Given the paucity of people able to plonk down big bucks on a restored, restomodded or over-the-top first-generation Bronco there are a surprising number of choices for those one-percenters. But Gateway Bronco got a Christmas present last year, a license agreement to create 1966-1977 Broncos under the Low Volume Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Act.
At the biggest building in the hamlet of Hamel, IL, thirty miles northeast of St. Louis’ famous arch, Gateway’s been restoring while modernizing early Broncos that meet Ford’s Certified Reconditioned Vehicle standards. All the work—except the Coyote engines and transmissions—is done in house, and in the end you get an “old” Bronco that’s better than it was when new.
Gateway brought along three trucks. The orange Fuelie, one of their “restored” models, sports a first-generation Coyote engine and six-speed automatic with Gateway’s proprietary powertrain tuning, Atlas transfer case, leaf-sprung Ford 9-inch and coils for the Dana 44 front with antiroll bar at both ends, Borgeson steering box and Wilwood discs. Inside it sports an ididit tilt column, column-shift with no quadrant (the owner wanted a three-on-the-tree look) and a single instrument housing with plentiful gauges. Truck number two was one of their supercharged 700-hp Warrior (twin turbos optional!?!). Bronco number three was a customer trade-in Icon Bronco with the Coyote engine and four-speed automatic.
Things didn’t go as planned, the 5.5 lb-per-hp rocket getting damaged en route, so we can not report on rotational speed attained pairing 700 horses and a 92-inch wheelbase. So we had a short drive in the Icon, where I was most curious about six-lug aluminum wheels made to look like steelies and trying to remember the last time I saw a six-lug pattern on any Ford 4WD. It went more or less where you pointed it and seemed to attract attention. Honestly, you could have been in full Prius camo and the exhaust noise would’ve made people look.
Then I got up close to the orange Fuelie Gateway. The door closing had a different sound to it, but you can’t call that a comparison with the Icon a hardtop and this a Surrey top. Panel gaps appear closer than they left the factory—which implies they’re either making their own panels, shortening the frame a few mm or mounting them differently–the paintwork was very nice and attention to detail rigorous. The owner wanted an original swing-away tire carrier while Gateway wanted to preserve the paint, so those fasteners include (what looks like) nylon washers. Plenty of braided lines run underneath, though it seemed odd hose clamps along the rail switched to a zip-tie atop a crossmember.
Owner requests for originality also dictated some cabin pieces. These appear well executed, but it was a nuisance using a six-position shifter with no quadrant, a combination of running through the detents in your head, listening to engine note changes on and off load, and feeling the rear-end squat. Is this Drive or Reverse? The fancy instrument has a speedometer in the middle with concentric tach, water, fuel, etc., and your visibility of it will be the inverse of sunshine intensity unless you’re all in black. It was knee-high for me, but I’m sure the seat could, and would, be adjusted to my specifications.
With no glass aft of the front seats, a muffler that would fit in my mailbox and a few minutes of heavily-trafficked byways there’s little chance to hear any level of NVH refinement or lack thereof. It was suggested the Fuelie is aimed at better balance, which I could not explore on the drive route, brake pedal response was superb, and that it is tuned at on-road performance; buyers planning on four wheeling can have brake and throttle response dialed back. I surmise the priority is appearance, as lifting rarely improves on-road performance (all other things being equal), and CEO Seth Burgett said they’re typically used as Sunday drivers. At least one buyer planned on parking his Bentayga on certain weekdays.
Seth quoted 0-60 in 5.2 seconds for the Fuelie we were in, indeed noting it was the test vehicle and has seen speeds the BFG Mud-Terrains probably wouldn’t put with for long. Encouraged I would find the throttle response excellent, I waited for a flattish, straight section of decent pavement and matted it.
Throttle response was indeed superb, as it downshifted to first much faster than any Ford six-speed factory tune, and nearly commensurate with that developed an obnoxious, mechanical thrashing sound that put us in the nearest turnout. Initial diagnosis was a transfer-case issue but a peek underneath while Seth inched forward found the rear driveshaft Cardan joint not turning freely. Graciously it hadn’t disintegrated and dropped the leading edge into anchor duty. Couple of bolts out and it drove out in front-wheel drive—wonder if they’d build a Dana 60 with locking hubs for the back?
It wasn’t the first vehicle I’ve broken, maybe not even the most expensive, and it likely won’t be the last. There could be any number or reasons the Cardan joint gave up, from service-due retorquing of driveline mounts to a freak-defect Spicer part, but Gateway’s warranty runs up to five years, and for anything major Gateway will ship the vehicle back to HQ.