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, Gary Gastelu
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Gateway Bronco is a surprising success story that may get a lot better if the Trump administration has anything to say about it.
Launched three years ago in the small farm town of Hamel, Ill., by Seth Burgett, an entrepreneur with a penchant for classic trucks, it restores original Ford Broncos with modern engines and parts and sells them for a penny as pretty as they are.
Gateway Bronco’s manufacturing facility is located about 30 miles outside of St. Louis. (Google Street View)
Back then, one of Gateway’s builds started at $80,000, but they’re so popular that now they run from $150,000 to over $300,000 and have earned an official license from Ford. Those may be “more money than brains” prices to many, but Burgett’s the smart one. He has about 20 people on staff turning out one truck a week and says the demand is there for him to nearly quintuple his output and increase employment to 100, which would represent more than 10 percent of Hamel’s population. Unfortunately for them, Gateway is tied down in red tape like a rodeo calf.
Right now, all it can do is find an old truck and fix it up, which takes 600-1,000 man-hours each, and there are only so many of them to go around. But it would like to do much more than that. It has suppliers ready to start shipping Gateway brand-new frames and bodies that it can turn into all-new first-generation Broncos.
Under current law, that’s nearly impossible due to the huge costs required to certify a new vehicle in the U.S. But in 2015, the U.S. Congress passed the Low Volume Vehicle Manufacturers Act, which would allow companies like Gateway to build up to 325 historic replicas annually without having to meet industry safety standards, as long as they use emissions-compliant powertrains.
There are dozens of boutique builders across the country like Gateway that are ready to add production and jobs and all that’s needed is for NHTSA to finalize the rules. However, it hasn’t taken any action in the years since, prompting their industry group, SEMA, to file a lawsuit last week to force the issue. NHTSA, which is operating under an acting administrator, hasn’t explained the delay, but Burgett is optimistic that the latest action will finally push the regulations across the line.
In the meantime, he’s built a very special truck worth $350,000, but hopes someone will pay a lot more for than that. The one-off custom is a collaboration with NASCAR star Ryan Blaney, who commissioned it for a charity auction to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association. The third-generation driver’s grandfather, Lou, died from the disease in 2009 at 69 after an impressive racing career of his own.
Gateway started with a 1974 Bronco, refreshed and replaced its body panels as needed, installed a modern four-link suspension with high performance Fox shock absorbers, swapped in a 700 hp supercharged 5.0-liter V8 and 6-speed automatic transmission that sends power to billet aluminum wheels through modern Eaton Trutrac locking differentials.
Inside, the original Bronco look has been preserved with new replica parts, including electric window switches disguised to look like manual crank handles.
Unique touches on this truck include Porsche-sourced leather upholstery and barn wood trim in the cargo box branded with the logo from Blaney and Sons Lumber, Lou’s business.
Gateway designs its own exhausts to give each a signature sound, and I discovered on a spin through Manhattan that the Blaney Bronco has a window-rattling one. The truck, however, feels is solid as a rock. You’ll never find an old one that rides as well, though the steering feel through the wood-rimmed wheel is a little vague in that lifted truck on big tires sort of way.
PATENT SUGGESTS NEW FORD BRONCO WILL BE COMPLETELY TOPLESS
“That’s better than any supercar I see around here,” one construction worker told us as we passed through Times Square, unaware that it cost more than most of them. Such is the Bronco’s enduring appeal.
After finishing a promotional tour of automotive events, the Bronco is scheduled to cross the block at the Barrett-Jackson auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., in January.
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