Ford Bronco Concept Cars Over the Years – From Mild to Wild and Somewhere In Between
Likely since the first recognized auto show debuted in 1900 — and maybe even before that — concept cars have been avenues for manufacturers to display their engineering and artistic skills. Some of these vehicles are created simply to illustrate “what could be”, while others are introduced to stoke enthusiasm for an intended future release. Some end up looking almost nothing like their production counterparts, while others are surprisingly similar. Less often, concept cars represent actual takes on a production version, with some tweaks added in.
Let’s take a look back at some of the Ford Bronco concept cars of the past. In some cases, we’ll be able to see how they stack up with their eventual production versions, while in other cases, these Bronco concepts were simply “one and done” propositions.
Bronco Dune Duster (1966)
This take on the Ford Bronco was created by famous automotive designer and fabricator George Barris, the man responsible for the Batmobile and a number of other futuristic vehicles. Considering Burris’s overall pedigree, this may have been the most sedate project he ever undertook.
Save for the faux wood trim on the rear quarter panels, a more futuristic front grille, and that nicely incorporated rollbar — which ended up being NHRA-approved, no less — this Bronco concept looks outwardly very much like a tricked-out version of its production counterpart. A couple of rows of jump seats were located in back, and the well-appointed interior featured suede covered bucket seats that were matched by accents on the dash.
In every respect, this was a very tasteful rendering of the Ford Bronco, and it fittingly took its place on the display turntable at the 1966 Detroit Auto Show, the very same place where, just over a half century later, Ford would announce that the Bronco would return after its long hiatus.
Kar Kraft Boss Bronco (1969)
As you can clearly see, this Bronco concept car was built very much along factory lines, but it features a number of pivotal upgrades, nearly from front to back. When it was first unveiled, Kar Kraft had already served as Ford’s “secret laboratory” of sorts and was directly involved in a number of Ford-centric projects, including the development of the heralded Ford GT40.
Though it’s undeniably a great looking ride, bold aesthetics were far from the main objective here. Rather, the Kar Kraft Boss Bronco was created with one main objective — to prove to then-Ford President Bunkie Knudsen that a high-performance production Bronco was not only viable, but was nearly an imperative. To further curry favor with Knudsen, the car was even dressed in a shade of yellow that was known to be among his favorites.
Powered by a blue-printed 1969 Shelby GT 350 engine, mated with a fortified C4 automatic transmission, the Boss Bronco also had 4.11 limited slip gears in back. It no doubt would have wound the RPMs too high for practical highway driving, but it must have been a screamer off the line in its day. Ford certainly put in the effort to make sure that it impressed its intended audience, even to the extent of bringing on racing legend Bill Stroppe to oversee the build on this very special SUV.
In nearly every respect, of all the concept cars presented here, the Boss Bronco probably would have been the one with the best odds to make it to market while still in close to its concept configuration —maybe with 3.25s in place of the 4.11s in back. As fate would have it, Ford Chairman Lee Iacocca often butted heads with Knudsen and ultimately fired him before the project could get off the ground. Kar Kraft was instructed to crush the one and only prototype, but somehow it survived.
Ford’s Shorthorn, Midhorn, Longhorn and Widehorn Concepts (1972-1973)
As we’ve already pointed out in a separate post, this comprehensive project, undertaken by Ford’s Advanced Light Truck Engineering team, was born out of absolute necessity. In just a few short years, the Ford Bronco had gone from segment leader to being left in the dust by the larger, stouter Chevy Blazer, so Ford’s team had to take action — even though that action would be substantially delayed by external events to such an extent that the result of the team’s efforts wouldn’t hit the market until 1978.
While Ford’s original intent was to create four different prototypes that would point the way forward for the model, only one of them — the Shorthorn — would make it to production with no detours. The Shorthorn was about as closely influenced by Chevy’s K5 Blazer as a vehicle could be — Ford even used the top and tailgate from a Blazer while constructing the prototype and mating them to a shortened F-series chassis.
Ford scrapped the other takes on the project when rising gas prices led the company to conclude that the market for fuel-thirsty SUVs was rapidly declining. At the time, they were probably right, but the results would have been compelling. The Midhorn would have been a substantial SUV with a wheelbase just a bit longer than the Jeep Wagoneers of this era, the Longhorn would have represented the first 4-door Bronco a half century before the current sixth generation took that honor, and the Widehorn was a broadened F-100 four-wheeler that would prove to be a forerunner of the Ford Raptor.
Bronco Montana Lobo (1981)
Sure, you probably wouldn’t want this concept for your own. You might not even want to take a ride in one — those bulbous plexiglass doors don’t look like they’d fare too well in a broadside collision — but at the same time, you might find it hard to look away.
Equal parts SUV and lunar module replica, the Bronco Montana Lobo in some ways exemplifies the true spirit of a concept car. You’ll find few concessions to safety or practicality on this ride. It also doesn’t look like too many engineering or styling cues from this concept car ever made their way into production.
With an overall design that would have looked right at home in the Tetris video games that were all the rage when it was introduced, the Montana Lobo also carried some features that were — believe it or not — very practical. Some would even be emulated decades later. A nicely integrated roll bar that contained a pair of fog lights provided protection in the event of a rollover while lighting the path ahead, a pair of neatly tucked side pipes amped up the curb appeal a bit, and there’s no doubt that visibility would never have been an issue with a plexi T-top above and a sizable, tinted window right behind the cab that could slide wide open.
In back, the pair of jump seats — a styling cue borrowed from the 1966 Dune Duster — sat just in front of storage compartments on both sides, while in front there was a functional winch mounted on the bumper. The Bronco Montana Lobo even featured a retractable loading ramp that was built into the tailgate — arguably a forerunner of the multi-functional tailgates we now see on the market.
Bronco Boss (1992)
The fact that Ford saw fit to merely transpose the 1969 Boss Bronco’s two-word name hints at the overall lack of intellectual energy that seemed to be put into this Bronco concept. Featuring a number of styling cues from Ford’s ninth-generation Ford F-150s, including rounded headlights and a more streamlined overall profile for better aerodynamics, the Bronco Boss wasn’t a bad looking vehicle, but it didn’t seem particularly adventurous either.
In some ways, it looks like a sort of SUV composite, with a little futuristic styling thrown into the mix. Interestingly, this result seems to bear a stronger resemblance to the Chevy Avalanche or Honda Ridgeline that would appear about a decade and a half later than any production Broncos.
Bronco Concept (2004)
Now this one is bound to look awfully familiar. Like some of the other concept cars shown, it may not seem particularly adventurous, but the 2004 Bronco Concept proved to be about as influential as it gets.There are a number of recognizable elements at play on this vehicle. At first glance, it bears an unmistakable resemblance to the current sixth generation of Broncos, while at the same time bridging the gap between the full-size Bronco and the Bronco Sport. Also, like the sixth-generation Bronco, this concept car incorporates styling cues from the past with a subtle futuristic element blended into the mix.
The Bronco Concept was unveiled at the 2004 North American International Auto Show and fittingly took its place next to a Shelby Cobra concept car — Ford always did see the historical trajectories of the Bronco and Mustang as being closely linked.
Rising gas prices, along with an international economy that would begin faltering a few years later to put a damper on SUV sales, didn’t forever tank the re-release of the new Bronco, but it did delay its arrival for quite a while — a full 17 model years, as it would turn out. Even now, Ford’s production efforts are just beginning to catch up with the demand, but they are, in fact, closing the gap.