This 50-Year-Old Sports Utility Vehicle Gets 21st Century Upgrades at R/T Tuning

Photography: Mike Maravilla

  • The Ford Bronco is technically the world’s first sport-utility vehicle ever made and it served as the literal “big brother” to the Mustang.
  • The Bronco, thanks to the overland boom, has experienced resurgent popularity and various modern interpretations of the classic have flourished. 
  • R/T Tuning, a retail speed shop based in Montgomeryville, PA, has created its own Bronco resto-mod weekend cruiser by utilizing top-tier aftermarket components and a unique 5.0-liter Coyote engine swap.

Today, the sports-utility vehicle is perhaps one of the most popular segments of the entire automotive industry. But before 1965, the “SUV” was merely a concept when it came to civilian use. Indeed, the surplus vehicles that returned home from World War II were utilitarian at most; while they were functional for short trips around town, they didn’t jive with the ever-expanding highway system or our increasing demand for comfort and performance.

The Bronco was Ford’s answer to that void and the literal big brother to the company’s well-known moniker: the Mustang. Its mission from the onset was to be a “G.O.A.T” vehicle — something that Goes Over All Terrain — but it works all the same with modern translations of the term; it can arguably be called the “Greatest of All-Time” because of its influence on the industry.


I start with a history lesson because the Bronco name doesn’t get enough credit in an era when over-landing and off-roading is all the rage. It is the OG of them all and building one, over all the other choices in the modern-day catalog, says something about you as the owner (in a good way). Thanks to the talented McKinley Thompson, Jr., its proportions are downright perfect and lend themselves well to various styling cues, even almost a lifetime after its inception.

After everything I’ve said, you might be thinking that whatever you throw at a first-generation Bronco would create a masterpiece. But you’d be wrong. There’s still a finesse to the whole “thing”, and R/T Tuning is amongst the best at creating automotive works of art regardless of the canvas.


This particular Bronco came to R/T Tuning with one very specific request: it had to be powered by a 5.0-liter Coyote engine. Fortunately, this motor is readily available directly from Ford. “Because this swap is fairly popular there were already off-the-shelf engine mounts, an off-the-shelf transfer case adapter, and off-the-shelf headers to fit the chassis,” Erik Wilson of R/T Tuning confesses. “We had to do a little fab work on the chassis to clear some accessories, but for the most part it dropped right in.”

Aside from that, the SUV’s direction was left in R/T’s capable hands, even down to picking the color of the repaint. The owner was quick to confess that the Bronco would be saved for beach town duty — a few rounds of golf, some cars and coffee events, and a capable cruiser — so R/T could focus on making this Bronco more luxurious than rugged. This meant the Bronco was fitted with nice carpet instead of vinyl mat flooring, custom-stitched leather throughout, a Dakota Digital gauge cluster, and a modern JVC media player and speakers.



The revision towards refinement continued elsewhere, too. The 50-year-old brakes were discarded in favor of a disc conversion, coupled with hydroboost and a Wilwood master cylinder for good measure. A Skyjacker 2.5” lift kit provided adequate clearance for the Mickey Thompson Classic III wheels and beefy 285/70R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A K02 tires.

We briefly mentioned the interior before, but we’d be amiss if we didn’t go into more detail. The front seats, rear bench, and door cards were sent out to Gritwell Upholstery for full refurbishment. Each seat was taken down to the bare frame to reshape and reskin using high-end Relicate leather. The door cards were re-done in an identical pattern to keep everything consistent inside.

As you can imagine, once you’ve gone this far, it only made sense to do everything else. Soon after, the top, steering wheel, and a whole bunch of other things were reworked completely. The dash refresh carried the gorgeous BASF respray — expertly executed by Revolution Rod and Custom — into the interior beautifully.


The Bronco seemed to clone itself sometime during the build but for good reason. R/T Tuning had actually borrowed the other Bronco from a customer to get an accurate visual reference of a factory example during the assembly process. As someone who is, admittedly, a total novice to American-made 4x4s, seeing the two trucks back to back was extremely helpful for me to understand just how much the Bronco had transformed. R/T Tuning’s remix commands so much more presence and they nailed the perfect balance between off-road ruggedness and road-going luxury appointments.

Sitting in them both back to back, the original fare has become decidedly utilitarian where once it was the perfect balance between sport and utility. With what it’s created, R/T Tuning has restored that precious balance and then some. It’s a testament to R/T Tuning’s proficiency in seeing the potential of the platform, extracting all the right bits from the original formula, and improving everything else with aftermarket components. 


One very admirable thing about R/T Tuning is its range. This certainly isn’t the first time you’ve heard Pit+Paddock talk about this Montgomeryville shop — it’s been our home for nearly every tech piece over the last three years — and this Bronco is just the latest example of its diverse portfolio outside JDM performance platforms. “We’ve serviced and modified a TON of cars,” Erik Wilson recalls. “R/T Tuning has been home to a number of EJ25-powered dune buggies, an Ultima GTR, a K-swapped Porsche 911, a real deal Shelby Cobra, old open-wheeled Lotus race cars, a Land Rover Defender 90, and so much more.”

But more than its entry into other segments (including a big jump into the BMW, Mercedes, and Audi communities), R/T Tuning’s biggest growth has come from inside its walls. “We are always pushing education and training with everyone in the building,” Wilson continues. “We’ve made big investments in ADAS (Advanced Drivers Assistance Systems) hardware and software, scan tools that allow us to do more services on these modern [European] cars, and training for the techs for systems that these cars employ that many of the other cars don’t.”
Indeed, the parking lot outside of R/T Tuning is an ever-changing landscape. While its mainstays like Subarus, Nissans, and Infinitis remain dominant, my most recent visit saw a Porsche 911 parked next to a B8 S4, a Maserati SUV, and this absolute treat of a Ford Bronco. But that’s an indication that R/T Tuning is attracting the right attention from every facet of the service and performance world. We can tell you first-hand that they’re just getting started.