History Of The Ford Bronco

History Of The Ford Bronco

Explore the history of the legendary Ford Bronco, and see how it went from a utilitarian off-roader to one of the most desirable classic vehicles on the market.

The Ford Bronco nameplate may have taken a 25-year hiatus, but this iconic off-roader has never waned in popularity. Created as Ford’s answer to the Jeep CJ and Scout 80, the Bronco originally launched for the 1966 model year, and it was the first vehicle to be given the now-familiar “sports utility” label. Since then, there have been six distinct generations, so keep reading to learn more about the history of the Ford Bronco.

Ford Bronco SketchesEarly Ford Bronco design sketches by McKinley Thompson | Credit: Ford

A New Kind Of Off-Road Vehicle

After World War 2, the Jeep CJ lineup proved to be a popular civilian vehicle especially when the CJ-5 launched in 1955. To compete with the Jeep CJ as well as the Scout 80 and other compact off-roaders, Ford began development of the Bronco in 1962 with the first drawing penned a year later showing elements that made it to the production design including the round headlights, boxy design, and the unique, tear-drop rear fenders.

Also in 1963, Ford’s famous internal memo surfaced referring to the vehicle as the “1966 G.O.A.T.,” which stood for Goes Over All Terrain. This historical fact was revived on the new Bronco with the driver-selectable “GOAT Modes.” Ford built the Bronco continuously from August 11, 1965 through June 12, 1996 before reviving the legendary nameplate for the 2021 model year.

1966 Ford Bronco Roadster1966 Ford Bronco Roadster | Credit: Ford

First Generation 1966-1977

Just as the groundbreaking Mustang had done a year earlier, the classic Ford Bronco revolutionized its segment. This compact size made this Bronco great for off-roading or farm work, but it was about a foot longer than the CJ-5 making it roomier for passengers or cargo. The Bronco also boasted hard doors, a hard top and available V-8 engine, which gave Ford key advantages over Jeep until the larger CJ-7 launched in 1976.

Velocity Ford BroncoClick this image to learn more about the Velocity Ford Bronco, shown here in Boxwood Green

Buyers could choose from a 170 cubic-inch inline-six-cylinder engine or Ford’s potent 289 CID V-8, but all Broncos featured four-wheel drive and a manual transmission. Not only was the first-generation Bronco ready for any terrain, it was ready for any job with three available body styles: a doorless Roadster, half-cab Sports Utility, and the five-seater Wagon. The size and capabilities of the Bronco made it an instant success as an off-road race vehicle having competed in many endurance races, but it is best known as the gold and white race truck called Big Oly, raced by Parnelli Jones and Bill Stroppe.

A replacement for the Bronco was originally planned for the 1974 model year (a year after the debut of the sixth-generation Ford F-Series truck), but that was delayed due to the oil embargo. Instead, the Bronco received extensive upgrades in 1973 including a new base 200 cubic-inch six-cylinder engine, a new optional 302 cubic-inch V-8, and, for the first time on a Bronco, available options such as power steering and an automatic transmission. The Bronco Ranger also debuted in 1973.

Second Generation 1978-1979

1979 Ford Bronco1979 Ford Bronco | Credit: Ford

After being delayed, the second-generation Ford Bronco finally arrived for the 1978 model year, and it grew considerably in size to compete with the Chevy K5 Blazer, Jeep Cherokee (SJ), and Dodge Ramcharger. Since the new Bronco shared a platform with the Ford F-Series pickup truck, this generation only existed for two years as the F-Series was redesigned in 1980, but it did become a global phenomenon when three Broncos were modified for use as the Popemobile in October 1979.

An interesting design note about this generation of the Ford Bronco is that, in 1978, the Custom trim level came with round headlights, while the XLT Ranger trim level (along with the entire 1979 Bronco lineup), had rectangular headlights. That means the 1978 model year was the last time the Bronco had round headlights until the sixth-gen arrived 43 years later.

The 1978-1979 Bronco was longer and wider than the original for increased passenger space, and it was available with two V-8 engine options (351 and 402 cubic inches) making this Bronco the only generation to not offer a six-cylinder engine. Despite growing in size, the 1978-79 Bronco still featured key traits such as a swing-out tire carrier, removable hardtop, and the Ford name spelled out across the front end. As a sign of how basic the first-generation Bronco was, the second-gen models were the first Broncos to offer air conditioning and AM/FM radio as optional equipment.

