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Off-Road Class Of 1978 - Ford Bronco And Its Domestic Competitors

Off-Road Class Of 1978 - Ford Bronco And Its Domestic Competitors

By the late 70s, the American off-road scene had grown from a relatively small niche to a truly formidable segment. With sales of some off-roading SUV models passing the 100,000 mark, manufacturers started to really pay attention to this segment's potential and began to put their best efforts into competing for buyers. 

In contrast to the relatively compact SUV models of the ‘60s, like the Jeep CJ-5, International Scout, and Ford Bronco, SUVs released by the late '70s had grown to be much larger and more capable, with bigger engines and foundations that were based on full-size pickups. Customers responded to this evolution with plenty of enthusiasm, and the SUV market became stronger than ever before. Let’s look at the second-generation Bronco and its full-size competitors in 1978. 

The 1978 Ford Bronco was all new from front to back and it represented a significant departure from the first-gen model. Ford had started developing the Bronco as a brand in the early ‘70s, conceiving of several different variations of the model under one name, but eventually abandoned most of the ambitious project and instead concentrated on only one version.

Even though the late ‘70s were generally a time of automotive downsizing, the 1978 Bronco was much bigger, wider, and heavier than its predecessor, since it was based on the then-current F-150 frame. Because it used the F-Series truck chassis as a foundation, Ford gave the Bronco the pickup's signature 351 V8 as a standard engine and also offered a 400 V8 as an option. Both engines had similar power outputs -- 156 and 158 hp, respectively. Ford continued to use Dana 44 transfer cases and 9-inch differentials, which had been solidly proven on the first-generation model. The base price for a 1978 Bronco was $6,543.


The second-gen Bronco was offered for just two years (1978 and 1979) before the modernized 1980 Bronco replaced it. However, even though it was offered for such a short period of time, Ford managed to sell more than 170,000 units of the Bronco, which was an undeniably strong result and a clear sign that building an SUV on a truck frame was a clear formula for success. This same combination was first put into action by Chevrolet with its 1969 Blazer and then repeated by Jeep, Dodge, and even Plymouth, and these cars were the main Bronco competitors in 1978.

Jeep Cherokee SJ (1974 to 1983)

Before the Cherokee XJ, which revolutionized the global SUV scene, Jeep had offered the Cherokee SJ. It was a classic-looking, three-door SUV, based on the same frame that was used in both Jeep's Gladiator pickup and its well-known Grand Wagoneer luxury SUV. The model was introduced in 1974 and sold globally until 1983. Jeep even produced a right-hand-drive model for the Australian and Asian markets.


In those days, Jeep was owned by AMC (American Motors Corporation), so the engine lineup consisted of a 258 cid six-cylinder, and two V8s, all of which were made by AMC. The V8 engine range started with a 360 cid V8 in two power levels, and the top engine choice was a 401 cid V8 with 210 hp, which was pretty respectable for the day, considering emission standards had become more stringent and listing net -- and not the higher gross -- horsepower figures was now compulsory.

Of course, all Cherokee models were equipped with a four-wheel-drive system, and Jeep’s Quadra-Drive was optional. A four-speed manual transmission was the base choice, but Jeep also offered GM’s TH automatic as an option, with Dana 44 axles used on all models. 

As you would expect from a Jeep product, the Cherokee SJ was a very capable off-road machine with decent on-road manners. It was slightly smaller than the Bronco, but its slightly lower curb weight meant it was thoroughly agile on the trail.

Like most SUVs of the period, Jeep offered several cool-looking special versions, like the Golden Eagle and Cherokee Chief. The base price of the Cherokee SJ in 1978 was $6,335.

Chevrolet Blazer K5/GMC Jimmy (1973 to 1991)

The Blazer/Jimmy twins were among the dominant SUVs of the 70s and 80s. Chevrolet was "first to market" with the SUV on a full-size pickup frame concept, and this advantage helped the company beat Ford solidly in terms of sales until the arrival of the 1978 Bronco.

In 1973, the second generation Blazer/Jimmy model was introduced, and it proved to be one of the most successful SUVs, staying on the market until 1991. 

Available with both two and four-wheel-drive, the model was powered by a variety of GM’s powerplants, including 250 cid and 292 cid straight-six units, 305 cid, 350 cid, and 400 cid V8 engines, and even a 6.2-liter diesel V8. Buyers could choose between the four-speed manuals and a range of automatic transmissions.

Until 1980, both the Blazer and Jimmy used either a gear-driven NP transfer case or the chain-driven full-time transfer case, as well as Dana 44 front and rear axles.

The K5 Blazers were thoroughly popular and even spawned a military-spec model, called the M1009 CUCV (Commercial Utility Cargo Vehicle). Like the Bronco, K5s were used by several law enforcement agencies and were a very common sight on both the streets and the trails in those days.

The MSRP price of Blazer K5 back in 1978 was $6,397.

Dodge Ramcharger/Plymouth Trail Duster (1974 to 1981)

Although this Mopar off-road SUV duo has been a bit forgotten over the years, back in the late ‘70s both the Ramcharger and its twin brother, the Trail Duster, were popular choices in the segment.

To be accurate, Dodge had proven itself to be the dominant model of the two, and Plymouth’s SUV version lagged quite a bit behind it in terms of sales, even though it offered the same design and technology. Like the Bronco and Blazer, the Ramcharger utilized a shortened AD platform used in Dodge’s D-Series pickup line.

Interestingly, until 1980, buyers could get the Ramcharger with a soft-top, which was a rare option and not offered by Ford or Chevrolet at the time.

Under the hood was one of a variety of time-tested Chrysler engines, starting with the venerable 225 cid Slant Six, followed by four V8 options. The smallest V8 was 318 cid, and the biggest was the renowned 440 Magnum, which was discontinued in 1976.

The majority of Ramchargers/Trail Dusters were equipped with four-wheel-drive, but some were ordered as 2WD models. The Trail Duster was discontinued in 1981, but the Ramcharger continued through various generations until 1993. The MSRP price for the 1978 Dodge Ramcharger was significantly lower than its competitors, and this model cost $4,687.

Next article Bronco Buster Was an SUV That Abandoned Off-Roading And Hit The Drag Strip

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