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How The Ford Bronco Shaped America

How The Ford Bronco Shaped America

Over the last century or so of the automotive age, American manufacturers have produced dozens of iconic cars and nameplates spawned in numerous successful model lineups.

While America didn't actually invent the car itself, it did create automobile manufacturing as we know it, along with a car culture that has influenced the entire world. Back in 1908, Ford introduced the Model T and put America and the world on wheels, starting the automotive era and changing the course of history.

The "Tin Lizzie" as the Model T was called, could be considered the first car that transcended the limits of being just a machine and became a timeless cultural icon. Fortunately, this was just the beginning.

Each subsequent decade had its fair share of models that represented more than just transportation, but let's fast forward to the 1960s. It was a decade of great cultural, political and social revolution, which affected the car industry. So much so that we can trace the 60s influence to today's industry, as well. The 60s brought us Mustangs, Stingray Corvettes, Pontiac GTOs, and the rise of muscle cars. But more importantly, the '60s brought us the SUV.

Although there had been some attempts to make a comfortable off-roader, none of those models had any real success on the market. But in 1963, Jeep presented the Wagoneer, which was the first proper SUV, combining all-terrain capabilities with car-like road holding and comfort.

However, it wasn't until 1966, when Ford introduced the Bronco, that SUVs really became a thing. It was a small segment of the automotive industry at first, but became more prominent with each passing year and with every new model that entered this segment. It was a bold attempt, and it was immediately met with praise from the motoring press and interest from the buying public.

All of a sudden, Jeep buyers had an alternative. A more stylish vehicle, with more practicality, comfort, and with better street manners. The Bronco wasn't just an all-terrain vehicle; it was also a lifestyle machine, ideally suited for the beaches of South California, Aspen's ski resorts, and even hunting trips in Alabama. It defied classification and appealed to a wide range of customers. 

Even though it started as a Jeep competitor, the Bronco accidentally created a whole new segment, which was further developed into a highly successful SUV formula. It was a car for all people, practical and tough enough but still cool enough to be featured in movies, songs, and driven to shopping malls. In the 80s, Ford even developed the smaller Bronco II, which was a visionary model but plagued by lack of development and poor engineering.

In the early '90s, Ford took the Bronco formula, softened it a bit, and made the Explorer, which defined what a modern SUV should be. Unfortunately, Ford also decided to kill the tired but time-tested Bronco in 1996, since it was too harsh for modern SUV buyers who wanted more on-road comfort and were willing to sacrifice off-road usability to get it.

The Bronco did go away, but its influence exploded in the form of hundreds of SUVs which would eventually flood the market. The model itself might have been gone from Ford's showrooms, but it wasn't gone from the streets, off-road events, and more importantly, from the collective consciousnesses.

Even though people couldn't get a brand new Bronco, it remained a symbol of a tough SUV, a rugged and dependable vehicle, and lovable sidekick, which is why it was commonly seen in movies and TV shows and served as a prized restomod driven by celebrities. The Bronco might have been retired, but it sure wasn't gone.

The mid-'90s market one of the Bronco's famous moments, when a certain infamous 1993 Bronco was the object of a slow car chase down Highway 405 in Los Angeles. The white Bronco carried O.J. Simpson, who at the time was a prime suspect in a murder case. Over 95 million viewers saw the Bronco moving down the highway, and even though it wasn't the best moment in the Bronco's history or O.J.'s career, free marketing is free marketing, right? It helped establish the legend of the Bronco and make TV history.

All of this brings us to 2021, a full 25 years after the original Bronco was discontinued. A whole new generation of Bronco buyers is going crazy over the resurrected model. What does this tell us? Well, a couple of things.

First, the Bronco was never really gone, since its name, heritage, shape, and swagger were always present through restored models, expensive restomoded specimens, the O.J. Simpson story, movies, music, and images passed on to the next generations of car fans. 

Second, the Bronco's influence is greater than anyone could have expected and if you need proof, just look out your window. 7 out of the first 10 cars you will see on the street will be SUVs of all shapes and sizes, all of which owe their existence to the Bronco and similar models which trailblazed this path almost 60 years ago and created the SUV segment.

Third, the new Bronco's return couldn't have more perfect timing. The new model comes at a time when the SUV class has become a distorted version of what it should be. 99% of the SUVs currently on sale aren't really off-road models, but are instead lifted station wagons with front-wheel drive and a soft ride.

The new Bronco's second coming is helping the industry find its way and once again steer in the right direction, re-introducing itself as a proper off-road model, filled with modern technology, but with an old-school feel and approach. The fact that buyers have responded beyond anyone's expectations, and that the new Bronco is now sold out years in advance are signs of just how pivotal this model really is, how it has shaped America, and the way we think and feel about cars.

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