The 2021 Ford Bronco marks the return of the Blue Oval’s original SUV after 24 years. The original Bronco helped create the template for the modern SUV, which combines robust construction with everyday usability. Learn how the Bronco wrote automotive history and why it took Ford so long to bring it back.
Ford didn’t invent the SUV, but executives knew a trend when they saw one. Just as the Bronco 2021 targets the Jeep Wrangler, the original Bronco aimed the Jeep CJ, the brand’s first civilian model. Ford actually built jeeps alongside Willys Overland during World War II (you can see a Ford-made jeep by the letter “F”
1965-1977: first generation
Former GIs started buying military surplus jeeps as well as civilian models made by Willys, but Ford believed this could be better.
The first-generation Bronco, launched on August 11, 1965, followed the Jeep example with standard all-wheel drive and short wheelbase for better off-road maneuverability. However, Ford also focused on street manners to make the Bronco more of an everyday vehicle. In a 1966 press release, the Bronco was described as a “sport utility vehicle” – one of the earliest uses of this term.
The first generation Bronco was available in three body styles: wagon, convertible roadster and pickup. At the start, the Bronco was powered by a 2.8-liter inline six-cylinder engine with 105 hp, which was coupled with a three-speed manual transmission. More powerful V8 engines were added later in the production run.
The Bronco had its fame in 1969 at the Baja 1000 and won the legendary Mexican off-road race. Ford tried to repeat this success in 2019 for the 50th Anniversary of this victory, but it didn’t work. The Bronco R racer was not even finished due to reliability issues.
1978-1979: Short-lived second generation
The second generation Bronco only lasted two model years, but it was a significant development of the kind.
Where the first generation Bronco had a unique platform, Ford decided to save some money and use a shortened version of the F-100 pickup platform for the second generation model. The rival General Motors had done the same, turning the C / K pickup into the Chevrolet K5 Blazer. Chevy has recently revived the blazer name, but for a completely different type of vehicle that doesn’t compete directly with the 2021 Bronco.
The result was a much larger vehicle than the original Bronco and with only one body style available: a two-door with removable hardtop. The engine range consisted only of V8, but that didn’t mean that buyers were treated with plenty of power. The most powerful engine made only 149 hp.
While the first generation Bronco made headlines in motorsport, the second generation model had a slightly different claim to fame. Three Broncos were converted to Popemobile for Pope John Paul II’s visit to the United States in 1979. The SUVs have white paint and rear platforms to give the Pope maximum visibility.
1980-1986: bigger and smaller
The third generation model retained the generous proportions of its predecessor, but Ford at least reduced the weight. The Bronco was still based on the F-100 pickup, but Ford swapped the full-axle front suspension for an independent setup to improve handling and handling on the road.
Ford also brought back the in-line six-cylinder base engine, this time with a displacement of 4.9 liters and only 115 hp. V8 engines also remained available, including a 5.8-liter engine with 210 hp. As with the third generation Bronco, the only body style was a two-door with removable hardtop.
In 1984 Ford launched the Bronco II as a small sibling of the standard Bronco. Based on the Ford Ranger pickup, the Bronco II remained in production until 1990. Just when the Bronco came back, the Bronco II received a spiritual successor, the Bronco, with the Ford Bronco Sport 2021, a smaller model that came on the market alongside the 2021.
1987-1991: Minor changes
The 1987-1991 Bronco may look different thanks to a smoother front end inspired by the F-150 pickup and is considered a standalone Bronco generation, but didn’t bring many changes beyond the design.
The interior was redesigned and Ford added a more modern electronic setup for the all-wheel drive system. In a further reference to the modern age, the 4.9-liter inline six-cylinder and 5.8-liter V8 engines received fuel injection.
Aside from these changes, the Bronco remained largely unchanged from its predecessors of the 1960s and 1970s. That would become a problem if the buyer’s taste changed.
1992-1996: end of the road
The fifth generation Bronco borrowed the styling and base platform of the F-150 again. Ford tried to improve safety by adding crumple zones and a standard driver airbag for the 1994 model year. The soft top was still technically removable, but the middle brake light and rear seat belts were attached to it, which made removal effectively impossible.
OJ Simpson made this generation of Bronco famous (or notorious, depending on your perspective) thanks to a police chase on Interstate 405 in Los Angeles in 1995. Ford had to postpone the Bronco’s unveiling in 2021 because the original date was Simpson’s birthday .
This generation of Bronco would be the last in over two decades thanks to competition within the Ford brand. The Ford Explorer, launched in 1991, was built for off-road use, but was better suited for school trips and shopping trips than the Bronco. The Explorer represented the next evolution of SUVs and made the Bronco look like a dinosaur.
Bring the bronco back
As mainstream SUVs like the Explorer evolved to better match their natural habitat – on-site parking – a niche began to open up to a more robust off-roader. As with the original Bronco, however, Ford responded to Jeep rather than paving its own way.
As Ford prepared to pull the Bronco out of circulation, sales of the Jeep Wrangler picked up speed. While Ford introduced a Bronco concept car in 2004, it continued to focus on more conventional SUVs and its bestseller, the F-150. Conventional wisdom said that buyers wanted more comfort and convenience. Even the Explorer gradually lost most of its suitability for off-road use, as this was no longer important for most buyers. But the old-school Jeep Wrangler continued to sell in droves, and just like in the 1960s, Ford believed it could do better.
Ford finally announced a new Bronco in 2017, but took the time to introduce the new SUV. The 2021 Ford Bronco and Bronco Sport will be unveiled on July 13. More information is available here.