Ranking Ford Bronco Generations According To Their Significance
In terms of production volume, Bronco doesn't actually hold the distinction of being the most successful Ford's SUV ever made. Although its 1.7 million units sold (from 1966 to 1996 and including the Bronco II) is a very respectable number, it's far from the title of Ford's best-selling SUV. That honor goes to the Explorer, which has been one of the most consistently popular Fords since its introduction in 1990.
As far as actual magnitude, however, the numbers don't really matter, since the Bronco has been far more critical for both Ford's ethos and the evolution of the American market's SUV segment.
The Bronco wasn't just the first Ford SUV, but was also the only such model in that class for two and half decades. Let's also not forget that the Bronco dominated its segment back in the day and remained in the collective consciousness, the very embodiment of a tough off-road vehicle with a rebellious attitude and macho swagger.
It's incredible how car fans have remained connected with the Bronco, despite its absence from the market for a quarter of a century. When the Bronco left, SUVs were niche models, and sedans still ruled the market. When the new generation Bronco arrives, it will debut in a decidedly different car world, with SUVs now the most dominant car category and sedans nearly extinct.
Since we're now drowning in a flood of pseudo-offroad models without any real capabilities, the new Bronco can't come soon enough to show the world what a true SUV is.
Today, we'll rank the top five Bronco generations according to their significance. Even though we like and respect all 1966 to 1996 Broncos, not all have the same importance in the Bronco world. Here they are.
The First Generation (1966 to 1977)
What makes it significant: It was Ford's first SUV, it was immensely successful, it was tough and dependable, and it defined what the Bronco would be. That is why it is the essential Bronco.
The Ford Bronco debuted in August of 1965 as a 1966 model and was immediately met with praise from the motoring press and enthusiastic interest from the buying public. It represented a brave step for Ford, which already had a successful pickup truck line, but had never manufactured an SUV before. The Bronco had unique chassis architecture, standard permanent all-wheel-drive, and was sold in three distinct body styles – Wagon, Half Cab, and Roadster.
Under the hood, the Bronco received a lineup of standard Ford's engines, starting with a small 170 cid, followed by a 200 CID six-cylinder with 105 and 120 hp, respectively. Interestingly, a V8 option wasn't available right from the start, and it wasn't until March of 1966, that Bronco buyers could get a venerable 289 V8 with 200 hp.
All models were equipped with tough Dana transfer cases and heavy-duty Ford's 9-inch differentials. The first-generation Bronco proved to be a smashing success and stayed in production for 11 years, until 1977. Not only was it a founder of the SUV class in America, but it also inspired Ford's competitors to offer similar models. The Chevrolet Blazer and the Dodge Ramcharger, along with Jeep and International, would later follow the Bronco to market to start a trend that still lasts to this day.
The Second Generation (1978 to 1979)
What makes it significant: The second-generation marked the move to the F-100 truck chassis and a bigger, tougher, and stronger Bronco. Even though it was on the market for only two years, the second-gen defined a formula that would go on to be used for two and half decades.
Although the late '70s were generally a time of automotive downsizing, the 1977 Bronco grew drastically in size and displacement. It was built on a shortened F-100 truck chassis and shared that model's mechanics, front end design, and interior. The concept of offering several body styles that made the first-generation model so popular was abandoned in favor of just one body style – a 3-door SUV with a lift-off rear hardtop.
Since it used the F-Series truck chassis, Ford gave the Bronco the 351 V8 as a standard engine, with a 400 V8 as an option. Both engines had similar power outputs of 156 and 158 hp, respectively. Once again, Ford used Dana 44 transfer cases and 9-inch differentials, which had proven themselves on the first-generation model.
Although offered for just two years, the second-generation Bronco proved to be very successful and sold in over 170,000 examples in that unusually short period of time. The trim levels were similar to the F-Series truck,with the best known being the "Freewheelin" cosmetic package with its bright graphics stripes and cosmetic add-ons.
The Modern Bronco (2021)
What makes it significant: In a world clogged with phony all-terrain models, pseudo-SUVs, and soccer-mom crossovers, an actual rugged and immensely capable off-roader is once again a revolutionary concept. The new model's retro styling adds substantially to its appeal, so the new 2021 Bronco and Bronco Sport are real game-changers in their segment.
Ever since 2004 and the release of the Ford Bronco Concept vehicle, Ford knew that emotions regarding this legendary nameplate were very strong. However, back in the early 2000s, the market wanted comfortable and soft SUVs, so traditional off-roaders were losing ground. Today, more than a decade and a half later, we're once again ready to embrace the magic of a super capable, tough, and retro-futuristic SUV and reintroduce ourselves to the wonders of real off-road driving, camping trips, and overland expeditions.
The excitement regarding the 2021 Bronco is impressive. It just shows how the average buyer is bored with standard and useless models in this segment. These vehicles only mimicked off-road capabilities and were never really designed to leave highways and shopping mall parking lots. The 2021 Bronco is unconventional, uncompromising, fresh, and brave. So far, Ford has received more than 230,000 orders, and it's estimated that the ultimate figure of potential 2021 Bronco and Bronco Sport orders will be double that.
Ford Bronco II (1983 to 1990)
What makes it significant: Although the Bronco II was always considered a "lesser" Bronco, it was, in fact, one of the best-selling models during the '80s and showed Ford the future of the SUV segment. It's not universally loved, but it was immensely important.
During the third-generation production cycle, Ford decided to introduce a completely new model under the Bronco moniker. Called the Bronco II, it was a significantly smaller and lighter SUV designed to fight increasing foreign competition in the segment. The Bronco II was built on a Ford Ranger platform and featured two-wheel-drive as standard, and all-wheel drive was optional.
As you might expect, the Bronco II was cheaper and easier to live with than the full-size Bronco, which resulted in strong sales during the mid-'80s.
We can rightfully say that the Bronco II was substantially underpowered by today's standards since it was offered with 2.8 and 2.9-liter V6 engines offering 115 and 140 hp. Interestingly, Ford also decided to introduce Mitsubishi's 2.3-liter diesel unit as an option, but it was soon withdrawn due to poor performance and slow sales.
Right from the start, the Bronco II outsold the regular Bronco, and when its production ended in 1990, Ford proudly announced that it had sold 627,304 units overall.
The Fifth Generation (1992 to 1996)
What makes it significant: By the early '90s, Bronco was somewhat of a dinosaur in its segment. Built on a truck chassis, featuring styling that was a bit outdated and powered by thirsty engines, it was completely old-school. However, this fifth-generation emerged well-developed, comfortable, and dependable, and it was considered a classic even during its production cycle.
In the face of slow sales and the enormous success of its own Ford Explorer SUV, Ford didn't want to invest in a brand new model for Bronco's fifth and final generation when it was introduced in 1991. By the early '90s, SUVs had been solidly established as a new trend, and customers wanted modern design, luxury features, and the comfort of a passenger car.
On the other hand, despite looking contemporary, Bronco was still in reality an old school off-roader with its live rear axle, rugged mechanics, and driving dynamics. It was evident that its time was up.
The platform was the same as the engine choices, and the only changes were design and interior. Those late Broncos, especially in Eddie Bauer trim, were world-class off-roaders, big, powerful, and comfortable.