and finally, the Boss Mustang-style black hockey-stick stripes with “BOSS BRONCO” lettering were applied.
. . . And Why Aren’t There More of Them?
Lee Iacocca famously fired Knudsen before a production Boss Bronco could get off the ground and live up to its promise. Afterward, inventory sheets show Kar-Kraft was supposed to crush the one and only Boss Bronco prototype. Somehow, it escaped. Exactly how is still unknown, but experts suspect it was simply sold to an employee when Kar-Kraft was liquidated in late 1970.
No matter how the Bronco made it into the wild, Wes was the extremely lucky soul who found the Boss Bronco decades later. The muscle truck had sold outside of eBay (remember, the listing had expired by the time Wes happened upon it), so Wes searched and found the ultimate buyer, a man in Washington State, who agreed to sell the Bronco for a nice profit. Wes then posted a picture of the rare prototype on an internet forum looking for further info on it. That’s when Colin Comer saw it.
Colin owns Colin’s Classic Automobiles in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He is also a diehard Ford and Shelby authority and collector and has authored numerous books on the subject. He and Wes had worked together at another publishing company, which is how they became friends.
“As soon as I saw Wes’ post on the Boss Bronco, I immediately emailed him and said I had to have it,” Colin said. “Being a huge Ford muscle guy, as well as a long-time early Bronco owner, how could I not? I had no idea the Boss Bronco had survived. To me, it is one of the ultimate early Broncos. Plus the Kar-Kraft and Stroppe connection is just so cool. I didn’t get much sleep until I convinced my buddy Wes to sell it to me! Once we arrived at a deal, I had to sell my Holman-Moody-built 1969 Bronco to help fund the Boss, but I have no regrets.”
Colin was clearly ecstatic to find himself the owner of a significant Ford prototype built at Kar-Kraft.
“The truck was painted once but otherwise untouched. There is zero rust anywhere, which is very rare for an early Bronco. It still has all of its original finishes underneath. It has the original Kar-Kraft-installed Mustang shifter for the C4 automatic and the fabricated transmission adaptor they made, and still had the original engine with its original 210-S tag. Everything down to the original carburetor and original prototype dual exhaust is still on the truck. It shows 60,000 miles and 47 years of use, but it is—amazingly—all there. And that’s what matters.”
Colin compared original Ford photos of the truck from Kar-Kraft to find the SUV’s original hockey-stick stripe dimensions had been changed slightly during its repaint, and the Boss Bronco decals were long gone. Most likely, Kar-Kraft pulled those off before selling the truck to disguise its prototype status.
Colin calculated the original stripe dimensions using the 1969 factory photos and by finding remnants of the originals in the door jambs, then re-sprayed the stripes correctly. He then had a new set of Boss Bronco decals made to return the truck to its original prototype appearance. The Boss Bronco, now out of hiding, sees frequent use by Colin, who has already added a few thousand miles to its odometer. He believes it’s a shame the Boss Bronco never made it to production, as it “would have been a big hit” in 1969, “much like the Ford Raptor is today.”
1969 Ford Boss Bronco Specifications
- Owned by: Colin Comer
- Engine: 290-hp 351-ci 210-S Windsor V-8
- Transmission: C4 3-speed automatic
- Axles: Dana 30 front, Ford 9-inch rear with 4.11 gears and limited-slip
- Interior: White vinyl bucket seat
- Wheels: 15×10 custom
- Tires: 32×11.50R15LT BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A KO2
- Special parts: Shelby GT 350 210-S engine; C4 transmission with Mustang shifter; special paint, stripes, and decals; Stroppe roll bar, dual shocks, and fender flares; Cougar Eliminator hood scoop; custom wheels
This story originally appeared in Hot Rod in March 2018.