History and histories

B for Bronco

Photo credit: Ford, Bonanza, Broncocorral, Ebay

The 1960s were the years of youth protests, festivals and free love, and also the decade in which Ford launched the Bronco. Today, this vehicle would be classified, perfectly correctly, as a SUV. The problem is that nowadays this label is all too often used to describe boring high-wheelbase cars that come in all sizes, yet somehow all look the same, and are almost never 4x4s! The Bronco, on the other hand, deserved this description, precisely because it really did qualify as a Sports Utility Vehicle. Especially the Utility part. Indeed, its flat windows, symmetrical doors and C-shaped bumpers immediately left you in no doubt as to its vocation, which changed very little over the years until it finally went out of production in 1996. And while most people right now are excitedly focusing on the new model just presented, we prefer to take a trip down memory lane, looking back over the adverts that tell the Bronco’s story and helped to build its legendary status.

1966 Ford Bronco Advertising

With its short wheelbase and considerable height from the ground, the Bronco encapsulated people’s yearning to leave behind the stress and grind of the daily commute in the city, perhaps kicking up a cloud of sand or snow in their wake. Thus, the Bronco, launched in 1966, was depicted as a loyal companion with which to get away from it all, but also as a vehicle faithful to the traditional American values that were being challenged by the “hippy generation”. Unfussy and based on clear ideas, it was dressed in Roadster, Wagon or Sport-Utility bodywork, and as can be seen from the photo, it essentially amounted to a comfortable pick-up truck.

1967 Ford Bronco Advertising

The competition was fierce and diverse. On the one hand, there was Jeep with its CJ-5, the model built for the Marines, minimalist and ready for anything. On the other, the International Harvester Scout, the very first SUV as we understand the term today; first created in the 1950s, to give Willys some competition, this underwent countless innovations up until the 1980s, but in the early days it was spartan, not particularly powerful and rather unsophisticated.

Ford’s response, as this advert shows, was to stress the advantages of its technology, power (this was the category’s only V8 car), and warranty plan.

1978 Ford Bronco Advertising

1978 brought the second generation of the Bronco. Now bigger with a larger wheelbase it had the mechanics of the F-100 Pick-Up. The lines were less soft than those of the previous version and the front was more aggressive: the Ford logo had been moved to the hood, making space for the front air intake concealing the 5.8L V8 engine, the four-speed gearbox, and below it, the insertable 4WD transmission. It was available in 18 different colors and, in true late ’70s style, had a prominent stripe on the side. And then there is that red carpet!

1981 Ford Bronco Advertising

The 1980s were golden years for the Bronco. The third series included the Custom model, because Ford, during the Bronco’s first 15 years, had come to appreciate the full customization potential of its SUV. Therefore, taking the bull by the horns, it came up with an already very extreme version: technically termed the Victoria Two-Tone, the color scheme was obtained by applying an adhesive sticker on the hood, one on the roof, and another totally covering the side, in shades transitioning from yellow to red. With the oil crisis still a very recent memory, Ford’s advert also underlined the fuel economy advantages and included a reminder that consumption could be reduced by using the fourth gear.

1989 Ford Bronco Advertising

As the 1990s approached, the hedonism of the Reagan era led Ford to develop a more “bourgeois” interpretation of its 4×4, with the fourth generation including the refined Eddie Bauer version, which had more leather, more electronics, but somehow less appeal. Perhaps it was meant to have echoes of the Range Rover, and if that is the case it did not really succeed in its intent, but of course Englishness is a quality you are born with, not something you can copy! Furthermore, Jeep, Ford’s big rival, had a very strong Cherokee on the market at the time, available in three-door, five-door and pick-up versions. If that wasn’t enough, to put another spoke in the wheel, the American market was also discovering the various Japanese takes on the idea: this was the period that brought the Toyota Land Cruiser, Mitsubishi Pajero (Montero in the USA), and Nissan Pathfinder, in various versions.

1992 Ford Bronco Advertising

The fifth series was the Bronco’s swansong. The shape was more rounded, in line with the style of the early 1990s. There was little in the way of new ideas, as shown by the fact that the advert stresses, as its key message, the Bronco’s record as the USA’s best-selling utility truck (or off-road vehicle to us) for 12 years running. With American safety regulations now making three-point rear seat belts compulsory, the SUV had had to forgo the removable roof that had been its innovative characteristic since 1966. After 30 years, the market was increasingly looking to the convenience of five-door vehicles. Indeed, in the meantime, Ford itself had developed the Ford Explorer which, despite the “little” problem of tire failures and accidents that led to the end of the 90-year partnership between Ford and Firestone, was eating up a slice of the same market.

The new Ford Bronco 2020

In 1996 the Bronco went out of production, making way for the 5-door Expedition. At that time, the USA was in love with the Grand Cherokee, which represented a perfect combination of performance and elegance. In the meantime, Europe’s appropriation of the SUV concept had led to the appearance, alongside the legendary Range Rover, of the Mercedes-Benz M Class and the BMW X5. The late 1990s brought poor versions of the last generation SUVs (ML 55 AMG, X5 4.6is, Grand Cherokee 5.9 V8), while the turn of the century saw the Japanese inflicting a new “strike” in the form of the Lexus RX, which as early as 2003 was already hybrid. This was followed shortly afterwards by the birth of the Wrangler, which became a separate SUV category, an example of a modern revival like the Mini under BMW, or the evergreen G by Mercedes-Benz.

At the 2004 New York Motor Show, Ford exhibited a Bronco concept car, but it came to nothing. Until July 2020, that is, when, redesigned and offering a mixture of heritage features and solutions from the Jeep Wrangler (see the Unlimited with the long wheelbase), the Bronco returned once again, ready to take on the most difficult year for the car world since 2007.