Gateway Bronco-The Journey of a Lifetime
“Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.” When it came to restoring his grandfather’s classic Ford Bronco, Phil Falconer will tell you his heart has always had perfect 20/20 vision.
“It wasn’t some singular moment or mid-life crisis or anything like that,” Falconer shares. “For me, it really was a 25-year dream. Something I knew I just needed to do.”
Growing up, Falconer had vivid memories of his grandfather’s 1969 Ford Bronco. “Family has always had a pretty special place in my life. My grandpa, that Bronco – they were both just larger than life.”
“That Bronco”, which Falconer dubbed “Gramp’s ‘69” out of respect for the original owner and the year of its production, also holds a special place with the team at Gateway Bronco.
Seth Burgett, CEO and Founder of Gateway Bronco immediately felt a connection. “When Phil contacted us and shared the story behind his Bronco, I told our team: “We have to make happen.” Family is everything and these heirloom projects are a big reason our company exists today.”
Operating out of a 60,000 square foot facility just off historic Route 66 in Southern IL, Gateway Bronco painstakingly breathes new life into these Bronco legends, creating new memories for new generations.
“My brothers and I went around on it for a bit.” Falconer recounts in telling how Gramp’s ’69 ended up in his garage. “I had a green 1969 Dodge Dart that was in pretty good shape, and asked my brother, “If I give you everything I can get for selling that, would you sell me Grandpa’s Bronco?” A deal was struck and the journey of a lifetime began.
Calling “Gramp’s ‘69” a family affair would be an understatement. Over the next four years, Falconer would spend nights and weekends enlisting help from his brothers and nephews, pulling donor parts from other family vehicles. Today, under Gramp’s ‘69’s hood sits a 351 Windsor small block engine, originally parted from the family’s 1970 Ford Country Sedan. “Every time I step on the gas, my thoughts immediately go to family and the wonderful memories these vehicles gave us.”
Seth Burgett understands that sentiment as well. As a 12-year-old, Burgett started a small engine repair shop in his family’s shed, sparking an interest in mechanical engineering and fueling his entrepreneurial spirit. “Growing up in a two-teacher household, we didn’t have a lot of money. What we had was time, time that we spent as a family building things around the house each summer. So I understand the deep emotional connections these projects, especially ones tied to an heirloom automobile, can create.”
Falconer eventually approached Gateway Bronco in early 2017. “Finding a partner that not only appreciated the story behind my Bronco but could restore this vehicle beyond its original glory and performance was everything to me. The team at Gateway Bronco has been with me every step of the way.”
Bringing this time capsule back to life first meant resurrecting the vehicle’s rusted body. All total, over 50% of the vehicles’ sheet metal would need to be handcrafted and replaced outright. As body work was completed, the team began rebuilding the family’s repurposed 351 Windsor engine, significantly increasing the vehicle’s horsepower. By the time it thundered out of the Gateway Bronco facility, Gramp’s ’69 would undergo an almost complete makeover, complete with new Bilstein suspension, Wilwood brakes and premium Bluetooth audio system.
As part of its makeover, Gramp’s ’69 also made a stop in Gateway Bronco’ in-house paint booth, receiving a custom application of premium PPG paint, creating a classic, head-turning Brittany Blue piece of art on wheels.
CEO Burgett even got in on the action. “These heirloom projects truly strike a chord with me. I worked my way through college painting cars, so it’s a thrill to jump back in the paint booth and restore these vehicles to their original beauty.” The time, care and attention the team at Gateway Bronco contributed wasn’t lost on Falconer: “This vehicle has been in my family for 50 years. To have it where it is today, to have my mom and dad, my entire family see it restored and winning awards is just so fulfilling. It truly is a dream come true.”
As the world’s first approved manufacturer of the original Ford Bronco, Gateway Bronco has quickly established itself by setting the world record for any Ford Bronco sold at auction at the 2019 Scottsdale Barrett-Jackson event and being named the #1 Top Restomod of 2020 by Top Gear magazine.
Spend time with Burgett and you’ll see the passion behind Gateway Bronco runs deep. “When we started, our mission was simple: Combine a passion for cars in a way that improved the quality of life for other. Both are central to my personal and professional life. It’s a thrill knowing the vehicles we produce not only live up to the original Bronco’s spirit but go to work Day One creating new memories for our customers.”
Gateway Bronco builds Ford Broncos the way Henry Ford envisioned - a modern production line, providing the team’s artisan builders and craftsmen the opportunity to evaluate every inch of the vehicle’s design and detail before moving further into the facility.
Says Burgett, “When people say, “They don’t build things the way they used to”, rest assured, at Gateway Bronco, we still do.”
Today, Gateway Bronco is building Broncos for customers across the globe, introducing the Bronco spirit to new generations. The company recently delivered a vehicle to the United Arab Emirates and has upcoming deliveries slated for Portugal, Spain and the U.K.