No, You Shouldn’t Buy That Vintage Bronco—Here’s Why

I was recently driving around in my old, roofless, bright yellow Land Rover, and a man came rushing up to me excitedly. This happens a lot when I drive my old Land Rover, because it’s very cool. VERY cool. It’s big, and it’s brawny, and I look incredibly glamorous when I’m driving it, even though I’m mostly wondering if I smell it catching on fire . . . again.

This man asked me all of the questions people ask when they get excited about my old Land Rover: “How much does it cost?” “Where did I get it?” “What kind of engine is in it?” “Do I smell smoke?” Unfortunately, he didn’t ask me the question I most wanted to answer, which is: “Should I buy one?” No, excited man, you should not. You should turn around, forget you ever saw me, and instead consider more reliable transportation, such as a Toyota Camry, or possibly a bicycle with no wheels.

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Automotive personality Doug DeMuro and his dog Noodle spending quality time with their Land Rover.
Doug DeMuro and his dog Noodle spending quality time with their Land Rover.

Yes, my old Land Rover is crap. To be clear, I love it. I really, really do. I drive it every summer with my friends and family, and it’s been a major part of so many great memories—like singing at the top of our lungs to stupid pop songs, and cruising on the beach, and pushing it off the road when it overheated, and off-roading at night, and pushing it off the road when the differential failed, and taking it out to picnics on the sand, and pushing it off the road when the coolant line disconnected. It has been a fantastic companion, and I’ve met many wonderful people through my Land Rover ownership, mainly because they’ve helped me push it off the road.

Parnelli Jones stands next to his Bronco off-road racer in 1968.
Sure, behind the wheel we may feel as cool Parnelli Jones—seen here by his off-road racer in 1968—until the inevitable breakdown brings us back to reality.

Really, though, I love it. I don’t mind the breakdowns, which I consider “character.” I don’t mind the repair bills, the most recent of which totaled $13,000 and involved rewiring a good portion of my truck to remove a pricey alarm system some previous owner had installed, even though the roof is made of cloth and primarily joined together by zippers. I’m into it. I think it’s all part of the charm of owning an old car. But you? I don’t think you will necessarily feel the same way. This brings me to my point: You probably don’t actually want to own the vintage car you think you want to own.

Stuart Coglan, 3, from Bishop Auckland drives his battery powered model Land Rover across the show ground at the Great Yorkshire Steam and Vintage Rally on July 02, 2022 in Helmsley, North Yorkshire.
The dream of owning an unreliable vehicle with plenty of character often starts early.

Vintage cars have an undeniable appeal. We know this because an old Ford Bronco now costs approximately as much as the construction of a new middle school. Everyone wants an old Bronco, or an old 911, or an old Grand Wagoneer, because they seem so fashionable, so hip, and so distinctive compared to boring modern crossovers and sedans. So people go off and buy a vintage car, usually on the basis of what color it is, and then they immediately begin to regret their decision once they discover most of the examples are basically as reliable as a horror-movie victim’s cell-phone coverage.

The problem with buying one of these bygone-era machines, at least for most people, is that they assume the vehicle will be just like their modern car, except more charming. “A vintage Jeep? Why, how fun!” they think. “It’ll be just like a new Jeep, but cuter!” And so they buy one because it’s painted in a nice shade of baby blue that matches their shutters, but the air conditioning never really works right, and the windshield wipers don’t work at all, and one day it’s sputtering so they bring it to a local mechanic who informs them that he wasn’t even born when a carburetor was still in production, and the only service he’s willing to perform is putting air in the tires. Unfortunately, due to Covid-era supply constraints, that simple task will cost $87.50.

A 1989 Jeep Grand Wagoneer 4x4, which was offered through the online auction site Cars & Bids.
This 1989 Jeep Grand Wagoneer 4×4 seems so much more hip and distinctive compared to boring modern crossovers and sedans.

The thing is, this usually doesn’t deter enthusiasts like me who buy these cars. If you buy one because you’re an enthusiast, you tend to enjoy solving the little problems that creep up during ownership. Once—I swear this is a true story—I was driving along in my old Land Rover, and the throttle cable disconnected from the engine. So I pushed it off the road, which is actually my primary workout technique, and I reconnected everything using a keychain I had in my pocket. Then I drove around for the next few weeks like that—with a keychain holding things together under the hood. And I considered this whole experience to be fun.

An old Ford Bronco on a street in San Francisco.
If you buy a vintage car because you’re an enthusiast, you tend to enjoy solving the little problems that creep up during ownership.

Indeed, vintage cars and the enthusiasts who keep them running are a great match—but if you’re not into it, if you’re not excited by it, if it’s not a passion for you, well, you might not be ready. These automobiles are finicky, and the knowledge of dealing with their issues is becoming harder to find in an age of easy diagnostics for modern models using code scanners and computers. That often means that the task of fixing these old cars is falling on owners—enthusiasts like me—and not people who buy one because someone on Instagram had it and it would look perfect in this year’s Christmas-card photo.

And it’s not just mechanical upkeep. Vintage cars look lovely, yes, but they come from an era where “rust-proofing” meant painting the undercarriage black and charging customers an extra $200, and “paint work” was done in the factory by a line worker who was also eating a cookie at the time, and yes, those little splotches you see in the paint are where he painted over his crumbs. And don’t even think about contacting your local dealership looking for a door panel for your ’79 Pontiac Firebird, because Pontiac is gone, the Firebird is discontinued, and the dealership has been turned into a grocery store that sells organic muffins for $14.

Automotive personality Doug Demuro's Land Rover and dog Noodle at the beach.
Noodle clearly approves this purchase.

So maybe you should think twice about that ’73 Bronco. Yes, it looks cool. But I promise you, it’s more work than you think. And yes, the guy behind the wheel seems so stylish. But I swear, he’s thinking about the time he was venturing out into a beautiful countryside with his in-laws, and the keychain holding the throttle cable in place broke. And in that moment, the vintage car isn’t quite as charming as it looks on Instagram.

Ready to start summer in high gear? There’s still time to join Robb Report’s 2023 California Coastal Rally, June 4 through 8. For more information, or to register, visit here.

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