For the Ford Motor Company, the year 2020 didn’t just mark the beginning of a new decade. Instead, it marked a turning point for the brand -resurrecting the domestic car manufacturer out from the shadows of foreign imports and back into the limelight they enjoyed for so long between 1966 and 1996. We’re speaking of course, on the 2020 Ford Bronco -hitting the market after several torturous years behind the veil of “what if” renderings featured across online forums. Now, thankfully, the Ford Bronco is back in full force.
But how exactly did we get to this point? Let’s take a gander at how the Bronco first came into existence more than 60 years ago in 1966. Since then, over the course of four decades, Ford produced five different generations of the Bronco. Initially, the SUV was released in direct competition other compact SUVs like the Jeep CJ-5 and International Harvester Scout but was built atop its own platform – something that would change at a later date – right here in the good old USA at their Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, MI.
Positioned to compete in the same market as the Jeep CJ models as well as the International Harvester Scout, the small stature of the First Generation Bronco made it both agile and maneuverable but unreliable as a tow vehicle. First introduced in 1966, it was Ford’s first SUV – conceived by the very same man (Donald N. Frey) who brought another notable Ford model to life: the Ford Mustang. From here, these First Generation builds featured the same axles and brakes as the Ford F-100 pickup and a 2.8 L Ford straight-6 engine.
With this in mind, it made sense to market the first Broncos in either a wagon, pickup, or roadster setup. However, the roadster configuration wouldn’t last due to unpopularity. Style-wise, simplicity ruled the roost as demonstrated by the vehicle’s flat glass throughout and a simple box-section frame. Regardless, the Bronco managed to catch the eye of American consumers – outperforming the Scout and coming in a close second behind the CJ-5 during its first year on the market. As the years wore on, however, the introduction of the Chevy Blazer, International Harvester Scout II, and even the Jeep Cherokee (1974) began garnering substantial consumer attention.
Naturally, in response to the growing market for larger and more comfortable SUVs, Ford slated to release their second generation Bronco – acting as a direct competitor to the Chevy Blazer and GMC Jimmy – in 1974. However, the 1973 oil crisis put a damper on production so the release was instead pushed to 1978. Regardless, with the Second Generation Bronco, we begin to see the recognizable ride we all know and love. Additionally, this generation came with two manufacturing requirements meant to keep it competitive: door interchangeability with the F-100, and a removable hardtop roof that wouldn’t leak – unlike the Blazer. The 1973 oil crisis put a damper on production so the release was instead pushed to 1978.
During these years, Ford also based the Bronco in the F-100 pickup frame but now with a shorter wheelbase and a part-time four-wheel-drive powertrain. On a similar note, this generation of Broncos also received much of its body design from Ford’s truck line at the time – now with a removable hardtop and foldable seats essentially allowing owners to convert the ride into a pickup at a moment’s notice. As for the powerplant, the vehicle now enjoyed a 5.75 L V8 under the hood and gained a catalytic converter in 1979 for emissions purposes.
While the Second Generation Bronco surely wasn’t without its drawbacks, the Third Generation iteration of the vehicle sought to address two key points that served as hurdles for the brand: the weight and efficiency of the vehicle and its respective powertrain. Therefore, Ford looked to remedy this issue with a lighter version of the Bronco beginning in 1980 and later in 1983 with the Ford Bronco II – a compact SUV based on the smaller Ranger series pickup trucks rather than the F-Series. As for the more popular full-size example, the F-Series chassis remained a primary influential factor for production (this time with the F-150) while retaining the same wheelbase as previous iterations.
Additionally, the Bronco would now feature an inline-six engine as standard for the vehicle for the first time since 1977 and would soon earn a 210 hp high output version of the stock 351 Windsor engine in 1984. Also, as far as the body was concerned, the ’80-’86 Bronco would continue to share the same bodywork as the F-Series pickup line while the roofline was modified a bit to improve the subsequent roofline seal. 1983 also saw the implementation of the modern oval Ford blue emblem take the place of the FORD lettering across the hood. The iconic Bronco horse was also removed at this time as well.
Naturally coinciding with the eighth generation Ford F-Series, the Bronco received a similar update in 1987 with adjusted aerodynamics in the form of a reshaped front bumper, platter grill up front, composite headlights, and a reshaped hood. The interior was also given a bit of an upgrade from previous versions as well – complete with redesigned front seats, door panels, controls, a new steering wheel, and instrument panels. Also, in the interest of safety, of course, rear wheel anti-lock brakes were issued as a standard feature in 1987. In the interest of safety, of course, rear wheel anti-lock brakes were issued as a standard feature in 1987.
It was also with the Fourth Generation Ford Bronco that we saw the 25th Anniversary of the vehicle. So, to celebrate, Ford offered up a Silver Anniversary Edition of the 1991 model that, for the most part, was more about looks than performance. That being said, the Currant Red exterior color combined with a gray leather interior sure did – and still does – present the Bronco in an attractive light. Other special editions during these years included a blacked-out “Nite” version, as well as an Eddie Bauer trim for fans of top-line treatment.
With the final and, arguably the most popular, generation of the Ford Bronco, the final years of production saw an overhaul of safety upgrades in conjunction with a series of design updates. All thanks to the introduction of the ninth generation Ford F-150, the Bronco remained on par with the F-Series chassis. Now, wraparound composite headlights, a larger grille, and larger front bumper all made their way into the upgraded design.
In addition, a handful of safety upgrades were implemented into the fifth and final generation. Here, we saw three-point seatbelts now for the rear seat, a center rear brake light, and all info on how to remove the hardtop (which was still possible but discouraged) was removed from the owner’s manual – a sad time indeed for fans of the prior design.
As for what lies ahead, only time will tell how the latest generation Bronco will cement itself in the books of automotive history. One thing’s for certain though, the popularity surrounding the vintage nature of these American-built vehicles remains strong enough to persuade a legacy car manufacturer to bring back the goods. And while it might not be as “charming” as the vintage options, we’re thankful we have the opportunity to purchase a new Ford Bronco straight from the showroom floor.