Donald N. Frey, Ford product manager, came up with the Mustang, and now he came up with the youth-oriented off-road vehicle, the Bronco.
After World War II, returning soldiers were buying up Jeeps similar to what transported them during the war. Ford wanted to get in on that trend by producing a vehicle “equally at home on rugged mountain grades or on a run to the shopping center” (per their advertisements).
Ford Bronco: In the Beginning (1966 – 1977)
The original 1966 Ford Bronco was an Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) intended to compete with the Jeep CJ (“Civilian Jeep”) and the International Harvester Scout produced in 1961 to compete with the Jeep. The Bronco was easy to maneuver due to its small size, and its simple flat surfaces were both inexpensive and easy to protect from rocks.
The compact Bronco came in three body styles: “Wagon” with two doors and a removable hardtop; “Roadster” without a roof and with inserts instead of doors; and “Sports Utility Pickup”(aka “Half Cab”) which replaced the two-person rear bench seat and hardtop with a mini pickup bed. All three styles had a three-speed manual transmission until 1973 when a three-speed automatic was offered.
The Roadster was not popular and so was discontinued after 1968. The Half Cab lasted until 1973. That left the Wagon as the “winner and still champion” through 1977. The first year, Ford sold an estimated 24,000 Broncos, beating out the Scout and coming in second to Jeep.
- Approximate base price of the 1966 Bronco: $2,400.
Ford Bronco: Phase Two (1978 – 1979)
By 1974, Ford needed to compete with the Chevy Blazer and the Dodge Ramcharger and build a larger and more comfortable Bronco. But plans for the redesign were put on hold due to the 1973 oil embargo imposed by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
In 1978, the second generation Bronco debuted with three doors, a removable fiberglass hardtop, and what would become a signature Bronco hallmark: a rear window that lowered into the door. The interior was “cushier,” more like a car, with more options, and seated up to six adults.
Also, the seats folded down easily, converting it to a pickup as needed. A catalytic converter was added in the 1979 model. Both 1978 and 1979 models came with two choices of transmissions: a four-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. The automatic transmission came with the option of a full-time four-wheel drive system.
When the 1978 Bronco was released in mid-1977, the response was so great that many customers were on a waiting list to purchase, some up to six months. Understandably, the 1978 Bronco won most of the “4×4 of the Year” and “Truck of the Year” awards.
- Approximate base price of the 1978 Bronco: $6,500.
Ford Bronco: Phase Three (1980 – 1986)
The 1980 Bronco remained full sized but was smaller and lighter with a more aerodynamic design. Ford wanted a more fuel-efficient Bronco due to rising prices of gasoline, and it wanted to make the Bronco drive better both on and off the road. Also, gone was the solid front axle in favor of an independent front suspension system for a smoother ride—a very rare feature back then.
There were three different four-speed manual transmissions offered as well as a three-speed automatic, and a four-speed automatic with overdrive.
The most instantly recognizable redesign was the Ford logo, the blue oval emblem. Previous models had “FORD” lettering across the hood. Sadly, to some, the iconic Bronco horse was removed.
- Approximate base price of the 1980 Bronco: $8,300.
1984 Ford Bronco II
The Ford Bronco II was another response to high gasoline prices and to the competition of the compact Jeep Cherokee and Chevy S-10 Blazer. It was closer in size to the original Bronco and came with a manual or automatic transmission.
It was in the vanguard of the new breed of SUVs with the advantages of large four-wheel-drive vehicles and the convenience of conventional station wagons. It was in production through 1990.
- Approximate base price of the 1984 Bronco II: $11,000.
Ford Bronco: Phase Four (1987 – 1991)
From 1987 through 1991, the Bronco was imported from Venezuela. The aerodynamics were improved with a reshaped front bumper, flatter grille up front, composite headlights, and a reshaped hood. It could now climb to 100 miles per hour.
The interior included redesigned front seats, door panels, controls, steering wheel, and instrument panels. Also, in the interest of safety, rear wheel anti-lock brakes were a standard feature. Also new was the “Shift on the Fly” system that allowed the Bronco to smoothly switch among two-wheel drive low, four-wheel drive, high four-wheel drive low and automatic.
The birth of the 1991 Ford Explorer signaled the end for the Ford Bronco. Both off-road enthusiasts and families delighted in the Explorer—so much so that the 1991 Bronco was treated as old news.
- Approximate base price of the 1987 Bronco: $13,500.
Ford Bronco: Fifth and (Supposedly) Final Phase (1992 – 1996)
The 1992 Bronco was a very popular redesign. Ford noticed that the large, two-door SUVs were losing favor in the marketplace, seriously outpaced by the four-door Explorer and later by the larger Expedition and Excursion. This three-door hardtop may be the most famous (infamous) of all Broncos: The world watched as the white Bronco sped along the Los Angeles freeways with OJ Simpson inside. (After passing through several owners, it now resides at a crime museum in Tennessee.)
The “swan song” of the Bronco brand implemented safety upgrades, such as three-point seat belts for the rear seat, air bags, a center rear brake light, and a fixed roof. Design changes included wraparound composite headlights, a larger grille, and a larger front bumper.
- Approximate base price of the 1992 Bronco: $18,800.
For 30 years, the Bronco established a category and remained the one to beat as Jeep, Chevrolet, Dodge, International Harvester, and others tried to dethrone it. Today, collectors and surfers covet the Bronco for its simplicity of design and purpose.
Ford Bronco: The 21st Century
Ford announced in 2017 that a new Bronco was in the works. It’s been a long wait, but is expected to be available for sale in June 2021. Reservations are being taken, and in December 2020, those reservations can be converted to an order at your Ford Dealer.
Fittingly, the first Broncos will be built at Michigan’s Ford Truck Plant, right where the 20th century Broncos finished.
- Expected approximate base price of the 2021 Bronco: $30,000