The Ford Bronco was a sport-utility vehicle produced from 1966 through 1996, with five distinct generations.
It was initially introduced as a competitor for the Jeep CJ-5 and International Harvester Scout. A major redesign based on the Ford F-Series truck in 1978 brought a larger Bronco to compete with the Chevrolet K5 Blazer, Jeep Cherokee, and Dodge Ramcharger. Thus, Broncos can generally be divided into two categories: Early Broncos (1966-1977), and full-size Broncos (1978-1996). However, no matter which year it was built, four wheel drive and low range were standard on every Bronco built through its thirty year run. Very few 2 wheel drive broncos were ever produced and almost all of those were made for sale outside of the United States.
The full-size Broncos and the successor Expedition were produced at Ford's Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, Michigan.
The Bronco permanently entered popular culture on June 17, 1994, as the vehicle in which O.J. Simpson, wanted for the murders of his ex-wife and her friend, attempted to elude Los Angeles Police Department in a low-speed chase with himself in the passenger seat and Al Cowlings driving. It was a white 1993 model owned by Al Cowlings.
The original Bronco was an ORV (Off-Road Vehicle), intended to compete primarily with Jeep CJ models and the International Harvester Scout. The Bronco's small size (92 in wheelbase) made it popular for off-roading and some other uses, but impractical for such things as towing. The Bronco was Ford's first compact SUV, and Ford's compact SUV place would be taken by the Ford Bronco II (1984-1990), and the Ford Escape (2001-present).
The idea behind the Bronco began with Ford product manager Donald N. Frey, who also conceived of the Ford Mustang; and similarly, Lee Iacocca pushed the idea through into production. In many ways, the Bronco was a more original concept than the Mustang; whereas the Mustang was based upon the Ford Falcon, the Bronco had a frame, suspension, and body that were not shared with any other vehicle.
The Bronco was designed under engineer Paul G. Axelrad. Although the axles and brakes were sourced from the Ford F-100 four wheel drive pickup truck, the front axle was located by radius arms (from the frame near the rear of the transmission forward to the axle) and a lateral track bar, allowing the use of coil springs which gave the Bronco a tight (34 ft) turning circle, long wheel travel, and an anti-dive geometry which was useful for snowplowing. The rear suspension was more conventional, with leaf springs in a typical Hotchkiss design. A shift-on the-fly Dana Corp. transfer case and locking hubs were standard, and heavy-duty suspension was an option.
The initial engine was the Ford 170 cu in (2.8 L) straight-6, modified with solid valve lifters, a six-US-quart oil pan, heavy-duty fuel pump, oil-bath air cleaner, and a carburetor with a float bowl compensated against tilting.
Styling was subordinated to simplicity and economy, so all glass was flat, bumpers were simple C-sections, the frame was a simple box-section ladder, and the basic left and right door skins were identical except for mounting holes.
The early Broncos were offered in wagon, the ever popular halfcab, and less popular roadster configurations. Roadster was dropped early and the sport package, which later became a model line, was added.
The base price was only US$2,194, but the long option list included front bucket seats, a rear bench seat, a tachometer, and a CB radio, as well as functional items such as a tow bar, an auxiliary gas tank, a power take-off, a snowplow, a winch, and a posthole digger. Aftermarket accessories included campers, overdrive units, and the usual array of wheels, tires, chassis, and engine parts for increased performance.
The Bronco sold well in its first year (23,776 units produced and then remained in second place after the CJ-5 until the advent of the full-sized Chevrolet Blazer in 1969. The Blazer was a much larger and more powerful vehicle which could offer greater luxury, comfort, space, and a longer option list including an automatic transmission and power steering, and thus had broader appeal. Ford countered by enlarging the optional V8 engine from 289 cu in (4.7 L) and 200 hp (150 kW) to 302 cu in (4.9 L) and 205 hp (153 kW), but this still could not match the Blazer's optional 350 cu in (5.7 L) and 255 hp (190 kW) (horsepower numbers are before horsepower ratings changed in the early to mid 70s. A 255hp engine would have a horsepower rating of roughly 170 by today's standards.)
In 1973, power steering and automatic transmissions were made optional and sales spiked to 26,300, but by then, Blazer sales were double those of the Bronco, and International Harvester had seen the light and come out with the Scout II that was more in the Blazer class. By 1974, the larger and more comfortable vehicles such as the Cherokee made more sense for the average driver than the more rustically-oriented Bronco. The low sales of the Bronco (230,800 over twelve years) did not allow a large budget for upgrades, and it remained basically unchanged until the advent of the larger, more Blazer-like second generation Bronco in 1978. Production of the original model fell (14,546 units) in its last year, 1977.
In 1965, racecar builder Bill Stroppe assembled a team of Broncos for long-distance off-road competition for Ford. Partnering with Ford's frequently favored race team Holman-Moody, the Stroppe/Holman/Moody (SHM) Broncos proceeded to dominate the Mint 400, Baja 500, and Mexican 1000 (which was later named the Baja 1000). In 1969 SHM again entered a team of six Broncos in the Baja 1000. In 1971, a "Baja Bronco" package partially derived from Stroppe's design was offered in the Ford showrooms, featuring quick-ratio power steering, automatic transmission, fender flares covering Gates Commando tires, a roll bar, reinforced bumpers, a padded steering wheel, and distinctive red, white, blue, and black paint. However, at a price of US$5,566 versus the standard V8 Bronco price of $3,665, only 650 were sold over the next four years.
In 1966, a Bronco dragster built by Doug Nash ran the quarter mile in 9.2 seconds, with a top speed of 150 mph (240 km/h).
