A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made

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Everything You Need to Know about the Iconic 4×4; Past, Present & Future

A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made
A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made

2021 marks the return of the Ford Bronco. A vehicle that has not been produced since 1996. The off-roader has taken a 25-year leave of absence. As a result, people are lining up at the chance to get one of the new models; Ford sold out of the launch edition Bronco[1] within the first day!

At Bespoke Car Broker, we have long talked about the significance of vintage 4×4’s, particularly American made ones as an investment. That is why we decided to do a deep dive on the storied past of this American icon before we get flooded with requests and comments for the new. Lets jump right in with the one that started it all over 55 years ago.

The First Generation (1966-1977)

A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made
A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made 1966-1977 Ford Bronco

This first incarnation of the Bronco, had the longest run of any Bronco model and was offered in a plethora of body styles, colors, motors, and trims. This is without a doubt why the current 2021 model is so heavily inspired by it.

When being designed, the Bronco was meant to take a slice out of the Jeep CJ-5s[2] command of a new car segment. The segment was so new they didn’t know what to classify the Bronco as. The design team called it an ORV, (Off Road Vehicle) and they consisted of Ford product manager Donald N. Frey[3], Ford engineer Paul G. Axelrad, with Lee Iacocca[4] having final approval… This was the same team that developed another horse for Ford, the Mustang.

Just as it was with the Mustang, this first Bronco had a 170 cubic inch straight six, later a 200 cubic inch inline-six, a 289 V8 and later a 302 V8 that was derived from that 289. But also like the Mustang, most people didn’t appreciate the steadfast straight six over the power and name recognition of those V8’s.

Unlike a lot of vehicles at the time, the Bronco had a frame built solely for itself, and it split the difference between the length exactly between its only two competitors at the time, the CJ-5 and the International Harvester Scout[5]; (these are noteworthy vehicles themselves, check our previous write ups on the CJ-5 and the Scout by clicking the links!). The Bronco’s list of contenders didn’t stay the small for very long as we will see with the next iteration of the Bronco.

If I had no concern about money, this would be the generation I’d buy. I would like the in-line six but beggars can’t be choosers. With this generation’s price already being untouchable by most collectors, the retro-designed 2021 model that was inspired by this first generation will only make it more valuable.

The Second Generation (1978-1979)

A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made
A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made 1978-1979

Where as the first generation was meant compete with the period Jeep’s and International’s; the second generation was now going head to head with the Chevrolet K5 Blazer[6], the Jeep Cherokee[7] and the Dodge Ramcharger[8] as well. These vehicles were bigger and brawnier than the Bronco.

The quickest way for the Bronco to get into its competitors weight class was by borrowing some parts from it’s F-Series pickup sibling. This Bronco had a frame that came from the F-100 but was shortened by almost exactly a foot. Even with that much of the F-100’s frame left on the cutting room floor, the Bronco still had a foot longer wheelbase than its predecessor.

The Bronco gained 28 inches in length overall, 11 inches in width, 4 inches in height, and 1,100-1,600 pounds[9] depending on the motor you choose. You would think that with the increase in every single directional axis Ford would increase the body styles, the motors, the packages, all whole kit and kaboodle right?

No.

You did not get the bullet-proof inline-six engines, only 2 V8’s. one was a 351 cleveland and the other a 400 cleveland… which only had an increase of 15 lb-ft of torque. No difference in horsepower despite having .8 liters more displacement. And you only had the one body style, which was a 3 door wagon with a removable rear top.

A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made
A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made 1978-1979

Because of the fuel crisis in 1973, this second gen Bronco’s release was pushed from 1974 to 1978. Ford pushed it so far back that it nestled right up to the third generation that was already planned to launch in 1980. Meaning this is the shortest run of any Bronco to date!

It is for these reasons, we wrote about the second Generation Bronco before. It earned a spot on our TOP 10 BEST CARS TO BUY NOW list. Limited run, limited body styles, limited motors, external socio-economic factors all mean this will be a sought after model.

The Third Generation (1980-1986)

A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made
A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made 1980-1986

What kept the second generation in limbo for years is partly why the third generation flew into production. It was smaller, more efficient, and kept its full-size SUV designation.

While the second generation’s life span was short, it’s legacy would last for generations. The Bronco would go on to share most of its parts and DNA from the contemporary F-Series pickups. It’s wheelbase stayed the same 104 inches despite being a new design.

This generation saw a Bronco first, an independent front suspension. The previous models were fitted with a stiff, solid front axle. The rear axle stayed solid; a setup that still lingers even to the 2021 model we have today.

A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made
A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made 1980-1986

The third generation saw the return of Bespoke Car Broker’s Favorite, an inline-six. It was a massive 3.9 liter straight six, and in beautiful luck you could only get it with a manual transmission. The 302 V8 also returned, and it eventually got direct-injected, increasing fuel economy and power. Something most important in a post fuel-crisis America.

Ford also streamlined the line of the trim packages available for the Bronce by giving it the same as the F-150; Base, XL, and XLT. It makes sense, they share most of their body panels, frame and engines, and might as well carry over the names too.

I would get a pre-facelifted third generation with the manual inline-six if I were spending my money on a Bronco. It still had the Bronco badges and FORD spelled out across the hood in lieu of a blue oval logo. But that is getting picky.

The Fourth Generation (1987-1991)

A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made
A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made 1987-1991

As we said in our write up on the second generation Bronco in our TOP 10 BEST CARS TO BUY NOW, this 4th generation is in our opinion the blandest, shoebox Bronco Ford released. We were going to pretend it did not exist for this article but our car-guy compass, Garrison Goodland, made us feel guilty about skipping it.

