I saw a lot of amazing Ford builds in Vegas, but it was Jay Leno’s 1968 Bronco that won me over.
In case you weren’t at SEMA 2019, Ford had its own, very large and very crowded area of SEMA to itself. Nestled within Ford’s vast section were Rangers built for speed or overlanding, a few new and innovative Escapes, and new Explorers to take in. However, in the middle of Ford’s stretch was a siren basking in a bright, fluorescent spotlight. Calling to me from behind blue — almost Ford blue — velvet ropes was Jay Leno‘s 1968 Ford Bronco restomod. There was a woman behind the ropes going over build details, but I couldn’t make out what she was saying. I didn’t care. My breath was abruptly taken from me, and so was my full attention.
This Ford Bronco has already been featured on our site with all the technical and mechanical bits from Ford Performance’s website. The engine details, the transmission details, suspension and wheel choice — I’m sure you’ve read it all. It also wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve seen it on other major automotive media outlets too. Well, get ready to read about it again from Ford-Trucks — only this time, I’m going to be telling you why I think this was the most important Ford on display at SEMA 2019.
First off, yes, I’m going to touch on the background story of this bucking Bronco. According to what Ford had to say, it was left in Jay Leno’s studio parking spot as a prank by fellow late-night comedian Craig Ferguson. The plan was, this old heap of junk was to be effectively dumped on Leno’s spot the evening of his last taping of the season, so the bucket of bolts would be left there to collect dust and rot before Leno came back for his next season. What Ferguson wasn’t anticipating, though, was the twist: what Ferguson saw as a hunk of junk, Leno saw as a gold mine. Talk about a whole new meaning to the phrase, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.”
Thus, the collaborative effort of Leno and SEMA Garage to restore the old girl to her former glory began. Yes, they replaced the sluggish ’60s bits with more reliable, safe, and much faster parts. Like the 5.2 liter supercharged V8, updated transfer case, transmission, and front and rear differentials. There’s a hefty list of upgrades. Despite the amazing technological and mechanical choices underneath the midnight blue hood, it’s what this Bronco doesn’t have that makes it so incredible.
What made this the best vehicle on display at SEMA was the soul that this car has. This year was my very first time wandering the crowded Las Vegas Convention Center for SEMA, and I saw a lot of insane cars there. Several other older Broncos were on display too, but there was just something about this Bronco. First, the original styling of the ’60s Bronco was wholesomely retained. No fancy HID headlights, no boulder-bashing front and/or rear steel bumpers, and no winches. And there’s no insanely tall off-road tires, and no alterations to the original interior design (except for a stereo, but who could blame them).
Most importantly, this was one of the few older Fords that wasn’t fitted with a LS motor. It’s an updated motor, a much faster and more capable one, but it’s still a Ford engine. Additionally, Leno and SEMA Garage used as many Ford parts as they could, so this was the most “Fordy” rebuilt Ford there.
Because of this Bronco, I made it a bucket list-goal of mine to one day find an old Bronco and fix it up. I fell in love at first sight. I mean, to have a Bronco that looks like it came out of a time machine from 1968 but has the powerful technology of today, how could you not?
Photos by Kristen Finley
On The Track
“The Bronco was bought to use on the farm or to take your date to the prom and was comfortable in any of these environments. The idea of having a classic Bronco upgraded with modern handling, performance and braking really makes it the best of both worlds.”
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Kristen Finley is a woman who eats, breathes, and sleeps cars. Her love of cars blossomed at a very young age, when handing tools to her sailor of a father underneath his cars constituted as quality time. Eager to learn, it was only a matter of time before her father became the one handing her the tools. Even into college at California State University, Monterey Bay, she's pursuing a career in automotive journalism to allow her the chance to tell enchanting automotive stories.