The Best Ford Bronco Year — What is the Difference?

The Best Ford Bronco Year — What is the Difference?

When trying to decide the best Bronco year, it’s hard not to immediately fall right into love with the first generation (1966-1977) and immediately forget that every other generation of Bronco even exists.

If you’re wondering what the best Classic Ford Bronco year is, then you’re already more than halfway to making a final decision! See, there are lots and lots of amazing classic vehicles available out there but few of them have the absolute presence of a classic Ford Bronco, and among classic or vintage vehicles, the Ford Bronco stands out from an often very crowded field. If you’re the kind of person who’s ready to tame a classic of this caliber, well, you’re definitely in luck because there are 5 awesome generations to choose from that all offer their own unique version of freedom-focused attitude, exemplary capability, and brawny styling.

At Velocity, we specialize in bringing classic Broncos into the present with a combination of bespoke luxury, and stunning performance.  However, the foundation of our builds and how we get to the finish line really all depends on the client’s needs and wants, so, the first thing that any Bronco enthusiast needs to decide on is what the best Bronco year is for their ideal build.

We’re going to perform a deep - dive into all 5 generations of Bronco (1966-1996) so you can make the best decision for your next classic:

  • First Generation: 1966-1977
  • Second Generation: 1978-1979
  • Third Generation: 1980-1986
  • Fourth Generation: 1987-1991
  • Fifth Generation: 1992-1996

Ready to travel back in time? Let’s get into it!

First Generation: 1966-1977

Classic Bronco Advertisement When trying to decide the best Bronco year, it’s hard not to immediately fall right into love with the first generation (1966-1977) and immediately forget that every other generation of Bronco even exists. Frankly, some of our most legendary builds and most complete transformations have come from the first generation Bronco and we won’t play favorites here, but it’s our favorite generation of Bronco to work on. Especially compared to future generations, first-gen Broncos enjoyed a long run of 11 years before finally succumbing to the Blue Ovals meshing of F - Series trucks and their SUV line.

Originally, the Ford Bronco was designed to be a super-rugged off-roader with 2 doors and a deep desire for adventure. Just the mention of the word Bronco (with some careful advertising) sent potential owners minds racing for the places they could go and things they could do with their new ride. Take a look at the original Ford advertisement above, and you can see the three unique body styles offered up by the boys in blue: Open top Roadster, Half-Cab Pickup, and 2-Door Wagon. Due to slow sales, the open-top roadster bit the dust early in 1968, while the half-cab pickup made it all the way to 1972. A Three-speed manual transmission was standard (an automatic didn’t come until 1973!) and engine choices ranged from a straight six to a more robust 289 (upgraded to the 302) V8. Ford offered a selectable 4 wheel drive system that was also standard.

1966-1972 Half Cab & 1966-1968 Roadster

If you really want a completely unique Bronco, picking up a half-cab model is one of the most unique ways to experience the joys of owning an early Bronco and we’ve had the pleasure of doing some incredible half-cab builds.Blue half cab build by Velocity

Another crucial element of the classic Bronco experience is the feeling of the wind blowing through your air, while your ears are being assaulted by the sound of a thumping V8. Now, this experience was a bit more, let’s just say, adventurous on early Bronco Roadsters. I mean, there were no doors, no roll bars, and really no safety equipment at all! While we would love to ignore the possibility of serious injury, these things just don’t cut it out on the modern roads of today. Our Velocity Modern Classics are meant to be driven and driven hard, so we’ve designed some of our first-gen Bronco’s with the open-top goodness you desire, but with a modern chassis, and a 4 point roll bar with frame tie ins for optimal safety. Oh, yes, and unlike the original Bronco Roadsters - ours come with doors.

