Bronco Buster Was an SUV That Abandoned Off-Roading And Hit The Drag Strip
Racing has always been a big part of the Ford Bronco's narrative. From its early days of off-road racing and amateur competition to the built-from-scratch off-road legend Big Oly Bronco, on through to today's super-advanced Bronco R, Broncos have always been racing, whether in the hands of private teams or under sponsorship from Ford.
The "Win On Sunday – Sell On Monday" mantra has always been very strong as well, and Ford is justifiably proud of its cars ability to win races. Dating back quite a number of decades, that's why it introduced versions like the Baja Bronco and featured it prominently in advertising.
However, even though we tend to think that the Ford Bronco's racing success has been limited only to various off-road events, the truth is that Broncos also raced well out of their native element. One in particular became one of the most recognizable drag racers of the 60s. What's even more surprising is the fact that, in the golden age of the drag racing and NHRA championships, the Bronco was one of the cars that helped facilitate the transition from Super Stock and FX (Factory Experimental) classes to the full-blown Funny Car Class as we know it today.
So, here is the story of an off-road bound SUV called Bronco Buster that was transformed into a drag strip legend that helped create history.
This unique Bronco was the brainchild of famous hot rodder Doug Nash. He started his successful career as a drag racer and later established an engineering company that specialized in producing racing components and transmissions. He's best known as the guy behind the widely heralded "4+3" manual transmission, which was used in the C4 Corvette from 1984 to 1988.
In the mid-60s, he build a unique drag racer, called Bronco Buster, which used a newly-introduced Bronco Half Cab body mounted on specially-built tube chassis with a central driving position.
The Bronco Buster Drag Car debuted in 1966, right at the start of the newly-introduced A/FX (Altered/Factory Experimental) Class. It didn't feature an altered wheelbase, as did other A/FX cars of the era (the 1965 Dodge Hemi Coronet A/FX, for example). Still, it had a lightweight aluminum tube chassis with a cab, hood, and front fenders that were molded into one piece, making the result easy to remove for access. The aim was to make the vehicle as light as possible, and reports stated that Bronco Buster, once readied for racing, weighed as little as 1,700 pounds, with some sources saying that 1,400 pounds would have been more accurate.
Nash used Ford's venerable 289 V8 engine, which was only slightly modified with a greater emphasis on reliability. The engine resembled the one used in production models, but it was fueled by a standard mixture of 94% of nitromethane.
That's why Nash wore a fire protection suit and gas mask, due to the toxic fumes that were released during its runs. Interestingly, Nash decided to turn down the newly introduced and highly-desirable 427 SOHC V8 engine, which made a lot more power, since he wanted to keep using his modified 4-speed transmission and because he thought (and he was probably right) that Bronco Buster couldn't properly use that much power on the strip.
However, even with this modest setup, Bronco Buster was extremely fast, with consistent 8-second passes. His best time was 8.30 seconds, with a 180 mph trap speed, but even then, Nash complained that the car had trouble gripping and that it was hard to keep it in a straight line.
If he had had the time to address those issues, high 7-second clockings might have been possible.
Bronco Buster was very successful in match races and was one of the few SUV-bodied drag racers (there were a couple of Jeep drag cars) during the period that regularly posted impressive times. Unfortunately, the NHRA banned aluminum chassis cars in 1968, which ultimately helped create the most popular class in drag racing – Funny Cars.
All those machines with thin plastic bodies that just barely resemble their production counterparts and while featuring custom chassis with central driving positions draw inspiration from Bronco Buster. Even though its competition career lasted just a couple of years, this tiny but immensely influential drag car proved that the Bronco was capable of winning not just on dirt and mud, but also on the quarter-mile strip.