Fan refurbishes first-generation Ford Broncos

Larry Edsall
Special to The Detroit News

Seth Burgett and his wife were driving one of his old Ford Broncos through the Great Smoky Mountains. One day, after eight to 10 hours in the vehicle, she turned to him and said, “I think I’m done. It smells. It’s hot in the daytime and cold at night. We always have to carry tools with us.”

Burgett understood her anxiety, especially after their children sided with their mother. So he suggested that what she wanted was a new Range Rover disguised within an old Bronco body. She agreed.

Now Burgett has done just that, as well as launching a business, Gateway Bronco. It finds first-generation Ford Broncos in their original paint, updates them mechanically, refurbishes the interior and puts them back on the road.

“I love these old trucks,” Burgett said of the 4x4 classics. “I love the way they make you feel. I love the places they allow me and my family to go. When I get in a first-generation Bronco, I think my heart rate goes down. It puts me in a happy state of mind, a relaxed state of mind — like going on vacation; that’s where it takes me.”

Burgett has around 15 of them in the process of being updated.

Gateway Bronco debuted at the recent Ford Nationals, an annual gathering of roughly 2,000 Ford vehicles and their owners staged by Carlisle Events, a presenter of collector car and truck events in Pennsylvania. There, Burgett shared his plans to provide customers with three versions of the original Bronco:

■Fuelie, a vintage Bronco, repainted in whatever color you want, but with a leather interior and a new Ford Coyote 302-cubic-inch V8 powertrain, delivered for $80,000 within two months of being ordered.

■Survivor, with original paint and beloved patina preserved, but with a frame-off restoration that includes the installation of a new Ford Coyote 302-cubic-inch V8 powertrain, four-wheel disc brakes, leather interior, etc., for $120,000.

■Warrior, your choice of color, with the Coyote powertrain, but also with four-link suspension, Wilwood brakes, heated seats with custom leather and more, for $160,000.

The Gateway Broncos are delivered with 5-year, bumper-to-bumper warranties, Burgett added.

The Gateway name on the company comes not only from the fact that it is based in St. Louis — the gateway to the West — but because the city was the hometown of Donald N. Frey, the original chief engineer for both the Ford Mustang and Bronco. Burgett’s other automotive passion is 1960s Shelby Mustangs.

Burgett started tinkering with go-kart engines when he was six years old. At 10, his father let him install a trailer towing package with trailer brakes on the family’s 1979 Ford F-250 extended-cab pickup so they could pull a camper.

Burgett studied mechanical engineering in college. His first business involved the invention and production of medical equipment, for which he holds more than three dozen patents. Later, he created Yurbuds sports headphones. When he sold that company, he decided to take a year-long sabbatical to pursue his automotive and other passions. Burgett has been an Ironman triathlete and endurance barefoot water skier.

He started searching barns for old Broncos with their original paint and decided to launch Gateway Broncos to share his passion with others, especially those who like the look of the old SUVs but who also want the reliability of modern technology.

Gateway Bronco has an assembly line restoration system that employs specialists, each with 10-25 years of experience building and restoring hot rods, trucks, etc. Gateway also is pursuing a patent for materials and systems it has devised for preserving original paint and for preventing rust and deterioration of decades-old sheet metal.

“And I get to search the barns and get paid for doing what I’ve been doing since I was about 9 years old,” Burgett said.

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Larry Edsall is a Phoenix-based freelance writer.