Bronco RoadsterCredit: Ford

1972-1977 Bronco Ranger1974 Ford Bronco Ranger

1974 Ford Bronco Ranger InteriorOriginal 1974 Ford Bronco Ranger - Credit:

Now, let’s be straight here, the first years of the early Broncos were basic as can be, and that’s not an exaggeration. We’re talking completely bare floors, metal dashboards, and a complete lack of any sort of creature comforts. This, after all, was the Bronco’s calling card: tough and capable. As manufacturers began to realize the insane popularity of SUVs, more and more jumped into the fray such as the International Scout II and the Chevy Blazer. These new entries were much more - road-focused than the Bronco, and the Bronco suffered in the sales race as a result because Americans were using these vehicles as their family / daily drivers! To compete, Ford offered the Bronco Ranger trim starting in 1972, which coincided with their F-Series truck line, and it became the “top of the line” trim. Offered with features such as woodgrain trim, fitted cloth buckets, and unique exterior details. If you can find a Bronco Ranger, these are particularly awesome vehicles but they can be quite rare and hard to come by.Vintage Bronco passenger front view

Classic Ford Bronco passenger side interiorClassic Bronco Ranger - Velocity Style

Second Generation: 1978-1979

We’ve had the opportunity to work with several models from this generation, and we think you’ll agree, there is a presence here that simply can not be denied. Take one look at our take on the 1978 Bronco Ranger XLT and you can instantly see that with some proper upgrades, they can be turned into a one-of-a-kind machines that brings back that late 70’s glory, without the late 70’s malaise era performance.Vintage Bronco passenger front viewClassic Ford Bronco Passenger side interior

To say that the 2nd generation Bronco is a departure in every way, shape, and form from the 1st gen Bronco is a staggering understatement. The 2nd Gen Bronco changed significantly in size, adding 12 inches of wheelbase, 28 inches of length, 11 inches of width, and 4 inches of height. Depending on the powertrain setup, the 2nd Gen Bronco gained anywhere from 1,100 to 1,600 pounds of curb weight over the relatively slight first-gen model. In a mix of cost-cutting and brand alignment, Ford moved both the styling and the chassis over from their wildly popular F series trucks. This Bronco was decidedly in the full-size realm.

Engine choices were a pair of V-8’s; a 351 “Cleveland” or a 400 C.I. Monster. Along with the design, engine, and chassis; the Bronco also absorbed the trim levels of the F-Series line.

  • Bronco Custom
  • Ranger XLT
  • Free Wheelin’ Package (Available on both trims)

Although this generation was relatively short-lived, the coolest model is absolutely going to be the Free Wheelin’ Package. Although it amounted to little more than a cosmetic upgrade, it showed off the period-specific “Sundowner” stripes that mixed that late - 70’s, early 80’s color palettes in perfect harmony.

Tony-Stewart-Ford-Bronco-001Tony Stewart’s 1979 Bronco Free wheelin package - Credit:

Third Generation: 1980-1986

Development on the third-generation Bronco actually began right after the introduction of the rushed 2nd gen and debuted right alongside the F - Series for 1980. Keeping with the full-size theme, the 2nd generation Bronco moved in a continual march toward an ever more luxurious and road-friendly version of the iconic nameplate. This generation would see the introduction of features like a twin-beam front suspension, and the return of a straight six to the lineup that was paired with a manual transmission.

In order to save weight, and increase efficiency, 1980 - 1982 models rolled with frames that had hole punches throughout. Unfortunately, these frames proved to be brittle and were changed out in 1982 for a more robust design. It’s best to avoid these years unless you plan to rip down the Bronco to its frame and build up from there.

1985 Bronco Eddie Bauer1985 Bronco Eddie Bauer Edition

Trim levels, again, matched up with the F-Series and included Base, XL, and XLT. One of the most iconic changes to the lineup was the introduction of the Eddie Bauer trim in 1985. Perched at the top of the lineup, the Eddie Bauer model features a unique earth-themed, 2 tone exterior, and a luxurious outdoor-focused interior. Eddie Bauer versions of the Bronco, Expedition, and Explorer would stick around the Ford lineup for nearly 20 years!

Avoid the first two years of the third-gen, and frankly, these Bronco’s can be a relative bargain for those looking to get that full-size Bronco experience.

