Ford’s off-roader has quite the story…
Now that new Ford Broncos are making their way into communities all over, we thought it would be a good time to remind everyone of the heritage of the Blue Oval’s off-roader. The included video shows Broncos being assembled in the 1990s before the name was retired for over two decades. It’s a fascinating look at how vehicle manufacturing has changed since then, plus it provides insight into why the Bronco is beloved by so many.
Check out how Chip Foose would redesign the first-gen Ford Bronco here.
One thing pointed out in the video is that the Bronco was actually not Ford’s first off-road vehicle. Technically, the Model T and Model A were driven off the pavement and on some surprisingly rugged trails back in the day, but neither one was designed primarily for trail use. The first Ford to claim that honor belongs to the jeep, a fact which might cause some Mopar fans serious cognitive dissonance. Ford made over 250,000 jeeps during WWII, and while it didn’t reveal the Bronco until August 11, 1965, the automaker retained what it learned from producing the wartime machines.
Another fact some people don’t know is Ford almost called the Bronco the Wrangler. While that was a frontrunner, other options considered by the automaker was Trail Blazer, Rustler, Gaucho, Explorer, Bravo, and Caballero. There definitely was a theme to most of the names, but executives decided with the success of the Mustang a horse-themed scheme was best. That was a better option than the original name, GOAT, which stood for Goes Over Any Terrain.
Ford designed the Bronco to address the complaints of Jeep and International Harvester Scout owners, who said their rigs were too small, not powerful enough, uncomfortable, loud, and rode rough. By exploiting the vulnerabilities of the competition, the more luxurious yet still very capable first-generation Bronco was a huge hit. Today, even rough first-gen Broncos sell for eye-watering amounts.
The second-generation Bronco was originally supposed to launch starting with the 1974 model year. Thanks to the oil embargo, that was delayed until 1978. Based on the F-100 and using a V8, it was bigger, heavier, and less popular. Not only did it consume more fuel, it was less practical for off-roading. If you don’t see many second-gen Broncos it’s for good reason since they were only made for two years.
Incorporating feedback from customers, Ford made the third-generation Bronco smaller and lighter, although it was still significantly larger than the first-gen. While the V8 engine was retained, a V6 option was offered. Another big change was the addition of an independent front suspension instead of a solid front axle.
In 1984 Ford made the fateful decision to launch the Bronco II, a smaller version of the off-roader aimed at younger shoppers. While it was closer in size to the first-generation Broncos, the Bronco II quickly became notorious for rollovers. Numerous lawsuits took their toll and Ford was forced to discontinue the Bronco II after a 6-year run.
While the Bronco II debacle tarnished Ford’s image, the fourth-gen Bronco helped modernize the off-roader. Like the updated F-Series it was based on, the Bronco gained electronic fuel injection, anti-lock brakes, and a sleeker aero body style. Some people really lover fourth-generation Broncos, especially the Eddie Bauer and Silver Anniversary models, although they haven’t quite become collectable, yet.
The final generation of the Bronco for the 20th century lasted from 1992 to 1996. You can blame O.J. Simpson for putting the final nail in the coffin for Ford’s off-roader, but the push for safety also played a part. Ford incorporated all kinds of safety measures in the rig, like a driver’s side airbag, while just not even mentioning the removable hardtop as if it were some shameful secret. Jeep was busy celebrating the open-air nature of the Wrangler at the same time and consumers made a choice.
photo credit: Ford