ford bronco badge 2021

The Bronco is an icon in the Ford lineage — it sits right there alongside the Mustang in the stable of Ford's horse-related nameplates. Ford finally brought back the Bronco after 25 years, and the surge in popularity of the vintage ones is a major reason why. Stunning first-generation Bronco resto-mods can command well into the six figures, and later Broncos — as well as rad-era off-road trucks from the 1980s and 1990s — are having a moment.

To help celebrate Bronco Week here at Gear Patrol, we've decided to pull together a breakdown of each Bronco generation.

Ford Bronco: 1st Generation (1966-77)

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Ford
bronco gen 1 sketch
Ford

Ford unveiled its "completely new line of sport utility vehicles" on August 11, 1965. They almost named it the Wrangler — Jeeps were still called CJs then — but opted to use another horse name, Bronco, to connect it with the Mustang. The original Bronco was a compact SUV with a timeless, boxy design: The base vehicle was aggressively simple to save costs, with flat glass and straight bumpers. The only transmission option, until 1973, was a three-speed manual column shifter.

Ford phased out original roadster and pickup versions for the "wagon," which is the full top and doors version. (Resto-mods often add a wider track and chunkier off-road tires than the original had.) Ford also raced the Bronco at the Baja 1000, winning four times in five years from 1968 to 1972.

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Ford Bronco: 2nd Generation (1978-79)

1979 ford bronco
Ford
bronco second gen sketch
Ford

Ford delayed a second-generation Bronco — nicknamed "Project Shorthorn" — until 1978 because of the oil crisis. The Bronco morphed into a full-size SUV based with the F-Series, growing more than two feet longer and nearly a foot wider than its predecessor. The new SUV also added more than 1,000 pounds in curb weight. Ford abandoned the inline-six for 5.8-liter and 6.6-liter V8 engine options, and an optional rear bench seat expanded seating capacity to a potential six passengers. Ford also added a fiberglass lift-off top.

Ford Bronco: 3rd Generation (1980-86)

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ford bronco sketch gen 3 1985
Ford

For the third-gen SUV, Ford based the Bronco on the F-Series chassis again. Known as the "bull nose," this model shed about 500 pounds of weight versus its predecessor in a bid for better fuel economy. Ford also brought back the base inline-six engine, and the Bronco moved from a solid axle to an independent front suspension for better ride quality. This was the first Bronco generation to incorporate the blue oval logo into the grille and the first to get the Eddie Bauer package.

Ford Bronco II (1984-90)

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Ford

1985 ford bronco ii
Ford

The Bronco Sport is not Ford's first attempt to expand the Bronco brand to multiple vehicles: The brand launched the Bronco II, a compact SUV based on the Ranger, for the 1984 model year. Ford wanted it to be a capable off-roader and a nod back to the first-gen Bronco. It's most remembered for stability issues that led to rollover fatalities that embroiled Ford in lawsuits. Ford replaced it with the bigger Explorer.

Ford Bronco: 4th Generation (1987-91)

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fourth gen sketch
Ford

The fourth-generation Bronco, known as the "brick nose," carried over the same chassis and powertrains from the previous generation. Ford tweaked the body shape to be more rounded and aerodynamic, and also added features like rear-wheel ABS, electronic fuel injection, and an upgraded five-speed manual transmission.

Ford Bronco: 5th Generation (1992-96)

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5th generation ford bronco week
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The fifth-generation Bronco is often called the "Old Body Style" (OBS) Bronco. It again kept the same chassis and powertrains from the previous generation, though Ford made exterior and interior styling upgrades. The major change for this generation was safety: Ford added a third brake light and rear three-point seatbelts mounted to the hardtop, which meant it could not be (or was not supposed to be) removable like previous generations. The Bronco added a driver's side airbag in 1994. (And yes, a white 1993 model was the one involved in the O.J. Simpson chase.)


Why did Ford discontinue the Bronco in 1996?

O.J. Simpson did not kill the Bronco — the market did. Continuing the Bronco would have required a complete overhaul for 1997, as the Bronco had been running on the same architecture since 1980. And Bronco sales figures did not justify the cost. Ford ultimately replaced the Bronco with the Expedition, a more family-friendly four-door and three-row SUV to rival the Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon.

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