A Look at How the Ford Bronco Has Evolved over the Years
Any automotive model that has been around for a while is certain to evolve and the Ford Bronco is no exception. After all, both aesthetic tastes and technological capability change continually over time. Through the decades, we’ve seen many concept cars push the envelope as far as both style and substance. And while many of these concept cars often look nothing like their finished production counterparts, this refinement process also has a profound effect on what we come to consider an appealing model, whether that be a muscle car or an SUV like the Bronco.
When the Bronco was first introduced, it truly was revolutionary. So much so that it defied ready categorization. The term SUV wasn’t widely used yet, so Ford coined its own moniker, labeling the Bronco “the first 4-wheel drive sports car”. It was a largely accurate description for its time. The Bronco combined time tested ruggedness gleaned from its military heritage — Ford contributed quite a bit of its own manufacturing muscle to both the World War II and Korean War efforts — with a level of refinement that had previously been unheard of in a vehicle that also offered so much utility.
The advantage that the Bronco offered right from the start underscored the importance of an automobile evolving to meet the buying public’s expectations. The Bronco’s main competitor at the time, the CJ-era Jeep, actually had a decided advantage upon entering the post-War market, in that it was the vehicle of choice for members of the military returning home. But whereas the Bronco evolved during its own design process with a heavy reliance on consumer research, Jeeps — as well as a number of other utility-based vehicles — really didn’t evolve much at all, despite having the opportunity to do so for years.
As America sought to get back to normal, an ever-improving highway system made commuting longer distances — and even to work — a viable option for many. Motorists now wanted a level of comfort and a more effortless driving experience and whereas its competitors remained somewhat stagnant in their efforts to meet this need, the Bronco had already evolved, in a sense, before it was even introduced for the 1966 model year.
It’s interesting to note that based on the reviews for the new Ford Bronco, this pattern is repeating itself, as most of those reviews cite the fact that the Bronco evolved, even during its hiatus, to provide a refined driving experience upon its return to give it a decided advantage over its rivals.
But since evolution is a continuous process, let’s take a look at some of the ways the Ford Bronco has changed over the years to keep up with the expectations of the car buying public.
This is an area where evolution has never been linear for the automotive industry. There have been times when expansive dimensions have been viewed as a decided asset — when the Cadillac Fleetwood was reimagined for 1975, its nearly unprecedented length was placed front and center in nearly all of its advertising. By contrast, when a second oil embargo created a nationwide gas shortage in 1978, Detroit quickly downsized many models, but the Bronco would follow its own trajectory as far as size was concerned.
In its original 1966 model year form, the Ford Bronco was a modestly sized vehicle, with an overall length of just 152”, a width of 68”, a wheelbase of just 92” and a track of 57” in both front and back. As its competitors — the Chevy K5 Blazer and Dodge Ramcharger — entered the market and began to expand, the Bronco followed suit when its second generation debuted in 1978. Its original chassis, which it shared with no other Ford vehicle upon its debut, was scrapped in favor of the F-series underpinning. In the process, the Bronco underwent what was likely an unprecedented growth spurt, adding 12” to its wheelbase, nearly 28” of overall length, 11” of width and more than 1100lbs of weight. It was an odd move by Ford, considering the second generation’s drastically delayed debut occurred at the height of the gas shortage in 1978, but it proved to be a wise one.
The Bronco’s second generation may have only lasted a couple of years, but during that time the Bronco enjoyed outstanding sales success, exceeding the popularity of both its Chevy and Dodge counterparts for the first time.
The Bronco’s third generation was introduced in 1980 and remained virtually unchanged from its predecessor in dimensions, though it did take the nation’s demand for better gas mileage a little more seriously, as it was propelled by a line of more fuel-efficient engines. Similarly, both the fourth and fifth generations arrived with both wheelbases and overall lengths that didn’t vary by more than an inch in either category from the third generation.
