Hot Rod­ding a First-Gen Ford Bronco

Hot Rod - - Contents - Eric Geis­ert

For the unini­ti­ated, Pete Chapouris was a leg­end in the world of hot rod­ding. Being one of the founders of Pete & Jake’s Hot Rod Shop, the land­mark 1970/1980s-era hot rod af­ter­mar­ket parts and chas­sis busi­ness, Chapouris was among the best when com­bin­ing pro­fes­sional-level pro­mo­tion and show­man­ship with a high-qual­ity parts busi­ness.

Through­out his 50-year ca­reer, Chapouris not only had a knack for de­vel­op­ing and man­u­fac­tur­ing hot rod parts that peo­ple needed but also opened up many new av­enues for car en­thu­si­asts to ex­press them­selves. His his­tory in­cludes build­ing hot rods for rock stars (with mul­ti­ple ve­hi­cles for ZZ Top’s Billy Gib­bons), restora­tions of iconic hot rods (in­clud­ing the Doane Spencer road­ster), and vin­tage race cars, such as Alex Xy­dias’ So-Cal Speed Shop belly-tank racer from the Jan. 1949 cover of HOT ROD.

It was through work­ing with Xy­dias on the belly-tank restora­tion the next phase of Chapouris’ life would be­gin with the recre­ation of the So-Cal Speed Shop (lo­cated in Pomona, Cal­i­for­nia), which in­cluded

part­ner­ships with GM on its Bon­neville Salt Flats rac­ers as well as mul­ti­ple So-Cal Speed Shop fran­chises lo­cated across the United States. Cars built un­der Chapouris have been reg­u­larly fea­tured for their de­sign in museums and in ret­ro­spec­tives of the hobby, and one re­cently won the Amer­ica’s Most Beau­ti­ful Road­ster (AMBR) award at the 2012 Grand Na­tional Road­ster Show, one of the high­est honors for de­sign and work­man­ship there is in the cus­tom-car world.

Look­ing at things in a new way was stan­dard op­er­at­ing procedure for Chapouris, so when Sean Devine, a writer in his mid-30s, wanted Pete and the So-Cal crew to re­work his recent pur­chase, it opened up yet another av­enue for Chapouris to be­come im­mersed.

Sean is the off­spring of John Devine, a GM ex­ec­u­tive and for­mer cus­tomer of Pete’s (which in­cluded a 1966 Chev­elle), and cars were al­ways in Sean’s life one way or another. Look­ing for some­thing a bit dif­fer­ent,

Sean wanted to up­grade a first-gen­er­a­tion (1966–1977) Bronco in a way no one else had done—a job tai­lor-made for Chapouris. Un­der Pete’s guid­ance, Sean’s 1972 Bronco would be­come a hy­brid of both the off-road and hot rod worlds.

Devine bought the truck on­line and, though worn out and un­der­pow­ered, its bones were pretty good, with straight metal and no rust to speak of. The build would en­com­pass ev­ery as­pect of the Bronco, from the sus­pen­sion and driv­e­train to body mod­i­fi­ca­tions, cus­tom paint, and one­off up­hol­stery.

Work be­gan by box­ing the frame with 3/16-inch plate and reweld­ing fac­tory welds on the chas­sis. A new fac­tory rearend went in, aug­mented with a limited-slip dif­fer­en­tial, 31-spline axles, and a Hell­wig an­ti­sway bar. ProComp shocks and the rear brakes re­main at

stock spec­i­fi­ca­tion, but the fronts are a retro­fit us­ing pieces from Tom’s Bronco Parts.

The spin­dles and steer­ing are OEM

(the box is a re­built ABS unit), though the brake mas­ter cylin­der is up­graded with a CPP Hy­dra Stop unit, used in con­junc­tion with Wil­wood’s ad­justable pro­por­tion­ing valve and an OEM pedal as­sem­bly. The gas tank is a 25-gal­lon unit from Tom’s Bronco Parts, and the hot rod steer­ing col­umn comes via Flam­ing River. It is topped with a fac­tory steer­ing wheel re­fur­bished and re­designed by Gabe’s Cus­tom Up­hol­stery. The truck rolls on black Robby Gor­don XD Se­ries 17x9 wheels, wrapped in Toyo MP295/70R17 rub­ber.

