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The Ford Bronco Was The Sexy SUV Of '66

Culture | July 9, 2020

A 1969 Ford Bronco. Source: Ford

The 1966 Ford Bronco was a different kind of four-wheeler, a truck with off-road capability that had a sports car's style -- in fact, in early advertisements, Ford called it "a new kind of sports car." This two-door vehicle, which would be considered a compact SUV today, pioneered the concept of a truck you bought not because you needed it, but because you wanted it. Debuting in late 1965, the Bronco was a solid seller, though it didn't dominate the market. That first-generation ('66-'77) is notable for changing the way we think about utility vehicles, and arguably creating the concept of the sports-utility vehicle as we know it today.

Ford hasn't produced a Bronco in nearly 25 years, but the model name returns in the summer of 2020 with the launch of the 2021 Bronco. Fans of modern SUVs and the original Bronco have been eager to get their eyes on the new vehicles -- let's take a look back at the legend first.

The original Ford Bronco in all her glory. (mensjournal)

The story of the Ford Bronco began in 1966. Ford introduced the boxy yet beautiful Bronco in three different body styles: wagon, pickup, and roadster. Ford designed the Bronco to battle competitor Jeep and International Harvester 4x4s. However, Ford also marketed the beastly beauty as the first “Sports-Utility Vehicle.” From the mind of the genius who also conceived the Ford Mustang, Donald Frey, the Bronco survived in one form or another from 1965 all the way to 1996. 

Three Kinds Of Ford Bronco

The roadster brought the cool but no doors. (barrett-jackson)

As we mentioned, Ford initially gave consumers a bevy of Bronco choices but only one survived the test of time. The roadster exuded character and class, rolling around with no doors was cool but practicality mattered and that rendition ended in ‘68. The half-cab brought a level of innovation not seen in the Groovy era but it looked like a pick-up for kids with its tiny truck bed. That experiment ceased in ‘72.

In the end, that left the two-door wagon to lead the Ford Bronco line and lead it did. The original Ford Bronco came with rugged in mind: auxiliary gas tank, power take-off, and a winch were offered as options for the man or woman looking to get their hands dirty. It was also simple, unadorned by fancy seats or expensive material. 

Rugged Popularity to Start

Turns out Americans wanted full truck beds. (fourwheeler)

Frey announced to the world that, “Like its older brother, the Mustang, it will be offered with a wide range of options and accessories that will permit it to be the many things to many people.” To start, the Bronco sold like gangbusters with more than 20,000 jeep-killers sold for six years straight. It became a favorite of off-roader racers and even celebrities looking to tackle the Mint 400 and Baja 1000. With the ‘80s looming, Ford redesigned the Bronco and keeping with the times, size was everything.

Big Hair, Big Suits, Big Broncos

Size apparently isn't the only thing that matters. (mensjournal)

Based on the F-100 pickup truck, the Bronco got bigger, much bigger. Introduced in ‘78, the new Bronco grew two feet longer, 10 inches wider, and five inches taller. Car and Driver called it, “Positively awash in new features, its only real resemblance to the old box-basic Bronco of yesterday seems to be its name.”

With power windows, bucket seats, more legroom, the new Bronco shed its spartan roots and became an enjoyable ride for the whole family. Its new edition was also more powerful, only coming with V-8s. Unfortunately, the oil crisis and its size killed the second generation within two years. 

Gone Are The Glory Days?

Will the new Ford Bronco match the special edition of yesteryear? We can only hope. (caranddriver)

Ford listened to the complaints of terrible fuel economy and size to heart, returning to the smaller sleeker Bronco body. They also improved the ride; unfortunately, they went too far. From ‘84 to ‘90, Ford tried out the Bronco II, which was geared toward young couples and singles. The Bronco II was significantly smaller but sadly, it led to a rash of roll-overs and lawsuits. By ‘95 Ford “lost 113 million dollars to settle 334 lawsuits.”

By the time O.J Simpson led the LAPD on the slowest chase in criminal history, Ford was on their fifth and final rendition that few liked. Nevertheless, the company reported that sales briefly increased following the Juice’s famous 5-0 flight. Ultimately, Ford said that the Bronco died due to people’s lack of interest in two door SUV’s. With their new model to debut sometime in 2021, Ford fans eagerly hold their breath to see what version of their beloved Bronco will return. 

Tags: 1960s Cars | A Brief History Of... | Ford Bronco

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!