While all overlanders appreciate their chosen vehicle as a tool for exploration, some have a loyalty to their rig that transcends to an entirely different level. Paul Perry is definitely amongst the ranks of the latter group, and even a glance at his Bronco shows that thought and care have gone into the modification and upkeep of the 44-year-old rig. As a lifelong outdoorsman and Bronco driver for the majority of his adult life, you can hear the excitement in Paul’s voice when he talks about his rig and the adventures he finds while behind the wheel.
Paul’s Bronco is no garage queen. The 1977 Bronco has served as Paul’s daily driver since 1995. This classic rig remains ready for overland adventures with a host of modifications Paul has added over the years. A few improvements include heavy front and rear bumpers, a 12,000-pound WARN winch, an Atlas 4 Transfer case, upgraded axles, 4.88 gears, a 3.5-inch lift, and it rides atop 37-inch General Grabber X3 tires. Along with these off-road-focused modifications, Paul has added cruise control, air conditioning, heated seats, and power windows to give the Bronco a few modern conveniences. His wife, Joy, their daughter, and their son all enjoy off-roading, and many of their adventures are family affairs.
Paul and Joy recently completed a cross-country trip with Mid Atlantic Early Bronco Club members to visit the SoCal Bronco group. To save time, the East Coast Broncos were trailered to Big Bear Lake, the first stop on the adventure.
With Big Bear Lake breaking high-temperature records that had stood for 60 years, Paul and friends were seeking higher elevations and cooler temps, so they headed up Holcomb Creek. This trail is one of the more challenging in the area and climbs from 6,752 feet to over 8,000 feet in elevation. This first foray into the backcountry wasn’t without issue. Paul broke his rear draft shaft, but fortunately, the group had a spare. After that repair, he found his rear locker wasn’t working, but this didn’t slow him down. As a seasoned off-roader, Paul knew he could rely on the two-feet driving method to get over most trail obstacles.
The next day Paul was joined on the trip by Willie Stroppe, son of legendary off-road racer Bill Stroppe. For a Bronco enthusiast like Paul, a trail ride with Willie Stroppe is about as good as it gets. Paul says, “Having Willie Stroppe ride shotgun in our Bronco was amazing! He appeared as excited as we were to do some epic wheeling in the Big Bear area mountains. As we rode along, he would tell Joy and me stories of his dad and past racing adventures in the Baja, other parts of the U.S., and even Africa. He would start out a story ‘This trail reminds me of the time in… ‘ What a great man with a wealth of knowledge spanning decades of motor history. We had a great day with Willie, and I really think he enjoyed himself also. I even persuaded him to sign the glovebox in our Bronco before he left to mark the occasion. It was the highlight of the trip!”
The next day, the group decided to change their plans. They wanted to visit Johnson Valley, but with temperatures approaching 120-degrees Fahrenheit, they spent the day touring the Ponderosa Pines, got to bed early, then rolled out at 11 p.m. to hit the trails after the temperatures had dropped.
By 2 a.m., the four Broncos had dropped 4,000 feet into the valley. Their destination of Bronco Knoll was 13 miles ahead through the night. Paul switched on his KC Gravity Pro 6 off-road lights, and the group powered through the desert valley towards the distant ridgeline.
If you aren’t familiar with Bronco Knoll, it’s a spot in Johnson Valley OHV where some of the early testing of the all-new Bronco took place. The coordinates to the particular hilltop are engraved into the new Bronco as an Easter Egg. A trip to Bronco Knoll has quickly become a pilgrimage to Bronco drivers, new and old. Paul and his group weren’t going to miss the opportunity to visit while they were in the area.
After navigating a maze of bumpy trails, the final ascent was a challenging climb with plenty of slips and slides. The team made perfect timing as they topped the crest of Bronco Knoll just before sunrise. After enjoying the view and snapping photos, the group headed back down the trail to more off-road adventures. At this point, they realized the trail had more vertical exposure than they had thought. Thankfully, nothing went wrong on the way up.
After their trip to Bronco Knoll, the East Coasters attempted Claw Hammer trail, but some mechanical issues halted their progress. Brian Moore’s Bronco had already blown a wheel bearing earlier in the trip. His custom axle meant the repair took some time. It wasn’t a perfect fit either — the bearing repair was still giving him some problems. On the climb up Claw Hammer, one of the trucks started overheating. To avoid the possibility of a total breakdown, the most of group turned around and headed back towards town.
At this point, Brian and his family had to fly back East, so their Bronco was loaded on the trailer for the drive to Las Vegas. Another Bronco in the group struggled to run on the way to Vegas, so it too was loaded on the car hauler. The group made their way south with seven people in the big rig and four in Paul’s Bronco. The vintage air conditioning in Paul’s Bronco could barely combat the desert temperatures, but after many sweltering miles, they dropped off the Moores at the airport. By the time the group stopped for the night, they had been on the move for 26 hours.
After resting up from the marathon drive, Paul and the remainder of the East Coast club took their Broncos to Sand Hollow, Utah. After exploring pine forest and desert trails, the red rock adventure was the last stop on the list. Paul made it nearly three decades off-roading the Bronco without much more than scratch. However, on a steep trail mixed with a slight miscalculation, he put the rig on its side.
Paul knows that’s all part of the hobby: “I never lost my smile. It could have been a lot worse.”
Thanks to the custom six-point roll cage, the damage was minimal, and after a quick recovery, the group finished the trail, loaded up the Broncos, and returned home. In a short amount of time, they had made dozens of friends, seen incredibly varied terrain, and experienced some of the best off-roading the West has to offer.
It won’t be long before Paul’s ’77 isn’t the only Bronco in the Perry driveaway. Paul and Joy are currently awaiting delivery of their 2021 Sasquatch package equipped Badlands Edition. While Paul doesn’t plan to modify the new Bronco heavily, he is looking forward to taking it out on the trails Rausch Creek Off-Road Park to see what it’s capable of.