The redesign of the Bronco in 1978 was based on the F-100 truck, sharing many chassis, drivetrain, and body components. The entire front clip is indistinguishable from their full size trucks for those years, and 78/79 broncos were available in either round or square sealed beam headlight styles. Ford started the redesign in 1972, codenamed Project Short-Horn, but introduction was delayed by concerns over the mid-1970s fuel crisis. The increased size allowed them to compete with the fullsize SUVs offered by GM (Chevrolet Blazer/GMC Jimmy), Chrysler (Dodge Ramcharger/Plymouth Trailduster), American Motors (Jeep Grand Wagoneer), and Toyota (Toyota Land Cruiser). The base engine was a 351 cu in (5.8 L), with an optional 400 cu in (6.6 L). A Ford 9" rear axle and a Dana 44 front axle were standard. 1979 saw the addition of a catalytic converter, and other various emissions control equipment.
The 78-79 Broncos are among the most popular fullsize Broncos due to their solid front axles, favored by most off roaders and many towers. The Bronco dropped the solid front axle for an independent front suspension setup in 1980. All Broncos from 66-96 came with a solid rear axle.
There was a major redesign of the model in 1980 (the 1980 model was based on the redesigned Ford F-Series; this generation lasted until 1986 with no sheetmetal changes, mostly powertrain and chassis related). The new Bronco was shorter, and had cosmetic changes along with powertrain, suspension and other odds and ends. Most notably, the Ford Bronco had a TTB (twin traction beam) setup in the front end for an independent front suspension.
With a smaller Bronco and fuel economy in mind, Ford offered a 300 cu in (4.9 L) straight six as the base engine. Although this engine came with more torque than the 302 cu in (4.9 L) V8 and comparable to the 351 cu in (5.8 L) V8 (until the High Output model), the engine was limited by a 1-bbl carburetor and restrictive single-out exhaust manifolds. Electronic emissions equipment added in 1984 further restricted the power of the inline six. Ford used up their remaining stock of 351M engines before switching over to the 351W in mid-model year 1982. A "High Output" version of the 351W became an option in 1984 and continued into the 1987 model year. Output was 210 hp (157 kW) at 4000 rpm vs the standard 2-bbl 351W which made 156 hp (116 kW) at 4000 rpm. The 302 was the first engine to receive electronic fuel-injection, starting in the 1985 model year.
Cosmetically, Ford returned to using its "blue oval" logo on the front of a slightly redesigned grille, and removed the "F O R D" letters from the hood in 1982. Towards the mid-80's, an Eddie Bauer edition Bronco was offered, with a tan interior and tan outside trim. Classic square mirrors were dropped in 1986.
In 1987, the body and drivetrain of the fullsize Bronco changed, as it was still based on the F-Series. The new aero body style reflected a larger redesign of many Ford vehicles for the new model year. By 1988, all Broncos were being sold with electronic fuel injection (first introduced in 1986 with the 302). In 1990, Ford started offering the heavy duty E4OD transmission. In 1991, a 25th Silver Anniversary Edition was sold featuring special badges, Currant Red paint and a gray leather interior. All Broncos were built at the Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, Michigan on the same line as the F-150.
The Bronco, along with the F-Series, was updated for 1992. The new Bronco was redesigned with safety in mind, incorporating front crumple zones, rear shoulder seat belts, a third brakelight embedded in the removable top, and after 1994, driver-side airbags. Due to the taillight and shoulder belts being safety equipment integrated into the top, the top was no longer legally removable and all literature in the owners manuals that had previously explained how to take the top off was removed. Cosmetic exterior and interior changes included a sweeping front end and a new dash. Power mirrors were also offered for the first time, and in 1996 the Bronco became the first vehicle to incorporate turn signal lights in the mirrors. No major drivetrain changes occurred.
Ford offered many two-toned color combinations throughout the years.
From the late 1980s through its demise in 1996, the Bronco was also sold at Ford dealerships as a modified 4-door SUV (making it similar to the Excursion or Suburban). These 4-door Broncos were converted by Centurion Vehicles of White Pigeon, Michigan. The conversion involved combining a new crew cab short bed F-Series truck with a Bronco tailgate and fiberglass top. In addition to adding a third row of seats and more room, a Bronco Centurion could be ordered using an F-350 as the donor pickup, allowing the Centurion to have such engines as the 7.3 L (≈445 cu in) PowerStroke turbodiesel and the 460 cu in (7.5 L) gasoline V8. This made the Centurion more appealing to people in need of a comfortable tow vehicle, albeit a faster one. Over time the few of these cars that still exist are rare and valuable, except for the certain percentage of Northern cars that suffered from tailgate rust-out due to poor body paint preparation.
The Bronco Centurion could be ordered with options such as a third-row seat that can be folded into a bed, second row bucket seats, a TV with a VCR, and a built-in radar detector.
Bronco Centurions are considered after market conversions. Ford introduced the Excursion as an official production model in 2000.
In mid 1996, Ford officially made the decision to discontinue the Bronco. On Wednesday, June 12, 1996 the last Bronco ever built rolled off the assembly line at Michigan's Ford Truck Plant. The last Bronco was escorted by Jeff Trapp's 1970 Ford Bronco during a Drive-Off Ceremony. It was replaced by the Ford Expedition, which was introduced as the successor to the Bronco, and more effectively competed with GM's Chevrolet Tahoe. The Bronco name was reused a few years later for a similar concept car.
Ford Bronco Concept at the 2004 NY Auto Show
At the 2004 North American International Auto Show, a Bronco concept car was introduced. Some features of the concept car, such as the box-like roof line, short wheelbase, and the round headlamps are features associated with the Early Bronco, but this concept car also had a 2.0 L intercooled turbodiesel engine and a six-speed manual transmission. As of March 2007, Ford is still considering releasing this for production. The vehicle would be slotted below the Ford Escape if it were to be produced.