The Cleer's Bronco: A Loyal Farmhand Gets Its Reward

Richard Cleer's brother brought a Springtime Yellow 1966 Ford Bronco Roadster to their family's western Illinois farm when it was just a few years old. Throughout the late 1960's, the perky little 4x4 worked hard in the fields bringing supplies to the folks toiling away in the Spoon River Community. Every wet spring, every blistering hot Fulton County summer, during the fall harvest and the brutal winter, the Ford delivered faithful service to its owners.

The "sporty" image of the Bronco roadster was developed by the same team that brought us the sportier Ford Mustang. Lee Iacocca and Donald Frey drew up the initial plans for Ford's new 4x4 to compete with Jeep's CJ-5, I-H Scout. Chevrolet and GMC didn't have a similar offering until the Blazer / Jimmy models were introduced in 1969.  

It wasn't all work and no play, Richard and his brother used to enjoy taking the stripped-down offroader through the muddy plains and creek bottoms, putting the 170 cubic inch inline six through its paces. With no doors, no top, and no back seat, the roadster version of the Bronco was the lightest and most utilitarian version of Ford's answer to the Jeep CJ-5.

As this 1966 Ford Bronco commercial suggests, the go-anywhere, do-anything Bronco roadster was built for fun.

Bronco owners like the Cleers commonly enjoyed fun runs in their tiny trucks. Riding on a chassis featuring a 92" wheelbase with coil springs in the front and leaf springs in the back, the light rigs would buck like an actual  bronco when tackling off-road terrain. Unfortunately that lesson was learned first-hand at the Cleer farm sometime in the early 1970's when Richard's brother got the Bronco tangled up with a ditch in a bad way. The accident caused significant damage to the front end and sheet metal. It was decided at that time that the fun little farmhand was bruised enough to warrant more repairs than they wanted to tackle at the time, so they did what any self-respecting American farmer would do...they parked it in a barn and saved the project for a later time.

Seasons changed and the Cleer brothers had families of their own, the Bronco sat in its damaged state for nearly 40 years before Richard opened up the barn and rolled back the tarps and took a good long look at the Ford. Such a loyal family friend, he thought, deserved to be brought back to its former glory.

Over a period of several years Richard worked to restore the Bronco to like-new condition. One might say the finished product is better than it was in 1966. In the photos below you'll notice how immaculate this rare truck is.

Looking fresh as springtime, this is the Cleer's Bronco as it stands today. Note the decorative caps that the Bronco roadsters had installed over the door jambs, which concealed the striker and hinge area keeping them clean and free of dirt and debris. Richard said these parts could be removed to allow installation of doors or a top if one was ordered at your local Ford dealer.

The Bronco and Richard in the background. Richard's roadster is one of just 5,000 made between 1966 and 1968. Most of the restored Broncos have been converted to the more conventional wagon style with a back seat and doors for practicality, but the roadsters are more sought after by collectors. 
While not as powerful as the optional 289 V-8, the standard Econoline-sourced 170 six cylinder with its solid lifters developed 105 horsepower and enough torque to get the job done. It remained the standard engine until 1973. The engine bay has been detailed and is remarkable to see in person. 

Bronco roadsters didn't come with a back seat, and the spare tire was stored exactly like you see it here. Later models added a swing-away rear spare option to increase cargo space. Richard spent hours straightening out this part of the truck, which was not as clean as you see here. Speaking of clean, those tree leaves...not scratches. 

Every nut and bolt is correct from the OEM headlamps to the Ford accessory trailer hitch. 

The stylish bucket seats add muscle car flair to an otherwise utilitarian Jeep-like interior. Note the trusty "three on the tree" gearshift. 

Richard's restoration of the Bronco is authentic, even when it comes to his choice of Firestone 15 inch bias-ply tires and full wheel covers over OEM steel rims. 

A subtle shade, Springtime Yellow was also a popular color for the 1966 Ford Mustang.
A family heirloom that once fired up at dawn for regular 14-hour workdays on the farm now lives a quiet life on the show circuit. This pampered Ford is often the center of attention, and enjoys traveling to local Illinois shows, as well as nationally recognized gatherings such as The Iola Old Car Show.

I've always had a soft spot for the early Broncos after helping to put the finishing touches on a 1968 Bronco roaster in the summer of 2002. The subsequent ride in that truck was a memorable experience worthy of its own post, but this '66 is quite honestly the nicest truck I've ever seen in my 34 years on this planet. You can tell by talking to Richard and looking at his pride & joy that he really loves this workhorse as if it was part of his family.

That's because it is. And if has anything to say about it, it probably always will be.

Look for it next year at an AACA meet near you.



Popular Posts