How you end up immersed in a world full of modified Ford Broncos isn’t as unpredictable as you might think. Ask John Cole, who’s almost as synonymous with the pioneering off-road and later sport utility vehicle as O.J.’s getaway driver Al Cowlings, and he’ll tell you that it almost always has to do with one thing: nostalgia. “They all have one thing in common, a Bronco story,” Cole says about the clientele of the Bronco-modding arm of his El Cajon, Calif.-based auto repair shop, Elite Auto Service. “You either had one when you were young and now you want to [relive] your past or your grandfather passed his old hunting rig down to you.”


For more than thirty years, Cole’s been amassing early era Broncos in all sorts of different ways and for all sorts of different reasons, the most recent of which is a 1970 model sourced from the depths of eBay. In just a year’s time he’s gone on to spend a whole lot of money building the Bronco that Ford never did—roughly the equivalent of a couple of weeks’ worth of legal fees of oh, say, an NFL running back.


Like any build worthy of recognition, every corner of Cole’s Bronco takes cues from his three decades of experience. Underneath the hood the engine was delivered from the stone ages with aluminum cylinder heads, an MSD Atomic fuel-injection conversion, and a complete electrical harness overhaul. Hand-formed headers direct airflow into and out of a pair of Magnaflow mufflers after being introduced into the chambers by a pair of K&N air filters and an Edelbrock intake manifold. Underneath, Bilstein shocks control damping and a Wilwood disc-brake conversion is mounted up behind Walker Evans Racing wheels and 33-inch BFGoodrich Mud Terrain tires. It’s the three-tone color scheme that you’ll notice first, though, that’s been applied throughout, splashed across the Wild Horses fender flares and fiberglass hood that complement the custom, tube bumpers. Ask him if there were any difficulties in getting all of this done, though, and he’ll simply tell you that after building as many Broncos as he has, there’d better not be.


“We’re not scared,” Cole says about the sort of work that his business, Elite Broncos, is capable of or any of the retrofitting that a Bronco under his watch may undergo. Years spent as a dealership technician and almost just as many desert racing off road vehicles at the professional level will do that to you. “I have many lives I live,” Cole says about the numerous roles he’s held, all of which can somehow be traced back to his affinity for the Bronco. And about the chassis he admits began life as something cookie-cutter but won’t leave his shop without its own personality, he simply says, “It’s always been my weapon of choice.”


Since 1981, in fact, when Cole began to take the knowledge he’d gained racing in the desert and apply it toward Ford’s series of consumer off-road vehicles, which were originally designed to be more like a Jeep and less like something moms in denim shorts deliver their kids to tee ball practice in. “I learned to take my racing knowledge of how suspensions, traction, and horsepower work and apply it,” he says. “Mostly, how to build a dependable vehicle [that can] return home safely.”


Which is exactly what he’s done, now countless times over. “Geez, there’ve been many. There’s been an explosion in Elite Bronco’s business,” Cole says about attempting to quantify just how many Broncos have passed through his shop doors. “Currently, I’m building five. [They] range from desert race style, to country club cruisers, to Baja cruisers that are equipped to wander way out into the wild, far from society.” And that doesn’t even count those who are already penciled into Cole’s waiting list or even those still waiting on grandpa to hand over the keys.



Elite Auto’s 1970 Ford Bronco chassis #006x

Number of years spent on build: 1

Approximate dollar amount: $58,000



Magnaflow mufflers

Allumn heads

MSD Atomic fuel injection

Lokar dipsticks

K&N filters

Custom headers

Aluminum radiator

Electric fan

Edelbrock intake



Bilstein 5125 series gas shocks

Wilwood 4 wheel disk brakes/master cylinder

5” lift suspension

WeldTec Designs shock hoops

Hellwig sway bar



Walker Evas Racing Wheels from Top Value Tire

BFG mud terrain 33” 12.50×15



Custom 3-tone PPG paint with clearcoat

Paint by Rey Diaz of San Diego

Wild Horses fender flares

Custom tube bumpers

30” Baja Designs LED light bar

Fiberglass hood

Skid plates

RuffStuff brackets

Powdercoating by Powder One



Mastercraft seats

Dr. Playground rubberized floor coating

Cigar humidor

Custom gauges

Powder coated dash

Jimmie Johnson 48qt cooler

Completely rewired with Painless Wiring

Under-seat storage boxes


Words by Aaron Bonk