Ford Bronco is First Produced
The Ford Bronco was a sport-utility vehicle produced from 1966 through 1996, with five distinct generations.
The Bronco was initially its own platform introduced as a competitor for small four-wheel-drive utility trucks such as the Jeep CJ-5 and International Harvester Scout. A major redesign based on a shortened Ford F-Series truck in 1978 brought a larger Bronco to compete with the similarly adapted Chevrolet Blazer. Thus, Broncos can generally be divided into two categories: Early Broncos (1966-1977), and full-size Broncos (1978-1996). However, no matter which year it was built, four wheel drive and low range were standard on every Bronco built through its thirty year run. Very few 2 wheel drive broncos were ever produced and almost all of those were made for sale outside of the United States.
The full-size Broncos and the successor Expedition were produced at Ford's Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, Michigan.
The Bronco permanently entered popular culture on June 17, 1994, as the vehicle in which O.J. Simpson, wanted for the murders of his ex-wife and her friend, attempted to elude the Los Angeles Police Department in a low-speed chase with himself in the passenger seat and Al Cowlings driving. It was a white 1993 model owned by Al Cowlings.
The original Bronco was an ORV (Off-Road Vehicle), intended to compete primarily with Jeep CJ models and the International Harvester Scout. The Bronco's small size riding on a 92-inch (2,300 mm) wheelbase made it popular for off-roading and some other uses, but impractical for such things as towing. The Bronco was Ford's first compact SUV, and Ford's compact and midsize SUV niche would be taken by the compact pickup based Ford Bronco II (1984-1990), Ford Explorer and the Ford Escape (2001-present).
The idea behind the Bronco began with Ford product manager Donald N. Frey, who also conceived of the Ford Mustang; and similarly, Lee Iacocca pushed the idea through into production. In many ways, the Bronco was a more original concept than the Mustang; whereas the Mustang was based upon the Ford Falcon, the Bronco had a frame, suspension, and body that were not shared with any other vehicle.
The Bronco was designed under engineer Paul G. Axelrad. Although the axles and brakes were sourced from the Ford F-100 four wheel drive pickup truck, the front axle was located by radius arms (from the frame near the rear of the transmission forward to the axle) and a lateral track bar, allowing the use of coil springs which gave the Bronco a tight (34 ft) turning circle, long wheel travel, and an anti-dive geometry which was useful for snowplowing. The rear suspension was more conventional, with leaf springs in a typical Hotchkiss design. A shift-on the-fly Dana Corp. transfer case and locking hubs were standard, and heavy-duty suspension was an option.
The initial engine was the Ford 170 cu in (2.8 L) straight-6, modified with solid valve lifters, a six-US-quart oil pan, heavy-duty fuel pump, oil-bath air cleaner, and a carburetor with a float bowl compensated against tilting.
Styling was subordinated to simplicity and economy, so all glass was flat, bumpers were simple C-sections, the frame was a simple box-section ladder, and the basic left and right door skins were identical except for mounting holes.
The early Broncos were offered in wagon, the ever popular halfcab, and less popular roadster configurations. Roadster was dropped early and the sport package, which later became a model line, was added.
The base price was only US$2,194, but the long option list included front bucket seats, a rear bench seat, a tachometer, and a CB radio, as well as functional items such as a tow bar, an auxiliary gas tank, a power take-off, a snowplow, a winch, and a posthole digger. Aftermarket accessories included campers, overdrive units, and the usual array of wheels, tires, chassis, and engine parts for increased performance.
The Bronco sold well in its first year (23,776 units produced) and then remained in second place after the CJ-5 until the advent of the full-sized Chevrolet Blazer in 1969. Lacking a dedicated small SUV platform, the Blazer was based on their existing full size pickup which was a larger and more powerful vehicle, offering greater luxury, comfort and space. The longer option list included an automatic transmission and power steering, and thus had broader appeal. Ford countered by enlarging the optional V8 engine from 289 cu in (4.7 L) and 200 hp (150 kW) to 302 cu in (4.9 L) and 205 hp (153 kW), but this still could not match the Blazer's optional 350 cu in (5.7 L) and 255 hp (190 kW) (horsepower numbers are before horsepower ratings changed in the early to mid-1970s.)
In 1973, the 170 was replaced by a 200 cu in straight six, power steering and automatic transmissions were made optional, and sales spiked to 26,300. By then, however, Blazer sales were double those of the Bronco, and International Harvester had seen the light and come out with the Scout II that was more in the Blazer class. By 1974, the larger and more comfortable vehicles such as the Cherokee made more sense for the average driver than the more rustically-oriented Bronco. The low sales of the Bronco (230,800 over twelve years) did not allow a large budget for upgrades, and it remained basically unchanged until the advent of the larger, more Blazer-like second generation Bronco in 1978. Production of the original model fell (14,546 units) in its last year, 1977.
In 1965, racecar builder Bill Stroppe assembled a team of Broncos for long-distance off-road competition for Ford. Partnering with Ford's frequently favored race team Holman-Moody, the Stroppe/Holman/Moody (SHM) Broncos proceeded to dominate the Mint 400, Baja 500, and Mexican 1000 (which was later named the Baja 1000). In 1969 SHM again entered a team of six Broncos in the Baja 1000. In 1971, a "Baja Bronco" package partially derived from Stroppe's design was offered in the Ford showrooms, featuring quick-ratio power steering, automatic transmission, fender flares covering Gates Commando tires, a roll bar, reinforced bumpers, a padded steering wheel, and distinctive red, white, blue, and black paint. However, at a price of US$5,566 versus the standard V8 Bronco price of $3,665, only 650 were sold over the next four years. 
