Rochelle Bovee and Melissa Vander Wilt are sisters with an unusual musical background: they’re the daughters of an award-winning yodeler. Vander Wilt took her heritage a bit further and once chipped a tooth on a microphone while doing extreme live karaoke to Rage Against the Machine. They’re also up for adventure; when Bovee mentioned to her sister that she heard about a 1,500-mile off-road rally for women, she barely got the words out when Vander Wilt said, “If you want to do it, I’ll do it with you.”
The next logical step was to choose a vehicle for their journey, and it was an easy one: their dad’s old yellow 1969 Ford Bronco. He had passed away in 2014, but the family hung onto it knowing how much he loved the iconic SUV. It needed some work, but there wasn’t any question about getting it up to speed and ready for the grueling eight-day Rebelle Rally.
The Rally spans two states (Nevada and California), and this year 52 teams of two women each traversed canyons, rocks, dirt, and sand, all without the benefit of digital GPS tools or a cell phone. If Team Roaming Wolves’ 50-year-old Bronco was going to be up for the trip, it was going to have to be up to the task. The sisters rolled up their sleeves and got to work.
First, it needed a new engine. Their dad had driven it as a hunting rig (very much unlike this Prius modified for Texas hunting) for many years but then garaged it in 1995 when it started to fail. For nearly 20 years it sat idle until he passed away in 2014, and no one in the family had the heart to get rid of it. Which is smart because not only is it a classic style, it’s more valuable than ever in this market.
Two months before the competition, the original 302 cubic-inch V8 engine lost the number-one and number-four cylinders, and Vander Wilt and Bovee went on a mad hunt to find a replacement engine. After checking with several manufacturers who didn’t have them in stock, the sisters lucked out with a friend on the East coast who said he had one from a 1989 Ford Mustang. It was just sitting in his garage and offered it to them, and he shipped it out. Two weeks before the Rebelle, it was swapped out by Bovee’s husband. It also got a new skid plate over the fuel tank; the auxiliary tank had one already.
When Bovee and Vander Wilt pulled out the Bronco from the garage and dusted it off, the console was a rusty health hazard. It had been set up as a gun rack by their dad and had fallen into sever disrepair. The night before the 2020 Rebelle Rally, Bovee threw together some scrap plywood for a makeshift console to hold their gear. On the way to Nevada, the sisters stopped to visit a sponsor and someone leaned on it and it broke. They didn’t have time to rebuild it at the time so they had to run with it.
Before the 2021 rally, Bovee picked up some higher-quality wood and rebuilt the entire console as a usable and functional unit. In true family affair fashion, her 15-year-old son CJ created cupholders and an insert with a 3D printer to her specifications.
Last year, Bovee says they were lost quite often and didn’t even capture all of the compulsory green checkpoints. This year, they feel way better about their performance and not only hit their greens, they made it to some of the optional checkpoints too.
“Nobody had to pull us out and we didn’t have any flat tires,” Bovee says. “And we only had to use the auxiliary tank twice this year.”
As you might imagine, the old Bronco guzzles gas like a football player drinks Gatorade at halftime. With it backfiring fairly often, it consumed even more.
The sisters are already gearing up for 2022, and they’re planning to get a steering box and replace the hard top, which currently rains down rust flakes. With all of the challenges of the Rebelle Rally, they’re operating with a cranky Bronco and they’re still having a blast. That’s what it’s all about.
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