Ford Bronco
The Ford Motor Company

19 Reasons Why Drivers Love the Ford Bronco

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Ford Bronco
The Ford Motor Company

Horse Power

With a 30-year production run between 1966-1996, the Ford Bronco was the first real SUV and arguably the greatest U.S. truck ever built — an argument long settled among Bronco loyalists. Just like Jeepers on the other side of the fence, Bronco fans have an emotional attachment that stands out among American automotive love affairs. With the hotly anticipated 2021 Bronco set to fill a void gaping for nearly a quarter-century, it’s only right to reflect on why drivers love their Broncos.

Related: 16 Surprising Things You Didn't Know About America's Best-Selling Vehicle

"1964½" Mustang convertible Serial#1
"1964½" Mustang convertible Serial#1 by Alvintrusty (CC BY-SA)

An Automotive Genius Designed it

The late, great Donald N. Frey was one of the most innovative thinkers in the history of the automotive industry. After Ford’s Edsel disaster, a gun-shy Henry Ford II rejected the Mustang concept out of fear it would suffer a similar fate. While managing the metallurgy department at Ford, Frey began designing the Mustang in secret. Ford eventually found out and approved its continuation, but told Frey he would be fired if the Mustang didn’t succeed. Needless to say, Frey kept his job and, after the raging success, went to work developing an entirely new category of vehicle. That vehicle was the Ford Bronco, designed by Frey and approved for production by Lee Iacocca himself.

First Generation Ford Bronco
First Generation Ford Bronco by Andrew Duthie (CC BY-SA)

It Was the First SUV

Modern Jeep Wranglers feel and function like SUVs. This was not the case with Jeeps from World War II through the mid-1960s, however, when the Bronco was being conceived. The Bronco was designed to compete with the Jeep CJ (Civilian Jeep) and the International Harvester Scout, both very capable vehicles — but specialized for off-road driving. Ford took the reliability, practicality, and brawn long associated with Jeeps and put them into a more versatile passenger vehicle that Ford calls “The first automobile called out specifically as a ‘sports-utility vehicle.’”

Early Bronco Drawing
The Ford Motor Company

It Was Built With the Driver in Mind

In 1962, Ford conducted a major survey of Jeep and I.H. Scout owners who consistently and overwhelmingly complained “that both vehicles had poor comfort, ride, noise, and vibration qualities” and unsatisfactory size and power, according to Ford. Departments began communicating with clandestine memos requesting things such as funds for development of a vehicle “code-named Bronco” with subjects such as “1966 G.O.A.T.” — an acronym for “Goes Over All Terrain” — and describing a powerful off-road 4x4 that still offered the comfort, ride, and ease of use of passenger cars. The Bronco’s designers had solved the problem.

Ford F-151 MUTT
The Ford Motor Company

It Has a Long and Proud Lineage

Although Ford was competing directly with Jeep, it was also borrowing from its legacy — which was, after all, Ford’s legacy, too: Ford was one of three companies that collaborated to develop the earliest Jeeps for military use during World War II. During the war, Ford made more than a quarter-million Jeeps, which became the conflict’s most enduring symbol of modern mobile warfare and American ingenuity and industrial might. In the 1950s and early ’60s, Ford developed a troop “Military Utility Tactical Truck,” which of course was called the MUTT. The Bronco was built on the foundation laid by those two vehicles.

McKinley Thompson Jr.
The Ford Motor Company

Its Designers, Too, Have a Legacy to be Proud of

Ford designer McKinley Thompson drew the first known sketches of what would become the Bronco on July 24, 1963, a year nearly to the day before Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. Thompson was Ford’s first African-American automobile designer, and one of the only — perhaps the only — black people working at such a high corporate level across the major players in the auto industry at that time.

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Ford Bronco Roadster
The Ford Motor Company

It Evolved Through Natural Selection

In 1966, the Bronco debuted with three variations: a half-cab pickup, a roadster, and a wagon. The half-cab looked like a baby truck and the roadster — fun and sporty as its design might have been — simply wasn’t practical. Real-world use and customer critiques led to a thinning of the herd, with the roadster and half-cab soon dropped from production. The wagon prevailed, soon morphing into the iconic Bronco design the world would come to know and love.

Ford Bronco
The Ford Motor Company
1976 Ford Bronco
The Ford Motor Company

Four-Wheel Drive Was Standard

One feature was not optional on Broncos from the very beginning: four-wheel drive. It came on all three models from the outset. Those who chose to upgrade to the 298-V8 engine drove away with industry-leading torque and horsepower.

