8 of the Most Important Racing Broncos Ever Built
Ford is well aware that the time-tested "Win on Sunday-Sell on Monday" mantra is still as relevant as ever and that continued investment in racing programs will reward the manufacturer with even more future popularity. The truth is that the Bronco's popularity is very impressive as it already stands, as the model has garnered an ever-growing legion of enthusiastic fans.
But for dedicated off-road fans -- the very niche that Ford wants to lure away from Jeep -- racing success provides the validation that they wish to see. That's why racing has historically been a big part of the Bronco's identity up to this point, and will continue to be in the future.
The true testament to a vehicle's stellar design is shown when it can transcend the limits of its class. When the original Bronco was conceived, no one in its design and engineering team could know that in a few short years, the model would provide the optimum platform for off-road racing.
Throughout its production, the Ford Bronco was the favored foundation for a wide array of conversions and has scored numerous wins in grueling off-road races worldwide. Its rough and ready components, powerful engine options, and ready adapation to modification well beyond original specifications has made it a perfect weapon for desert battles. Here are the best, most successful, and most memorable Broncos from the racing world.
Bill Stroppe Broncos
Ford's famous Total Performance Program wasn't limited to just Mustangs and the Le Mans-winning GT40. From 1966 onwards, Ford employed Bill Stroppe and his team to make the Bronco a dominant force in off-road racing. Since 1966, Bronco had been available with a V8 engine and Stroppe installed a racing version of this venerable 289/302 powerplant, along with a heavy-duty suspension, brakes, and tires, and tested this combination in competition.
Of course, the chassis was also reinforced and all-important safety equipment was added. Although modified and race-ready, this was pretty much just a modified standard Bronco.
Stroppe's team campaigned the racing Bronco during the 1967 and 1968 seasons with modest success. However, in 1969, they managed to win the prestigious Baja 1000 Mexican race, beating two motorcycles and a buggy and setting a record time in the process! The quality of its construction, fortified by those smart modifications performed by Stroppe, made the Bronco unstoppable. The famous mantra "Win on Sunday – Sell on Monday" was proven to be accurate, and the Bronco's racing success had a significant effect on its sales.
Big Oly Bronco
The Big Oly Bronco started as an evolution of Baja-winning Stroppe's Broncos from the late '60s, but it turned out to be a highly influential and revolutionary vehicle in its own right. The 1969/70 season was a tense for Bill Stroppe; the team won the Baja race in 1969 but was also gripped by tragedy when Richard Smith, a young racer, was killed while behind the wheel of a Bronco. Deeply affected by this, Stroppe worked hard to not only make his racing Broncos faster, but markedly safer as well.
The result was Big Oly Bronco, the predecessor of today's TT off-road racers. Stroppe realized that he could do only so much with the standard Bronco chassis, so he decided to build an entirely new one, made out of steel tubing, that was lighter and stronger than any produced by Ford.
He also moved the engine to the center of the vehicle, creating perfect weight distribution. With a very powerful 351 V8 engine, a revised suspension and brakes, Big Oly Bronco, in the hands of renowned Ford ace Parnelli Jones, dominated the 1971 and 1972 seasons. This vehicle just broke a record, becoming the most expensive SUV ever sold, fetching a winning bid of 1.7 million dollars at the recent Mecum auction!
Moss Brothers Bronco
Building on the first-generation Bronco's success, this model became the favored foundation for countless amateur racers and small teams. Most of them were running in local races, but the 1979 Bronco built by the Moss Brothers team gained national fame for its long and successful off-road career.
Interestingly, the Moss Bronco was built in 2000, and in a few years, it became the most successful racing Bronco, with more than 26 major wins. The Moss Brothers decided to use the 1978 and 1979 Bronco as a foundation, since it provided a longer wheelbase than the first generation. A longer wheelbase ensures better stability at high speeds. With Ford Performance components, as well as some custom fabricated components, the whole vehicle was built in-house and managed to beat many factory-backed teams.
The 1968 Bronco built by famous off-road racer Brad Lovell is a perfect example of just how the first-generation Bronco is still relevant in the classic off-road racing world. A consistent contender in the NORRA (National Off-Road Racing Association) classic class, this beautiful and thoroughly prepared Bronco is a three-time winner and also a perennially strong factor in the Mint 400 race.
Equipped with a mighty Roush-built 427 V8, a beefed up C6 automatic transmission, and an Atlas transfer case, the Lovell Bronco also has a custom-built chassis, special brakes, and suspension. Fast and agile, it's one of the best classic Broncos still competing in off-road races.
Bronco R (2019)
Even before we knew what the 2021 Bronco would look like and what engine options it would feature, Ford presented the Bronco R. Since this was basically a prototype, it was engineered to comply with the Class 2 division rules.
The introduction was perfectly timed so it could enter the 2019 Baja 1000. Ford had plenty of confidence in its new entry and decided to race the Bronco R with a pretty much stock drive train, which included a V6 EcoBoost engine. Of course, a steel tube chassis was an essential modification to withstand the rigors of competition, as well as the addition various other safety components.
Since the Bronco R was revealed nine months before the official introduction of the road-going model, Ford mounted a body made of composite materials that loosely resembled a production Bronco but didn't show much in the way of details.
Despite being very fast and proving that it was capable of running with the best, the Bronco R was plagued with mechanical troubles (namely a broken suspension) and crashes, and it barely managed to finish the race.
Bronco 4400 Unlimited Class
Earlier this year, Ford introduced a unique, custom-built, and extreme racing version of the Bronco to compete in the ULTRA4 4400 Unlimited Class at the King of the Hammers event, which was held on February 6th.
With its unique suspension, massive off-road tires, bespoke chassis, and a host of other unique components, the ULTRA4 4400 Bronco is an all-terrain beast, but also a very distant relative to the production model. This off-road buggy finished fifth in this grueling event and proved that the Bronco has significant potential in extreme off-road racing.
Bronco 4600 Stock Class
At the same event, Ford unveiled the racing Bronco 4600, which participated in Stock Class. It employed a standard production two-door chassis (with Sasquatch package) and a 2.7-liter V6 EcoBoost engine with 310 hp. The Bronco 4600 retained a stock drivetrain, suspension (more or less), chassis, and body.
The only modifications allowed in this class are some suspension components, safety equipment, bigger tires, and the removal of some body panels to reduce weight. Due to the King of Hammers event's grueling nature and its notoriously tricky course, the 4600 Stock Class also allows some modifications to the suspension to help cope with the terrain.
That's why the Bronco 4600 Stock is equipped with heavy-duty front portal hubs, new control arms, and a modified steering rack with its own cooling system. There are also tougher Dana electronic locker differentials, aftermarket half shafts, and hubs, as well as a winch in the front, just in case extrication from a sticky situation is required.
Even though its roll-cage may look ordinary, Ford also announced that it is the first off-road roll-cage to be approved by FIA.
Bronco Badlands NORRA 1000
A couple of days ago, the Bronco proved its worth in Mexico, when a completely stock, four-door Badlands with a 2.7-liter Ecoboost engine finished third in a very competitive NORRA 1000 event.
Apart from its roll-cage and few other mandatory safety components, this yellow Bronco was essentially the same as you can get from your local dealer.
Its specifications were a step down from the Bronco 4600 and are practically identical to an ordinary Bronco.
Even though we're still waiting for the first production models to be delivered to customers, the new Bronco's racing career is already awe-inspiring.