Introduced in August of 1965
, the Ford Bronco was the Ford Motor Company
's entry into the burgeoning sport utility vehicle market. Inspired by International Harvester
's success with its Scout series of SUV
s, Ford designers closely patterned the Bronco after the Scout 80
. Despite many similarities to the Scout, the Bronco soon carved out a niche for itself in the hearts of 4X4
enthusiasts and average car buyers alike.
From its introduction in 1965 until its untimely death in 1996, the basic features of the Bronco went largely unchanged. Every model featured a removable hardtop, standard 4-wheel drive, and various trim levels and paint schemes. Unlike today's SUVs, the Bronco was designed with the outdoorsman in mind and was built to perform well both on and off the road. Every subsequent change in the truck's features or styling served to further its mission to provide transportation that was versatile, attractive, and fun.
For the first 13 years of its life, the Bronco was a small, unassuming vehicle. The truck's appearance gradually distanced itself from the Scout, and the Bronco's high, boxy shape (not unlike today's Honda Element) made it instantly recognizable. The first Broncos were powered by a capable 6-cylinder, 150 horsepower engine that was adequate for most highway and offroad situations. The Bronco received a major boost in horsepower when V8 engines were first offered in 1967, but modern features like power steering and automatic transmissions were not introduced until the mid-1970's.
By 1975, the Bronco's antiquated styling and Spartan amenities had fallen behind the stiff competition produced by Chrysler and General Motors. Harbingers of a new school of thought in SUV design, GM's Blazer/Jimmy and Chrysler's Dodge RamCharger were among the first full-sized SUVs. The sales of these vehicles soared because for the first time, an SUV could be useful as a passenger vehicle as well as an ORV. The Bronco's sales steadily declined, which drove Ford's engineers back to the drawing board.
Beginning with the 1978 model year, Ford bowed to the new market trends and reintroduced the Bronco as a full-size SUV. Where the pre-1978 "small" Broncos bore a striking resemblance to International Harvester's Scout, the post-1978 "big" Broncos were based upon Ford's own F-series pickup line. As with the small Broncos, V8 and 6-cylinder engines were offered. (While the V8 was ideal for powering the new, larger truck, 6-cylinder inline engines remained an option until 1992 when the more capable V8 became standard.) The big Broncos' relation to the F-series was quite obvious; any time the F-series received an upgrade in features or body style, the Bronco followed suit.
The design of the truck's roof was also changed. No longer was the entire roof separable from the rest of the vehicle; Bronco owners had to be content with removing a camper top-shaped section of the roof that exposed the back seat and cargo area but left the front seat covered. With the half-top separated, the Bronco looked something like a cross between an F-150 and Chevrolet's El Camino. Although a convertible top was once a standard feature on any offroad vehicle, the Bronco's separable roof was something of an oddity in its later years. As new trends in SUV design blurred the threshold between "offroader" and "minivan", the Bronco proved to be the last American full-size SUV that offered such a feature.
After the complete overhaul of 1978, the basic look of the Bronco would go unchanged for the rest of the truck's life. Later features like the electronic 4-wheel drive transfer case (first offered in 1987), cruise control, and leather seats made the Bronco a comfortable yet rugged vehicle. In 1980, International Harvester cancelled production of its Scout series of SUVs. The SUV market was still fragmented between Chevy's Blazer, GMC's Jimmy, the Dodge RamCharger, and the Jeep Cherokee and Wagoneer, but the Ford Bronco was now the eldest competitor in the American SUV market.
In 1996, the new, "bigger is better" trend of the SUV market finally caught up with the Bronco. In the 31 years since the Bronco's introduction, sport utility vehicles had gone from embodying the carefree spirit of the outdoors to being the vehicle of choice for soccer moms. 2-door offroaders like the Bronco became increasingly dated, and Ford cancelled the Bronco in order to capitalize on the demand for larger SUVs. The Bronco had reached the end of the trail...for the time being.
On January 4th, 2004, Ford unveiled the Bronco concept vehicle at the North American International Auto Show. The new Bronco, which is rumored to be slated for a 2006 release, appears to be based on Ford's Escape SUV. While many Bronco fans are excited by the rebirth of their beloved truck, an equal (and by some accounts, larger) number of enthusiasts are disgusted to see the Bronco name slapped on a piece of conceptual eye candy that will likely be priced far beyond the range of the average driver. The new Bronco's blocky, rounded contours seem more akin to Ferrari than Ford, and the winch built into the front bumper is the only indicator that the vehicle is meant to go anywhere besides the country club's parking lot. The general public's reaction to the new Bronco remains to be seen, although the vehicle's design seems to indicate that Ford is aiming for a very small, very wealthy group of SUV buyers.
While the last classic Bronco rolled off the assembly line in 1996, Broncos continue to enjoy an avid following today. Used Broncos can be somewhat difficult to locate, as most people that own them are very reluctant to part ways with their Bronco. A bit of searching may be necessary to find a Bronco at a used car lot, and specimens with low mileage ("low" usually being about 100,000 miles) are exceptionally scarce. Although many Bronco owners are content to keep their Broncos on the pavement, the vehicle has built its reputation around being able to perform offroad and look nice going down the street.
Broncos are, by all accounts, extremely reliable and versatile vehicles, deserving of their remarkable legacy.
I gave my original Ford Bronco writeup a 5-inch suspension lift and a new paint job for the Writeup Redemption Quest.