Twenty Cool Facts about the Ford Bronco
We’ve got one more year to go before the new Bronco is unveiled. Until then, boost your knowledge of the ‘Mustang of the Dirt.’
For over two decades, we’ve gone without a new Bronco in our lives. The last time you could buy one new, Atlanta hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics, the Chicago Bulls win their fourth NBA Championship, and Hulk Hogan leaves behind vitamins and prayers for Hollywood and the New World Order.
But it won’t be too much longer until Ford finally resurrects the beloved Bronco name, which is set for 2020 for the 2021 model year. Until then, here are 20 cool facts about the famed “Mustang of the Dirt.”
1. The Father of the Bronco was also the Father of the Mustang
Ford product manager Donald Frey was the brains behind the Mustang, which launched to a smashing success. The next goal was to create a multi-purpose vehicle which could take on the Jeep CJ-5 and International Harvester Scout. Thus, with the help of then-vice president Lee Iaccoca and engineer Paul Axelrad, Frey launched the Bronco for the 1966 model year, inspiring Ford’s competitors to jump in the fire a few years later, like they did with the Mustang.
2. The Bronco was an off-road race monster
Before the Bronco even hit the showroom floor, though, a pair of early production models wound up in the hands of off-road legend Bill Stroppe in Long Beach, California. Stroppe took the new compact SUV to its first gold in no time, and ran one in the Baja 1000.
A couple of years later, Stroppe tapped Parnelli Jones to drive his Broncos, which Jones did to the point of absurdity. In 1971, he went as far to go behind Stroppe’s back to build the most famous off-roading Bronco of all, Big Oly, with Dick Russell doing the fabrication. Stroppe found out, of course, but all was well, and Big Oly took back-to-back Baja 1000 wins in 1971 and 1972.
3. The 1973 gas crisis delayed the next-generation Bronco
Ford had planned to take the Bronco out of the compact segment into the full-size market for 1973. However, the gas crisis in that year took the wind out of those sails in a hurry. Thus, the first-gen compact Bronco soldiered on until the 1977 model year, finally bowing out for the big, F-100-based pony in 1978.
4. The second-gen Bronco only lasted a couple of model years, though
Things change from one end of a decade to the other end. Such was what befell the second-gen Bronco from the get-go. The third-gen Bronco was already being worked on by the time the second-gen pony finally left the stable. Its design was also out-of-date with design trends for the upcoming decade, which made the second-gen Bronco the shortest-lived. By the 1980 model year, the old new horse was out, and the newer new horse was in.
5. But it did give us the Bronco Montana Lobo
And speaking of design trends, Ford decided it wanted to see what a Bronco could look like in the year 2000. Thus, the company took a 1977 Bronco, stripped it down to its chassis, and built a sleek, futuristic take on the big pony, the 1981 Bronco Montana Lobo. While the Montana Lobo mechanically functioned like a ’77, its looks were more laser beams than campfires. There was even a cloth bench seat in the bed, as well as a pair of side pipes next to the running boards. But like all concepts, this one never went into production.
6. The Bronco followed in the footsteps of the Mustang, sort of
Remember that oil crisis? It had some effect on the Mustang. That, and the pony car just got too big for its own good. Thus, Iaccoca ordered the little pony to be downsized, resulting in the Mustang II, which kept the legend afloat through the disco era.
The Bronco II arrived in March 1983 not to replace its bigger brother, but to provide an option for those who wanted a smaller pony SUV like the first-gen Bronco, but in a more modern package. Power was provided by a 2.8-liter Cologne V6 in the beginning, replaced by a 2.9-liter V6 with EFI for the 1986 model year. The Bronco II itself, based on the Ranger compact truck, would be canned for the new Explorer in 1990.
7. White Broncos will never be the same again after O.J.
The fifth-gen Bronco launched in 1992, when grunge was rising through the mainstream, and the World Wide Web was still only accessible via text commands. A couple of years later, grunge disappeared, the internet as we know it was born, and O.J. Simpson took a ride in a white Bronco.
A slow ride. In Los Angeles. With dozens of LAPD officers following close behind. On June 17, 1994, Simpson, who was a person of interest in the murders of his wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ron Goldman, fled the police in the back of a 1993 Bronco owned by his friend, Al Cowlings. The slow-speed chase ended at Simpson’s home in Brentwood, and the rest would soon become history.
8. The last Bronco leaves the assembly line
Nearly two years after that bit of infamy, the last Bronco ever built left the Wayne, Michigan assembly line on June 12, 1996. It was a white model, and was escorted by a red 1970 Bronco. The next SUV to follow? The Bronco’s replacement, the Expedition.
9. However, it wasn’t last new Bronco sold
You ever pop into a Ford dealership year after year, and see the same Ford GT in the showroom, wondering if it will ever be sold? Apply that to a 1977 Bronco that never left its Indiana home (a Ford dealership) until it was finally sold new in 2013. The “new” Bronco found its way to Gateway Bronco in St. Louis, where it is currently going for six figures.
