There is a rumor about a factory works Bronco that campaigned the grueling East Africa Rally in 1979 on provisional entry. It was piloted by the legendary James Garner and frequent race partner Scooter Patrick. There are no known photographs surviving, but the story goes like this….
The mid 1980s saw the rear wheel drive GR2 and GR4 cars replaced by more powerful 4 wheel drive Group B cars. Earlier speculators concluded that AWD was too complex to be successful. We know better today, but even then, there were some who saw the future. Among the select few, was James Garner. He had the ear of Ford Motorsports execs with impressive records at Baja, and Sebring. His AIR (American International Racing) team, had fostered a fair amount of experience in Europe as well.
The rumors were swirling by 1975 that FIA was planning to sanction all wheel drive for world rallye competition. This gave James an idea. Why not petition for sanctioning a truck division? They had been doing it in Dakar for years and likely Ford would get involved. Certainly one of his pals Bill Stroppe or Vic Hickey would join in. Star power had accomplished plenty more in the past!
The rumor continues, that by 1979 when FIA officially sanctioned AWD competition, a deal had been struck and Ford had a candidate ready to go. It was an experimental bronco, with a fully independent suspension, viscous coupled AWD transfer case, and high revving 32 valve power plant, all features planned for future production. The independent suspension reduced the unsprung weight of live axles. But another more significant advantage was the stance! It was impressively wide and low for a truck, granting handling advantages, lowering the center of gravity. The engineers called it the “Brawnco”.
Since FIA had no truck division, it was agreed that the Brawnco could run as an unofficial provisional entry for testing. As an experimental, it would not be able to compete against the other groups. Ford argued that it would double as a chase/support vehicle for the ever competitive Escorts. However, James and Scooter were not planning to stop and change anybody’s tires. They had something to prove, and prove it they did!
The East Africa Rally 3100 mile route is arguably the most punishing, and certainly the most remote. It was the perfect location for the launch of Brawnco. Just before dawn April 01 1979, they set off! Over the next 4 days, the rig soaked up everything the trail had to offer. Even though it weighed nearly twice as much as some of the smaller classes, it made up for this deficit with brutish reliability, and uncanny speed, besting the times of many of the automotive entries including one of the Escort rs1800s.
Historically one of the fastest events in the series with average speeds over 100 kilometres per hour, one would suppose that the winner would be among the fleet of foot. However, the roughness of the terrain and long stages meant that this was often the toughest and most reliable. Brawnco certainly excelled in those areas, and by race end they had proved the idea was a viable option. Ford was a winner in either case having a successful test run of the new truck technology, but James was hoping for the start of something new, a sanctioned truck division. Likely he would have been the team manager!
The idea was not to be. Perhaps it was simply a victim of its own success? The political climate had shifted in Europe against the larger American trucks during the gas crisis a few years earlier. European and Japanese manufacturers really had nothing to compete against it anyway. Whatever the case, a truck division idea faltered and was forgotten, along with the Brawnco that was its progenitor. The truck and accessories were all packed up and sent stateside, where the trail goes cold.
Here’s where the story gets interesting! A couple years ago, this 1979 bronco was found in a barn outside Laramie. It seems that the rig had sat there since 1984 under cover. It has East Africa Rallye markings and definitely has an experimental drivetrain! There are even the insignia of J Garner and S Patrick on the doors. Could this be the lost African Bronco? Judge for yourselves. As for us, we are going to DRIVE IT!! Happy hunting!!