Shelby Hall isn’t ready to retire her Baja-winning Ford Bronco
The late Rod Hall, stalwart Baja 1000 competitor and paterfamilias of Hall Racing USA, left an indelible mark in off-road racing—to say nothing of the lives of his family, his friends, and his fans. Hall’s numerous achievements include competing in the first 50 runnings of the Baja 1000, 25 class wins in that event, and 37 straight wins in off-road racing in the 1980s.
To this day, the 1968 Ford Bronco that Hall co-drove with Larry Minor in the ’69 1000 is the only production-based 4×4 to win the race outright. We were recently given the opportunity to drive that very rig in the mountains north of Los Angeles, and we got a taste of what that race was like.
Hall’s famous Bronco had been sitting in the museum at Reno’s Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame for years when his granddaughter, Shelby Hall, suggested they get it back on the dirt where it belonged. Shelby, the daughter of Rod’s eldest son, Josh, is the Bronco’s current owner, and she has been around off-road racing her entire life. The restoration she spurred on included a Ford Performance 347 stroker crate engine and a suspension from Wild Horses 4×4, complete with Fox shocks.
When we met the rig, we were told the suspension was a bit more forgiving than the heavy-duty iteration used by Hall back in 1969. Then we found out first-hand.
We got our introduction to the Bronco from Amy Lerner, who co-drove the Ford with Shelby in the 2017 Mint 400. (The two women finished third in class.) Lerner, an accomplished off-road racer, met Hall’s grandfather years ago while attending the family’s off-road driving school.
From that point, Lerner became entwined with the family. She even directed and produced One More Win (2022), a film chronicling the last few years of Rod’s life. The film is a sincere and heartfelt tribute to the man’s legacy, and to a life where this Bronco played an important role. It includes footage of beautiful desert terrain from inside the Bronco during the 2016 Mexican 1000. Aerial and ground race footage is featured alongside vintage photos, interviews with some of off-road racing’s top drivers, and interviews with Rod’s family, many of whom are top off-road drivers themselves. If you’re interested, the movie is available for rent on Amazon.
Lerner gave us a quick lesson in the Bronco’s operation, beginning with how to climb into the thing. The Ford lacks functioning doors, so while there may be an elegant way to get in, we couldn’t find it. Entering the cockpit using the front and rear tires as steps was the easiest route. Getting out is a bit easier, as the Bronco’s 33-inch BFGoodrich all-terrains aren’t terribly tall.
Once belted in, Lerner educated us on the Ford’s start-up sequence. The battery is hooked to a master kill switch. Toggle switches on the dash send power to the ignition circuit and fuel pump. The twin pedals that once belonged to brake and clutch are now joined and repurposed as one large brake pedal. The stock manual transmission is gone, replaced with a Ford C4 three-speed automatic with a manual valve body. The shifter, clunky by design to reduce the chance of shift errors, was simple to understand and operate.
With ignition and fuel pump each toggled on, a press of a momentary switch engaged the starter. The small-block Ford V-8 loped to life. If you’ve heard an early Shelby GT350 on a track, you know it doesn’t take a whole lot of magic to make a Ford small-block sound amazing. This one didn’t disappoint.
With Amy Lerner sitting beside us, we never got the short-wheelbase SUV above 25 mph. For most of our off-road jaunt, we were even well below that, bouncing over dirt, rocks, and rutted sandstone. Despite the rough road and unforgiving suspension, we did grow accustomed to the bumpy ride. Lerner said she actually got used to the Bronco’s punishment when she and Shelby raced in the 2017 Mint 400.
Later, Shelby echoed the idea of punishment. “Ride-wise, it’s incredibly stiff,” she said. “I don’t know how my grandpa raced it. I guess they didn’t know anything different. My brain touched my skull every bump we hit.”
Despite the Ford’s manual brakes—more of a suggestion to stop than a command—the most difficult aspect of piloting the Bronco was maintaining a smooth throttle application. The 347 was eager to rev and gave amazing response, so the bumpy road made it tough to keep the little 4×4 from surging ahead. Lerner noted that she had to work to overcome this while racing the Ford in the Mint.
Given how punishing the Bronco was even with the improved suspension, it’s tough to imagine hours on end in that cockpit at race-winning speeds. Hall and Minor, like their Baja-racing ilk, were nothing short of mad to even consider 1000 miles of desert in such a contraption.
Still, we sort of get it. Which doesn’t mean, of course, that we’re delusional enough to think we could last a thousand miles of Baja—let alone 50 years of that race, in a row, like Hall. But it’s hard to ignore the allure of racing in Baja.
When we asked Shelby about her plans for the Bronco, she told us that the family doesn’t take it out as much as they used to. They recently got the Ford tuned up for an upcoming appearance on Jay Leno’s Garage, however, and that rekindled her love for the thoroughbred.
“Every time we fire it up, man, it wants to go,” she beamed. “I want to take it somewhere.” Hall admits to being nervous driving a vehicle with such an important history off-road, but she also has second thoughts about driving it on the street, which she’s considered. “PCH,” she says—the Pacific Coast Highway—”is way more dangerous than the middle of the desert.”
There are signs that the Hall family plans to make the Bronco a bit more forgiving. “It definitely needs some suspension work,” Shelby told us. Regardless, she says any changes made to the rig will be mild—the family isn’t going to cut anything, and they won’t seriously alter the original build.
“That’s what’s most important for me,” Shelby said. “My grandpa gave that Bronco to me, and he and I restored it together.”
The Ford’s Mint 400 days are likely behind it. Being on a circuit, Shelby said, with faster vehicles flying by, driving in their dust wake, is “a little too chaotic.” Not that there aren’t other possibilities. The NORRA Mexican 1000, for example, is run in daily stages and was made for vintage vehicles. “NORRA is probably the best place for it,” Shelby admitted.
No matter where she winds up driving the Bronco, she’ll always have its connection to Rod. “It was the last vehicle he was able to drive. For him to hand that down to me, it means the world. I just want to keep driving it.”
To get a better taste of what it’s like to compete with this iconic Bronco and learn more about Rod Hall in his own words, take a look at One More Win. You’ll only appreciate the man and his legacy even more.
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