10. The fifth-gen Bronco locked-down the top
Ever since the first Bronco rolled off the assembly line back in 1966, the top in the back was as easy to remove as the hardtop on a convertible. The fifth-gen Bronco, though, put the brakes on that.
In short, the last Broncos to date gained a few new safety features, such as airbags, rear seat belts, and a center brake light. The latter two bits meant the top could no longer, from a legal point of view, be removed. Ford went as far as to change the bolts to Torx units (thus, requiring special tools), and deleted all references from the Bronco’s manual as to how to take the top off.
11. Eddie Bauer slaps his name on a Bronco
Fashion labels and special editions are nothing new to Ford. Pucci, Givenchy, even FILA had driven a Ford lately, leaving their respective design touches behind. Seattle-based outdoor equipment and clothing company Eddie Bauer, founded by its namesake in 1920, was keen on finding a Ford or two that fit its rugged image.
Thus, in 1983, the company linked up with the Blue Oval in a cross-branding partnership that led to the first Bronco Eddie Bauer Edition for the 1984 model year. The Eddie Bauer Edition not only outlived its namesake, who passed in 1986, but also the Bronco, before the cross-branding ended in 2010.
12. The Bronco was the foundation for a Suburban competitor
Back in the Eighties through the mid-Nineties, Ford didn’t have anything to throw against the Chevrolet Suburban. Michigan’s Centurion Vehicles came up with its own solution, though. Dubbed the Centurion Classic, the full-size SUV was built by fusing an F-Series crew cab with the back half of a Bronco, then dropping it on the chassis of either an F-150 or F-350. The Classic lasted from 1987 to the end of Bronco production 1996.
13. The Denver Broncos had a Bronco edition for a while
Going back to the first-gen Bronco, Stroppe and Ford struck up a deal to market special edition versions of the compact SUV to celebrate Stroppe’s and Jones’s winning ways. Seventy-six of those 1975 Broncos wound up being rebranded as Denver Broncos Edition models, which amounted to nothing more than a Grabber Blue roof, white fender flares, and a Broncos wheel cover with matching fender badges. Maybe we’ll see one again in the next decade.
14. You might be able to row your own in the new Bronco
Of the few details we know of the new Bronco, one of them is the possibility that it might come with a seven-speed manual from Getrag. Manual transmissions are important for off-roading for greater control, so this would be a plus against the likes of Jeep.
15. Vintage Broncos are commanding high-dollar today
Once, a 1966 Bronco would have set you back around $2,400. Today, it’s in the five-figure range, with perfect examples going for nearly $50,000 on the auction block. Some, of course, have sold for much more, including a 1969 Bronco that still holds the world record, selling for $500,000 in 2013 during Barrett-Jackson’s auction in Scottsdale, Arizona.
16. Bronco concept goes hard into the retro-mod craze
By the early 2000s, automakers were tapping into their designs from the 1960s (if not earlier) for inspiration. For Ford, this resulted in cool vehicles like the S197 Mustang and the 2005-06 Ford GT. It also delivered a retro-mod Bronco concept updating the first-gen Bronco’s looks for the 21st century. Draped in silver, the concept was based on the CD2 platform then-used by the Escape, and used a 2.0-liter turbo diesel from the Mondeo for motivation. The concept bowed at the 2004 Detroit Auto Show, and then disappeared into memory.
17. A UAW contract opens the door for the Bronco’s comeback
In 2016, Ford and the UAW sat down for their usual round of labor negotiations, centered around the fate of the Michigan Assembly Plant, which made the Focus and C-Max at the time, and built all five generations of the Bronco before then.
The new UAW-Ford contract shifted production of the Focus and C-Max to Mexico in exchange for the return of both the Ranger and the Bronco. The Ranger arrived in 2018, but we’re still waiting on the old pony.
18. Dealers witness (and leak) the Bronco in Las Vegas
During Ford’s annual dealers meeting in Las Vegas back in November 2018, all in attendance got a good look at a few new products to expect in the months and years to come, including what is thought to be the new Bronco. The leaked images could be that, though we noticed a blockier shadow behind the center image, which looks more like what we believe the new Bronco to be. Such is the nature of leaks.
19. What about the Baby Bronco, though?
As happened before, the big Bronco may likely be accompanied by a baby Bronco. The only clue at the moment is the teaser above, which has been linked to the name “Adrenaline,” a name Ford trademark back in 2018 in Canada. Only time will tell what will come of this.
20. The new Bronco will finally debut in 2020
Last but not least, the return of the Bronco will have to wait one more calendar year. Ford stated near the end of 2018 that the Mustang of the Dirt’s return would not occur any time during 2019, announcing that vehicles like the new Explorer, F-Series Super Duty, and Transit would bow before the big pony arrives. We’ve waited over 22 years for a new Bronco. We can wait one more year. Maybe.