Third Generation 1980-1986

Continuing the trend of sharing a design with the F-Series, the Bronco was redesigned for the 1980 model year. Ford says this generation of Bronco was smaller, lighter, more aerodynamic and more-efficient than the second-gen design. Buyers could once again opt for a six-cylinder engine in addition to two V-8 engines (the 5.0L V-8 debuted in 1985), and this Bronco was the first to utilize an independent front suspension setup improving on-road comfort and off-road capability.

In 1982, the Bronco ditched the FORD lettering on the front end, which had been a staple of the Bronco’s design since 1966, in place of Ford’s Blue Oval logo mounted on the grille. Another milestone for this generation of Bronco was the introduction of the Eddie Bauer trim level in 1985.

Fourth Generation 1987-1991

Aside from the new front end design, the exterior styling of the 1987-1991 Ford Bronco didn’t differ that much from the previous version. This generation was more advanced, though, as it introduced electronic fuel injection and rear anti-lock brakes. A stylish Nite edition debuted for this Bronco combining a black paint job with a unique blue and pink body stripe, and in 1991 (the final year for the fourth generation), Ford introduced the Silver Anniversary Edition package to celebrate the Bronco’s 25 years of production.

1996 Ford Bronco1996 Ford Bronco | Credit: Ford

Fifth Generation 1992-1996

Once again, exterior styling changes were minimal for the 1992-1996 Ford Bronco, but it continued to parallel the F-Series pickup. This Bronco came with improved safety thanks to a driver’s airbag and three-point rear seat belts, although the outboard seat belt anchors needed to be removed in order to take off the hard top. Engine options carried over as did the Eddie Bauer and Nite editions. After a 30-year run, production of the Bronco ended on June 12, 1996 making it the last full-size Bronco.

Sixth Generation 2021-Present

Following years of teasers, the Ford Bronco finally made its return for the 2021 model year. Unlike the previous full-size Broncos that shared similarities with the F-Series truck, the new Bronco rides on a platform shared with the mid-size Ranger pickup. This Bronco still offers removable tops (both hard and soft tops), and it’s the first production Bronco to offer four doors. Speaking of the doors, this Bronco was designed with removable doors that can be stored in the rear cargo area.

Previous Broncos had very little selection when it came to trim levels, but the sixth-generation Bronco offers eight versions including the high-performance Bronco Raptor. In total, the new Bronco is available with a trio of turbocharged engines (a four-cylinder and two V-6s). Building on its original heritage as an off-road race truck, Ford raced the modified Bronco R in the 2019 Baja 1000, and it created a limited-production Bronco DR for buyers with a price of almost $300,000.

Other Models

In addition to the standard Bronco name, there have been several uses of the Bronco name on other Ford SUVs over the years.

1984-90 Ford Bronco II

From 1984 to 1990, the Bronco II was a return to the Bronco’s compact roots. Sharing components and a design with the compact Ford Ranger pickup, the Bronco II was considerably smaller than the full-size Bronco, and it competed with equally downsized rivals like the Jeep Cherokee (XJ) and Chevy S-10 Blazer. The Bronco II was eventually replaced by the Ford Explorer in 1991.

2004 Ford Bronco Concept

Although it would be another 17 years before the Bronco name returned to production, the 2004 Ford Bronco Concept was a sign of things to come. This two-door concept was a modern interpretation of the first-gen Bronco with its small stature and boxy lines. As Ford got closer to launching the sixth-gen Bronco in 2021, the 2004 Bronco Concept was featured briefly in the 2018 film, Rampage, starring Dwyane Johnson.

2021-present Ford Bronco Sport

The smaller Bronco Sport debuted in late 2020 (several months before the Bronco) riding on a platform shared with the Ford Escape SUV. While the sixth-gen Bronco goes up against the Jeep Wrangler, the Bronco Sport competes with long-time Bronco rivals, the Jeep Cherokee and Chevy Blazer.

Velocity and the Ford Bronco

Velocity’s origins started with the restoration of a first-gen Ford Bronco, and since then, we’ve become a leader in modernized Bronco restorations. Today, the Velocity Ford Bronco can be upgraded with the distinct Ranger Package or Blackout Package, and it comes with the modern power of a Ford Gen III 5.0L Coyote V8 under the hood. At Velocity, we combine meticulous craftsmanship with modern enhancements to bring you the ultimate driving experience. Explore our collection and find your perfect Bronco today.

Own a legend. Drive a Velocity Ford Bronco.

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