Fast forward to the present and, despite looking noticeably more stout than any of its ancestors, the new Bronco is actually a little more compact in its 2-door form than any but the original Broncos. (Of course, since there were no factory-built 4-door Broncos offered until now, that would be a more difficult comparison, but the new 4-door Bronco is a more expansive SUV in all of the dimensions previously mentioned.) Put the newest 2-door Bronco next to one of the ’66 model year originals and the difference is striking. The new Bronco rides on a wheelbase that’s just 8” longer than the original, but because it’s anywhere from 7” to 11” wider, 23” longer and appears far more substantial, it looks like you could fit an original Bronco inside the new version.
When the first generation Bronco was introduced in August of 1965 for the ’66 model year, only a 170 cubic inch six cylinder engine was available, although a 289 would follow about seven months later. That inline 6 was only good for about 105 horsepower and when Motor Trend put the Bronco through its paces in its September 1965 issue, it took about 21 seconds for the revolutionary SUV to go from 0-60 and the observed top speed was just 80mph.
The Bronco’s second generation wouldn’t debut until 1978, as it was continually delayed by re-dos prompted by gas shortages and more stringent emission standards, but it’s fairly safe to say that it didn’t set the world on fire either, as far as performance was concerned. Estimates for the 1980 Bronco, when armed with a 4.9 liter V8 that was severely hamstrung by emission controls, only improved to 15.6 seconds — that’s a marked improvement, but getting on and off freeways would have no doubt still caused plenty of trepidation.
The Bronco’s acceleration would continue to improve over the following years, and by the time O.J. Simpson was leading law enforcement on that infamous chase, those slow speeds weren’t out of necessity, as by this time its 0-60 time had been nearly halved from the original 1965 reading, clocking in at right around 11 seconds. This number would remain fairly consistent until the model was shelved in 1996.
While there was plenty of pushback on Ford’s decision not to offer a V8 in the new Bronco, it offers acceleration that puts it head and shoulders above all other generations, especially when powered by Ford’s 2.7 liter twin turbo EcoBoost V6, which has recently logged dyno readings of 330hp with the usage of premium fuel. When Ford recently released its review embargo, Motor Authority noted, “The big Bronco sheds its 4558 pounds like a big fella jumping into a pool, with an estimated 0-60 time in the low six second range when run in Sport mode.”
To be fair, cutting edge automotive technology had an entirely different connotation when the Bronco was first introduced. It was considered a very novel concept that the model debuted with a chassis all its own, as sharing key components across models was already a cornerstone of manufacturers’ cost cutting measures.
As a nod to the Bronco’s more rugged anticipated usage, Ford gave it what was considered a relatively large 6 quart oil pan, a heavy duty fuel pump and carburetor that was armed with a float bowl to avoid fuel starvation when the vehicle was tiled on an incline. There was plenty of optional equipment offered, but it was centered more on equipping the capable SUV for active duty and included items like limited-slip front and rear axles, a tailgate mounted spare tire carrier, front bumper guards, chromed bumpers, front and rear power takeoffs, citizen's band radio, snowplow, trailer hitch, winch, tachometer, and tow hooks. That’s not much of an emphasis on technology — except in the case of the aforementioned axles.
By contrast the new Bronco puts technology front and center, its approach perceived as one of the true high points of its new generation of Broncos. In that series of reviews we mentioned, many automotive journalists lauded the way the G.O.A.T. modes do just what they’re supposed to — make driving in a variety of conditions easier. Of course, there will always be plenty of purists among us who say that such aids aren’t really necessary, but this is where Ford delivered as well, as taking the aforementioned technology temporarily offline to rely on one’s own skill and experience is an easy undertaking. The same goes for the disconnection of the front traction bar, which can be accomplished with a literal push of a button.
What will the future hold as far as the evolution of the Ford Bronco? It’s difficult to tell, of course, but judging from both its outsized number of reservations and orders, as well as consistently positive reviews, its path upon reemergence has brought it to a very good place.