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What’s in a Name? For the Ford Bronco, Plenty

What’s in a Name? For the Ford Bronco, Plenty

Bronco production is now gradually reaching full capacity and the first units — fittingly carrying the name of Bronco First Edition — are destined for their lucky new owners, as well as members of the automotive press. It’s been 25 years since new Broncos roamed the roads and yet the Bronco name has retained a level of perceived appeal that’s pretty rare for a model that’s been out of commission for so long. Now, that’s good branding.

Of course, any branding effort starts with a product name and, with the Bronco having proven so evocative and appealing over the years, it prompts a bit of curiosity as to whether or not that was the handle Ford’s iconic SUV has carried since it was first conceived. That, in itself, would be somewhat of a long shot, statistically speaking, since it has long been the norm for a manufacturer to give its planned future models working handles that more often than not don’t end up sticking with them once the vehicle is released.

Even Automotive Classics Aren't Immune to Name Changes

For example, as laden with automotive history as the Ford Mustang is, that name wasn’t decided upon from the start. At various times, both the Ford T5 and even the Cougar were strongly considered as options. Just how strongly? Ford even went so far as to create a grille emblem that was beyond question feline in design for the otherwise unmistakable front end of its automotive game-changer. Such a move would generally take place relatively far along in an automotive model’s development.

As it turns out, while the acronym G.O.A.T. (goes over any terrain) was included on some of the early internal memos pertaining to the Bronco, its existing name is something that was attached early on in its development process and just ended up sticking. Both the Bronco and its Ford stablemate, the Mustang, share some common history in the form of a true automotive industry visionary: Ford project manager Donald Frey. In addition to presiding over the unusually quick development of the Mustang, which took just 18 months from concept to production, Frey was also instrumental in creating the Bronco, whose own release would come about a year after that of the Mustang.

By 1963, Ford had already made substantial progress on its development plans for a fun, accessible car that would also be groundbreaking, in that it would be the first American de facto sports car that also featured a back seat to drastically improve its practicality. Once that plan was finalized, Ford then set its sights on creating a complement to the Mustang for its roster, aiming for a vehicle that would be capable of conquering rougher terrain than would be possible in a conventional passenger car. After a substantial amount of market research to determine what Jeep CJ and International Harvester Scout owners disliked most about their own vehicles, Ford found that a lack of interior comfort, a rough ride and a primitive overall driver experience were common complaints.

Sticking with a Theme

In response, Ford sought to create the first “4-wheel drive sports car” — the SUV acronym was only a fringe term at this point — and they realized it had to be more refined than its competition while still delivering on the promise of off-road agility. The Mustang handle was already confirmed for this soon-to be revolutionary vehicle’s stablemate, and while Ford wasn’t yet ready to go all in on the Bronco name, it had decided that the pending model name should continue the rugged, frontier-centric theme the Mustang had started. In fact, Ford had also considered the names Wrangler, Gaucho and Bravo for its new creation before sticking with the Bronco label the project had carried from an early point in its development.

A Ford Wrangler? 

By the way, rest assured that there was no corporate espionage involved with considering the Wrangler as a model name. It wasn’t until 1987, more than 20 model years after the Bronco debuted, that Jeep introduced a new model that was based closely on its CJ7, but offered more comfort, and named it Wrangler.

So — was choosing, and then sticking with the Bronco as a name for this revolutionary model, directly responsible for the legion of loyal fans it has amassed over the years? Would there be just as much excitement surrounding the re-release of Ford’s iconic SUV if it had worn a different name all this time? It’s difficult to say with any certainty, of course. It’s likely that a vehicle as revolutionary as the Bronco was upon its release in the mid-’60s would have attracted plenty of attention even if it carried a different name. Of course, Jeep would have gone with a different one of its own mid-’80s vehicle if there was already a Wrangler on the market.

Nonetheless, the unusual amount of buzz surrounding the Bronco — and more importantly, the outsize number of orders that Ford has received as it re-enters the market — provides proof that this is a brand that has displayed some serious strength. And, of course, every brand begins with a name.

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