Related: 16 Ways Driving Has Changed in the Past 50 Years

1966 Bronco Roadster
1966 Bronco Roadster by Valder137 (CC BY)

There Was Always the Option of Going Topless

Two of the original three models, the wagon and half-cab truck, came with removable hard-top roofs, which allowed drivers to let their hair down on sunny days. The exception was the short-lived roadster, which didn’t come with any top at all. (In fact, it didn’t even have doors.) Ford later dropped the removable top, which is why so many Bronco lovers are trapped in early model nostalgia.

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Ford Bronco
The Ford Motor Company

It’s Design Was Trail Friendly

The Bronco was more comfortable and driver-friendly on the road, but also had a big advantage over Jeep for off-road enthusiasts. Compared with the Jeep CJ, I.H. Scout, and, later, the Chevy Blazer/GMC Jimmy, the Bronco had a narrow body and short wheelbase. This made it especially nimble on the trails, where tight turns and narrow paths are standard.

1979 Bronco Ranger XLT
Wikimedia Commons

It’s an F-Series Deep Down Inside

The first-generation Bronco was built on a model-specific chassis. The second generation lasted only from 1978-1979 after anxiety about producing a much-bigger, V8-standard Bronco during an energy crisis delayed a release first planned for 1974. The mode saw the last solid front axle and gained square headlights, but the biggest change was becoming based on F-Series trucks — soon America’s bestselling line of vehicles, and staying so for more than four decades into the current day.

Related: These Cars Are the Most Likely to Surpass 200,000 Miles

Ford Bronco
The Ford Motor Company

It Rides the F-Series’ Coattails

The transition to F-Series adaptation was a brilliant long-game move by Ford that served Bronco lovers well. Generation 3 saw a switch from the F-100 to the F-150, America’s perennially bestselling truck — and as the F-Series got upgrades, so, too, did the Bronco. When the fourth-generation Bronco arrived in 1987, for example, the F-Series got a bevy of upgrades including rear antilock brakes, a more aerodynamic body, and electronic fuel injection. The Bronco got the same.

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Ford Bronco
Ford Bronco by Greg Gjerdingen (CC BY)

That Famous Rear Window

The move to the F-Series wasn’t the only model-defining upgrade born from the short-lived but important second-generation Bronco. That iteration came with what would become one of the Bronco’s most famous defining characteristics: a rear window that lowered into the vehicle’s third door.

Michigan Assembly Plant
Michigan Assembly Plant by Dwight Burdette (CC BY)
1979 Bronco Popemobile Rendering
The Ford Motor Company

It Put You in Company With the Pope

When Pope John Paul II visited Chicago in 1979, Ford was tasked with creating a Popemobile based on the Bronco platform. The Vatican approved the design, which was Wimbledon White on the outside and Wedgewood Blue inside, and toured America’s largest cities in the open back of a custom Bronco. Ford still keeps the original renderings in its archives.

1986 Ford Bronco Eddie Bauer
1986 Ford Bronco Eddie Bauer by Joost J. Bakker (CC BY)
A 1989 Centurion Classic; a Ford F-350 crew cab mated with rear bodywork of a Bronco
A 1989 Centurion Classic; a Ford F-350 crew cab mated with rear bodywork of a Bronco by Mr.choppers (CC BY-SA)

Two Words: Centurion Classic

Long before the Escalade, Ford pioneered the full-size luxury SUV segment with the massive Centurion Classic. The two-door, three-row Bronco came with a standard V8 that eventually offered an engine option as large as 7.5 liters. It paved the way for the sometimes colossal modern luxury SUVs, thanks to standout features such as a CB radio, a cooler, a TV … and VHS.

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White Ford Bronco
Wikimedia Commons

The OJ Thing

Anyone who drives a white fifth-generation Ford Bronco is going to get O.J. comments. Although it’s not a point of pride, exactly, the notorious 1994 low-speed chase between O.J. Simpson and half the cops in the world instantly made the otherwise nondescript white Bronco the most famous vehicle on Earth. Apparently out of pure coincidence, Ford originally scheduled the 2020 unveiling of the sixth-generation Bronco for July 9 — Simpson’s birthday. Ford quickly moved the date.

Related: 25 of the Biggest Product Launch Disasters Ever

2021 Ford Bronco
The Ford Motor Company

It’s Back

Loyal Bronco lovers can now speak the four words that have eluded them since the last vehicle rolled off a Michigan assembly line on June 12, 1996: the Bronco is back. The2021 generation six models are available to reserve, with production set to begin in spring. It starts at $28,500, it’s available in two doors or four, it comes with the option of two different EcoBoost turbo engines — and it has sparked intense anticipation. Car and Driver, for example, called it “everything you hoped for” and “Jeep Wrangler’s worst nightmare.” The top is removable, so are the doors, and, following the long Bronco tradition, it’s built for the trails with road comfort in mind.