For the pow­er­plant, John Beck, a record­set­ting Bon­neville and dry-lakes racer who works at Vin­tage Hot Rod De­sign & Fab­ri­ca­tion in Chico, Cal­i­for­nia, started with a

5.0 block and set it up for a dis­place­ment of 347 cubes us­ing a 3.400-inch Ea­gle crank and 4.030-inch KB Per­for­mance pis­tons with Mahle rings. Comp Cams pro­vided the tim­ing set, ARP han­dled the main and head bolts, and the V8 was topped with an Edle­brock in­take, an MSD Atomic EFI, Spec­tre’s cold-air in­take tub­ing, a K&N air fil­ter,

MSD ig­ni­tion and wires, Ford Mo­tor­sport valve covers, and a 100-amp al­ter­na­tor.

So-Cal Speed Shop fabbed the ex­haust sys­tem, and this Bronco’s ex­haust note sounds like no other. The trans­mis­sion is a C4 out­fit­ted with a Dana trans­fer case, as­sem­bled by Remac Trans­mis­sion in

San Di­mas, Cal­i­for­nia, us­ing a B&M ProRatchet shifter, a Tom’s Bronco Parts twin­stick, and a drive­shaft from Reel Driv­e­line.

One of the tricks Chapouris de­signed into the body was us­ing a sec­ond set of front fender wheel open­ings that were sec­tioned into the op­po­site rear quar­ters (us­ing the driver’s front on the pas­sen­ger rear, and the pas­sen­ger’s front on the driver’s rear). It stretches up the wheel open­ings just enough with­out being overtly no­tice­able, and So­Cal’s Evin Veazie per­formed the metic­u­lous met­al­work. Other tricks in­clude nar­row­ing the bumpers so the ends don’t ex­tend be­yond the edge of the body and re­lo­cat­ing the mounts so the bumpers now tuck in tight to the body.

Af­ter the body­work was done, the Bronco was rolled next door to Mick’s Paint in Pomona and sev­eral coats of PPG Mercedes Irid­ium Sil­ver was ap­plied. Once fin­ished, a sub­tle gold­en­rod pin­stripe was added by Muri­etta’s Dr. De­sign down the side just above the top re­veal line, plus some clas­sic hot rod lines added to the glove­box door.

“It was worth the wait and one day I’ll be able to give it to my son like a fam­ily

heir­loom.” — Sean Devine

More hot rod in­flu­ences can be found in the in­te­rior, with the air­craft gauges mounted on top of the dash’s face (rather than be­hind it), the light bar and Vin­tage Air AC con­trols hid­den in­side the glove­box, and nine more tog­gle switches mounted in three panels above the driver at­tached to the So-Cal–fabbed six-point rollcage.

Chapouris de­signed the in­te­rior, and the dash­pad is cov­ered in the same Ul­tra brown leather as used by Gabe’s Cus­tom Up­hol­stery on the out­board por­tion of the cus­tom bucket seats. The in­board seat ma­te­rial is vin­tage Viet­nam-era U.S. Army can­vas, with its mi­nor color flaws in­ten­tional in their place­ment. Gabe’s also cre­ated the soft top for the Ford, though there is also a re­mov­able hard­top that Sean can use at his dis­cre­tion.

Di­a­mond Rub­ber Prod­ucts made the Bronco’s floor cov­er­ing and a 1957 Chevy’s rear mir­ror was uti­lized, too. So-Cal’s Justin Veazie wired up the ride, which in­cluded the Mar­shall amp con­verted into the Blue­tooth-based stereo’s speaker box that’s mounted un­der the dash. Be­fore its fi­nal de­liv­ery, the Ford was turned over to Jon Ci­auri, who added an ex­ter­nal oil cooler to the trans­mis­sion to help it run cool. He also did the fi­nal “tun­ing” on the truck’s wiring to get ev­ery­thing run­ning as well as pos­si­ble.

The Bronco proved to be the last project Chapouris would com­plete, as he passed away just three weeks af­ter th­ese photos were taken. But Pete’s legacy burns as bright as his tal­ent, and it’s ve­hi­cles like Sean’s that will be a per­fect way to re­mem­ber him for many years to come.

[ Four-point latch-type safety belts were cus­tom made by DJ Safety in Los An­ge­les, and used on both the front and rear seat­ing. Can­vas tote bags on the back of the buck­ets helps keep im­por­tant pa­pers in­tact.

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