Technically, the story was over. I had gone down to Mexico to do a Baja 1000 pre-run with multi-time off-road champ Rob MacCachren, and I did that, and it was amazing, and I was just catching a ride home with the photographer, Dick Gray. My notebooks were tucked away and my camera was packed up, but then the ride home turned into its own story. #becauseroadkill. #becausebaja
First, there was Dick’s truck, and that was interesting all on its own. It was a 1987 Ford Bronco, the Eddie Bauer edition with the cute neon pine trees across the tan velour seat backs. From the passenger seat it looked fairly stock, aside from a tangle of charging cords and some added fan switches. A tabby cat bobblehead was stuck to the dash, mirroring my own bobbling noggin as we hit the dirt highway towards San Felipe. From outside though, the Bronco looked nothing like O.J.’s escape vehicle. The entire front clip was a flip-forward piece of fiberglass, a Fiberwerx Raptor nose for the pony truck. The rear fenders too were from Fiberwerx, wide-hipped and curvy, sitting high over 17-inch Method Racing Double Standard wheels clad in 35×12.50×17” BFG All Terrain KO2 rubber. This was no highway-bound getaway rig.
As we bounced along, Dick gave me the backstory on the “Braptor.” He’s always been a fan of Broncos, and the Bronc that became Braptor is his fourth of the Fords. “It’s just such a great truck, as capable as a Jeep but with more room inside.” The interior space was a benefit not just to fit its driver’s more than 6-foot frame, but also because Dick uses the Bronco as a pre-runner and photo rig for all the Baja desert racing that he organizes, supports, and photographs. He’d basically been living in it, or at least out of it for more than a month, and it was packed high with coolers, spare parts, tripods, maps, radios, and lighting equipment.
By the time I was riding in it, the Braptor had thousands of off-road miles on it. “I’ve basically covered every inch of Baja race course in this truck,” Dick told me. Originally, it was built as a show vehicle, as a way to support some of SCORE’s sponsors and do a bit of race pre-running but it turned into a daily driver and adventure machine. Dick bought the Bronco in 2014. It was a low-mile truck and he got it for two grand. With help from his friends Danny Giannini of Giannini Off Road and Eddie Thorogood of EdFabDesigns, Dick transformed the stock SUV into a rock-crawling, whoops-hopping, river-fording hero.
It didn’t happen overnight, but these days the Braptor is powered by a 351 Windsor backed by a Ford C6 transmission and Borg Warner transfer case. The engine runs an ’89 Mustang ECU and Ford Racing MAF conversion. Spent gasses leave via BBK 1515 headers and out through a 3-inch exhaust and Flowmaster 40-series muffler. The cooling system is from a 2012 Ford Raptor, and includes the 6.2L core support, radiator, fans, and A/C condenser.
The front suspension offers 21-inches of travel. The Dana 44 twin traction beams were cut, turned, and widened 4.5-inches on each side by Threat Motorsports. The front axles are also wider, and the radius arms are almost two inches forward. Everything is hiem-jointed, and King coilovers with remote reservoir soak up the bumps. Well, some of them. Dick and Danny built the engine cage and shock towers out of 1 ¾-inch chromoly, and it proves a convenient place to rest a taco and a coke during a lunch stop.
In the rear, even heavily loaded, the Bronco has 19-inches of travel, King triple bypass shocks, and a Deaver Q80 leaf spring pack. The 8.8 housing is 5-inches wider, and modified for the lower shock mounts. Rigid Industry lights line the Braptor’s roofline and Raptor grille. Dick and Danny built the skid plates, bumpers, and rear tire rack. “My skills are a mix of self-taught and picked up along the way from working on race teams,” Dick told me. “I took a lot of auto shop, but the welding, the suspension, that’s just from doing it, and having people like Danny and Eddie to help.”
Of course, as anyone who has built anything knows, there’s no such thing as bullet-proof. Like many visitors to Baja, the truck suffers from a bit of gassiness, and we had to stop a couple of times to burp the radiator and refill it. The various elderly electronics weren’t so stoked about the resulting water bath, and by the time we got to Ensenada we’d worked out a pretty good routine of coasting to the side when the spark cut out, flipping up the front clip and Dick climbing out to wiggle wires while I lean over to work the ignition switch. It was a bit of a comedy, but in the end we make it to the hotel, and only an hour or so behind schedule. “It’s never left me stranded,” Dick said as he patted the Bronco on its fat fender. “Even when I blew the oil seals on the original engine during the 2016 Baja 1000 and had to stop every 20 miles or so to add oil, it still got me home to San Diego. It’s a good truck.”
It is a good truck, and if you want to build one of your own, Dick says the main thing to watch for is rust in the frame. “The body, that’s not such a big deal, and you can get so many parts from Bronco Graveyard and LMC Trucks. Just gotta find one that’s straight with a rust-free frame. Oh, and maybe redo some of the old wiring.”
Follow Dick Gray and the Braptor on Instagram @dickgray.