In 1966, a Bronco "funny car" built by Doug Nash for the quarter mile dragstrip ran "erratic" with a few low 8-second times, but sidelined by sanctioning organizations when pickups and aluminum frames were outlawed.
Until the mid '90s, the Ford Bronco was famous for being a rough-and-tumble off-road vehicle that had been tackling trails and fording streams since the 1960s. It was also one of the first sport-utility vehicles: a versatile truck then described by Ford as being able to "serve as a family sedan, sports roadster, snowplow or farm and civil defense vehicle."
Made from 1966-'77, the original Ford Bronco was essentially a compact two-door SUV best suited for off-roading duties like a Jeep CJ, but not towing. By the time the 1970s rolled around, however, it became greatly outclassed by the full-size Chevy Blazer, which prompted Ford to switch the Bronco to a larger body style as well. Nevertheless, the original compact Bronco remains a favorite among off-road enthusiasts.
For 1978, the Bronco grew up, adopting the "indestructible" F-Series platform to bump it into full-size territory. But this Bronco is rare, for it was redesigned once again for 1980 along with the F-Series. Although changes were made over the years to the powertrain, body styling and interior, this third-generation Bronco essentially lasted until it was put out to pasture in 1996.
Of course, no discussion about the Bronco would be complete without a mention of the Juice. Or, more specifically, O.J. Simpson riding shotgun in friend Al Cowlings' 1993 white Ford Bronco as they led police on a slow-speed tour of greater Los Angeles. Beyond proving that it makes a lousy getaway car, the O.J. fiasco certainly put the Bronco forever in pop culture. Although not quite at DeLorean or orange Dodge Charger iconography, owning a late-model white Ford Bronco is bound to elicit the odd chuckle, thumbs-up or inquiry of "did it come with the bloody glove package?" from friends and passers-by.
Most Recent Ford Bronco
Unlike future SUVs, the Ford Bronco was very much a truck designed with off-roading in mind. It was available in a singular two-door body style that featured a fiberglass rear roof section that could be removed (albeit with a fair amount of effort).
The Bronco underwent its final refresh for 1992, including a new grille and more rounded front end. A new instrument panel and seat styles also debuted that kept the Bronco consistent with the F-Series pickup. This Bronco design lasted until the model was cancelled in 1996.
These Broncos were available in a base trim (first known as Custom, then XL), as well as XLT and Eddie Bauer versions. There was a Nite package available in 1992 that featured XLT equipment but with an all-black body. The initial standard engine was a 4.9-liter inline-6 good for 145 horsepower and 265 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission was standard, and a four-speed automatic was optional.
Optional in that first year and then made standard was a 5.0-liter V8 that made 185 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. It ran through the standard five-speed manual transmission or optional three- or four-speed automatics. In 1994, Ford upgraded this engine to 200 hp. Also available was a 5.8-liter V8 that made 200 hp (later 210 hp) and 300 lb-ft of torque. This engine was only available with the four-speed auto. All Broncos came equipped with four-wheel drive.
The Ford Bronco remains to this day one of the sturdiest full-size SUVs around. Well-maintained examples would be a good choice for off-roading duties, although its now-ancient underpinnings make it a lousy choice on-road. The numerous paint options (including two-tone and monochrome Sport options) mean that finding a relatively unique Bronco should be fairly easy.
Past Ford Bronco Models
There were three generations of Ford Bronco, with the final generation undergoing continuous changes from its introduction in 1980. There were significant styling changes made for 1982, 1987 and 1992, with the latter two years including interior changes as well. This generation (until 1993) featured a standard six-cylinder engine with a pair of optional V8 engines.
The second-generation Bronco was produced only for 1978 and '79, but in those years it rewrote the book on full-size "SUVs." It was based on the 1973-'79 F-Series and was intended to be introduced at the same time, but the OPEC oil embargo pushed back its introduction. By the time it debuted, Ford was already hard at work on its replacement, which would be lighter, more fuel-efficient and cheaper to make. Nevertheless, the second-generation Bronco is a rare, sought-after truck, admired by off-roaders for its solid front axle and torquey standard V8 engine.
Ford's full-size 4-wheel-drive utility vehicle could hold more than 100 cubic feet of cargo or seat six people in a roomy interior. It could also haul as much as 7800 pounds. Essentially a Ford F-Series pickup truck with expanded passenger area and fiberglass rear-roof section, Broncos came only in a 2-door body style, with a 2-way tailgate. Antilock rear braking was standard by the late 1980s, operating only in 2WD. A 4-speed automatic transmission edged aside the 3-speed unit, starting during 1990 as a running change. Base engine until 1993 was a 4.9-liter inline 6-cylinder, packing 150 horsepower, with a choice of optional V8s. A 185-horsepower 5.0-liter V8 was standard on the Eddie Bauer edition, optional on others. Also available: a 210-horsepower 5.8-liter V8, offered only with 3-speed automatic. Standard on-demand, part-time 4WD (not for use on dry pavement) had a conventional transfer-case shift lever on the floor.