Fourth Generation: 1987-1991

Starting in 1987, the 4th generation Ford Bronco was more evolution than it was a revolution. Adopting the sleeker styling of the F- Series trucks of the same era, this Bronco offered features like a fuel-injected set of powerplants, ABS brakes (1987), optional push-button 4 wheel drive, and a slew of special editions such as the Nite edition pictured here.

Fourth Generation Bronco RedFourth Generation Bronco - Credit:

Better sound deadening, sharper handling, and a more refined feel began to define that Bronco as a luxury/lifestyle vehicle for well-heeled Americans and not the cheap, plucky, and tough vehicle that it once started off as. Competition in this space was extremely intense, and the Bronco was doing everything it could to stand out from the rest.

These are relatively plentiful on the market, and as time goes on, they will become more and more desirable for restomods and a frame off restorations as well. You may have to search for one that’s rust-free, and has not been poorly modified but hey, for the money, you can’t go wrong here.

Fifth Generation: 1992-1996

Much like the generation that preceded it, the fifth generation continued on the path of evolution vs. revolution. Main changes included an updated front fascia, and a revised interior with more luxury features creeping into the lineup. Engine choices and transmission choices remained relatively unchanged from the previous models, with the exception of the straight-six being dropped for 1995.

Fifth Generation BroncoFifth Generation Bronco - Credit:

The infamy of this generation is in no small part to the chase and subsequent arrest of O.J. Simpson, which was broadcast on national television. Ford claims that the demise of the Bronco was due to slow sales but insiders also claim that killing off the Bronco was just a little more expedited due to the negative press this brought the Bronco. In reality, Ford’s Explorer and Expedition really left no place in the lineup for this iconic nameplate and it bit the dust.

You can easily find a fifth-generation Bronco in relatively good shape for not a lot of money but prices are already rising. Check out the Eddie Bauer trims for a real blast from the past! Rest assured, just like with all post-classic Bronco models, one day these will be highly sought after.

1995 Bronco Eddie Bauer 1995 Bronco Eddie Bauer - Velocity Style

What About The New Bronco?

If you follow the automotive world at all, there’s no doubt you know doubt you’ve heard about the all-new 2021 Bronco from Ford. I mean, this thing is the hottest thing to drop this year, and the buzz is nearly inescapable! Much like Ford’s recent retro revivals (Mustang/Ford GT), the Bronco’s styling borrows heavily from the past and retains the lines/character of the 1st Generation Classic Bronco but goes in a decidedly more modern direction with the rest of the package.

2021 Ford Bronco2021 Ford Bronco - Credit:

Highlights include standard 4 - wheel drive, a 10 - speed automatic transmission, and a choice of 2 turbocharged engines (Inline 4 and a V-6). Inside, there are plenty of screens to go around, as well as various “G.O.A.T” modes for dialing in specific off-road situations such as snow or sand. For sheer capability, and modern amenities in a retro-themed package - the new Ford Bronco is a solid choice if you’re looking for a daily driver that gets off the beaten path with ease. Essentially, what we have here is a slightly more liveable version of Jeep’s iconic Wrangler, and frankly, Jeep should be more than a little bit scared here.

Velocity Classic Bronco at Scenic overlookVelocity Built Classic Bronco

We Create Modern Classics

Well, we probably didn’t make this any easier for you, did we? Choosing a Bronco is like choosing your favorite child or your favorite wine for that matter. Let’s be honest here though, this simply isn’t a bad problem to have.

We hope this gives you some insight into the 30 years of Bronco history so that you have a better roadmap to wade through the 5 generations of Bronco available on the market. While we may be a little biased toward the first-gen Bronco, we truly love every single Bronco model and never shy away from a challenge. Whether you’re looking to relive the glory days of the Bronco Ranger or roll back into the ’80s with a modern interpretation of the Free Wheelin’ 2nd Generation Bronco; Velocity Restorations can help turn your dream into reality.

We take all the attitude and style of the Bronco and apply a tailored level of modern luxury and technology that instantly brings these old horses back from the pasture and right into the 21st Century. Whether you’re looking to purchase one of our complete vehicles right off our production line or commission a build that is built precisely to your specifications; the Bronco experts at Velocity have you covered.

Happy Hunting!

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