The Ford Bronco is a sport utility vehicle that was produced from 1966 to 1996, with five distinct generations. Broncos can be divided into two categories: early Broncos (1966–77) and full-size Broncos (1978–96).
The Bronco was introduced in 1966 as a competitor to the small four-wheel-drive compact SUVs such as the Jeep CJ-5 and International Harvester Scout, and built on its own platform. A major redesign in 1978 moved the Bronco to a larger size, and it was built using a shortened Ford F-Series truck chassis to compete with the similarly adapted Chevrolet K5 Blazer.
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 a white 1993 model owned and driven by Al Cowlings with O. J. Simpson, who was 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 an estimated television audience of 95 million, the event was described "as the most famous ride on American shores since Paul Revere's".
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 (2,337 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 (1991–present) 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 that gave the Bronco a 34-foot (10.4 m) 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 6-US-quart (6 l) 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 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 (3.3 L) 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 Jeep Cherokee (SJ) 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.
The redesign of the Bronco in 1978 was based on a shortened full sized F-100 pickup. It had a removable top and forward folding rear bench seat, similar to the competing Blazer. It shared many chassis, drivetrain, and body components. The entire front clip is indistinguishable from their full size trucks for those years. In 1978 Broncos were equipped with round headlights, with the exception of the RangerXLT trim model. In 1979 all Broncos were standard with square sealed beam headlights. Ford started the redesign in 1972, codenamed Project Short-Horn, but introduction was delayed by concerns over the mid-1970s fuel crisis. The base engine was a 351 cu in (5.75 L), with an optional 400 cu in (6.6 L). A Ford 9" rear axle and a Dana 44 front axle were standard, with leaf spring rear suspension and coil sprung, laterally stabilized front.
The 1978 and 1979 Broncos featured an option for either full-time four-wheel drive utilizing the New Process 203 chain driven transfer case or, more commonly, part-time four-wheel drive with the New Process 205 gear driven transfer case.
The 1978 and 1979 Broncos also merged the rear glass hatch and tailgate of its predecessor into a single unit that allowed the rear glass panel to retract completely into the tailgate by use of an electric motor controlled by a key-operated switch on the tailgate's outside or a dash-mounted control switch. This did cause problems for some customers, as the weight of the glass panel often overheated the motor, sometimes subjecting it to failure. Customers also complained that the retractable glass panel allowed water to get inside and caused the tailgate to rust prematurely from the bottom up. Nonetheless, this design prevailed until the Bronco's end in 1996.
1979 saw the addition of a catalytic converter, and other various emissions control equipment.
The Bronco received a major redesign for 1980, coinciding with the F-Series. The new Bronco was shorter, and had cosmetic changes along with powertrain, suspension and other odds and ends. Most notably, the live front axle was replaced by a Dana 44 Twin Traction Beam (TTB) setup in the front end for an independent front suspension. The TTB is a hybrid of a true independent front suspension and a solid front axle, with a "solid" axle that pivots around the differential and uses coil springs instead of leaf springs. The TTB system offered a higher degree of control and comfort both on and off road, but sacrificed wheel travel, and is notorious for being difficult to keep aligned when larger than stock tires are used.
With a smaller Bronco and fuel economy in mind, Ford offered a 300 cu in (4.9 L) straight six as the base engine. Although this engine came with more torque than the 302 cu in (4.95 L) V8 and comparable to the 351 cu in (5.75 L) V8 (until the High Output model), the engine was limited by a 1-bbl carburetor and restrictive single-out exhaust manifolds. Electronic emissions equipment added in 1984 further restricted the power of the inline six. Ford used up their remaining stock of 351M engines before switching over to the 351W in mid-model year 1982. A "High Output" version of the 351W became an option in 1984 and continued into the 1987 model year until the introduction of fuel injection. Output was 210 hp (157 kW) at 4000 rpm vs the standard 2-bbl 351W which made 156 hp (116 kW) at 4000 rpm. The 302 was the first engine to receive electronic fuel-injection, starting in the 1985 model year, as well as a four-speed automatic overdrive transmission. The Eddie Bauer trim package started in 1985 as well. From 80-84 some broncos had sliding topper windows.
Cosmetically, Ford returned to using its "blue oval" logo on the front of a slightly redesigned grille, and removed the "F O R D" letters from the hood in 1982. Power Low Mount Swing Lock mirrors were first offered in 1981. Classic square mirrors and the optional power low mount swing lock mirrors were dropped in 1986.
In 1987, the body and drivetrain of the fullsize Bronco changed, as it was still based on the F-Series. The new aero body style reflected a larger redesign of many Ford vehicles for the new model year. By 1988, all Broncos were being sold with electronic fuel injection (first introduced in 1985 with the 302). In 1991, a 25th Silver Anniversary Edition was sold featuring special badges, Currant Red paint and a gray and red leather interior. A Nite edition, similar to that on the F-Series, was also available in 1991 and 1992, the 91's tend to be rarer. All Broncos were built at the Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, Michigan on the same line as the F-150.
The 5-speed M5OD-R2 transmission was added as an option for 302-powered Broncos in 1987. 1988-89 351W trucks received a c6 transmission. For 1990, the electronically-controlled E4OD automatic overdrive came standard on the 351W, and 300. The AOD was mated with the 302 from 1987-1990. By 1991 All engines received the E4OD.
A V8 engine and automatic transmission were standard in Eddie Bauer, Nite, and Silver Anniversary trucks.
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