The 1987 update dovetailed perfectly with the F-150 generational update so this fourth generation Bronco got the same treatment. It saw an improved interior, from the gauge clusters, to the seats, to the steering wheel.

The exterior got very square, much to our chagrin. Square is not a problem, we love 80’s stubbiness, see how many times we’ve mentioned Toyota’s MR2.[10] Something just got lifeless with this front facia. Look at those headlights and tell us differently.

Speaking of headlights, these were a big deal at the time. They were “reshaped, composite, wrap around” headlights that rounded the front-end corner of the Bronco… it is like Ford thought the more adjectives they added to to describe the headlights would convince us they aren’t ugly. This was also the first time a Bronco got rounded wheel arches instead of squared off ones like the past.

All this hating aside, Ford did do some good with this model. This made ABS standard with the first year of this generation. Ford also made every single engine direct-injected for this generation and added an optional push button 4-wheel drive system.

The Fifth (Final) Generation (1992-1996)

A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made
A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made 1992-1996

The fifth generation Bronco is a sad one for a multitude of reasons. First of which being that it was the last Bronco we saw for over two decades. For a lot of us, we thought this was the last Bronco ever made. The American market moved away from 2-door SUVs and needed a bit more practicality. What screams practical like a Ford Excursion.[11]

In an attempt to make this Bronco more practical, Ford decided to make it safe. In fact, that is probably where the bulk of notable changes occurred between the fourth and fifth generation. This Bronco received crumble zones, larger brake lights (why did that take so long?), 3 point seat belts for all the seats, and driver side airbags.

What is for many people the writing on the wall for the Bronco’s impending demise was the fact that Ford removed the removable hardtop. In the Bronco’s many reincarnations, it always had a removable roof of some kind. Ford swapped out the easily undone Hex bolts with “tamper-proof” ones. This was to avoid the 2nd row seats from losing their 3 point seat belts and to aid crash testing ratings. That is like breaking a horse’s leg so it can’t run away… somethings are meant to be free, damn you Department of Highway Safety!

The fifth and final generation was sad for us because it also saw the end, yet again, of the inline six. The last generation ran it for a total of 2 years before killing it. Making it all the more desirable to us at Bespoke Car Broker

The Current Generation (2021+)

A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made
A Brief History On The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made 2021

The current and sixth generation has garnered a ton of buzz and interest. It has not yet been released so we can not do a proper assessment of the vehicle as of now. There is no way of saying if it will make it on the list of The Top 5 Best Ford Broncos Ever Made. But there have been some great advancements in design, development and even some leaks Ford hasn;’t planned yet.

What we liked was that the new 2021 Bronco will be assembled in the same factory that the very first Bronco was built way back in 1966. Wayne, Michigan will once again be the home for the Ford Bronco in the next coming months and years, as ford has now doubled their projected production of the newest iteration.

The Bronco will come in 2 main body styles; 2 or 4 door variants. And unlike the last generation we received in 1996, this generation will regardless have removable doors and removable roof panels. It will also come in at least 5 trim packages in varying degrees of comfort and performance, the baddest being called the Wildtrak.

Some optional equipment include cut-out half doors and a system called HOSS. Standing for High-Performance Off-Road Stability Suspension is a setup that replaces the independent front axle and solid rear axle with Bilstein[12] shocks at all four corners. It will also have a minimum ground clearance of almost a foot, 11.6 inches to be exact.

What we love the most is that this will be the first Bronco not to be offered with a V8. We loved the inline-six and though we will not get one. We will get an inline-four 2.3 ecoboost motor that produces 270 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. A 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 is optional and makes 325 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque, according to AutoBlog[13]. As much as we raved about the six, we actually would go for the inline-4. It is the only motor available that offers a manual transmission in the Bronco’s lineup. It is called a 7-speed manual but it is really a 6-speed with a devoted off-road crawler gear.

The rumors are that we will eventually get a Bronco based pickup truck like the Jeep Gladiator, some spy shots are already being reported here.[14] We are already hearing that there will eventually be a V8 powered Bronco. Whether it be in a Raptor Bronco[15], or in another trim called the “Warthog.” We think Ford needs to limit the amount of animals it is trying to capitalize on.

  1. https://www.cnet.com/roadshow/news/2021-ford-bronco-reservations/
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeep_CJ
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_N._Frey
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Iacocca
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Harvester_Scout
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chevrolet_K5_Blazer
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeep_Cherokee
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dodge_Ramcharger
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Bronco#Second_generation_(1978–1979)
  10. https://www.bespokecarbroker.com/top-10-cars-for-10k/#Toyota_MR2_(19851989)
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Excursion
  12. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bilstein_Shock_Absorbers
  13. https://www.autoblog.com/2020/07/13/2021-ford-bronco-revealed/
  14. https://www.autoblog.com/2020/08/01/ford-three-row-crossover-spy-photos/
  15. https://www.motorauthority.com/news/1128849_ford-bronco-raptor-warthog
William Mayer
Follow William Mayer:

Writer/Founder of Bespoke Car Broker

I have been traveling the world, finding, importing and restoring classic cars for over a decade. I've gone from New York to Namibia, eager to explore different cultures and hunt for rare classic cars. I believe the best way to get to know a place is to drive it. I graduated from The New School, Eugene Lang with a degree in Literature and History. What you just read is an outlet, and rationalization, for my obsession. -W.M.

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