The Bronco, newly introduced for the 2021 model year, was previously a two-door SUV developed by Ford to appeal mainly to off-road enthusiasts. It competed primarily with the Jeep Wrangler and International Harvester Scout upon debut but later became larger and less comparable to these SUVs. The Bronco was discontinued after the 1996 model year as Ford began to focus on the growing popularity of its four-door SUVs.
However, classic 4x4 enthusiasts have kept the Bronco legacy alive by restoring old Broncos, and parts stores like Bronco Graveyard have cropped up in response to keep owners supplied with Bronco restoration parts like headliners, soft tops, and more.
Before the first generation of the Bronco hit the assembly lines, Ford was making GP 4x4 vehicles for the war effort in World War II. These were known either as Ford GP (General Purpose) vehicles, or GOAT (Goes Over Any Terrain) vehicles. However, the distinctive slotted vertical grille of the period would eventually go on to be the trademark of another famous 4x4 sport utility in the Jeep CJ and Jeep Wrangler. Nevertheless, the go-anywhere simplicity of these wartime SUVs became the basis for the Bronco nameplate.
The first generation of the Bronco debuted for the 1966 model year. Ford President Donald Frey called it a completely new line of sports utility vehicles. The Bronco of this era was designed with a new chassis not shared with any other Ford or Lincoln-Mercury vehicle. As a two-door compact SUV, the Bronco was meant to compete with the Jeep CJ-5, International Harvester Scout, and the Toyota Land Cruiser. In 1973, the Bronco received a major update with the addition of power steering and an automatic transmission. The first generation of Bronco lasted through the 1977 model year.
The second generation of Bronco started in the 1978 model year and only lasted through the 1979 model year. The major change for this era was size. Now using the F-150 chassis and equipped with a Ford big-block engine, the Bronco of this period barely resembled the early models.
The third-generation Bronco started in 1980 and continued where the second generation left off. It was still based on the F-150 chassis, but an inline-six engine was made available, and the 400 cubic inch V8 was discontinued. This Bronco lasted through the 1986 model year. About midway through the third generation, Ford decided to revisit the smaller Bronco by debuting the Bronco II alongside the main Bronco. The first model year was 1984 and it lasted through 1990. The Bronco II would eventually go on to become the Ford Explorer, which became America’s best-selling SUV.
The Bronco II was based on the Ranger chassis at the time and featured a V6 engine as the standard. It was marketed towards men, singles, and young couples with advertising that suggested it was for people who wanted to conquer everything. To this day, people still cruise around in their classic Bronco II, either fully restored to showroom quality or as a G.O.A.T. daily driver designed to take on the world.
Fourth Generation - Bronco II Discontinuation
The Bronco II was discontinued after the 1990 model year to make way for the new Ford Explorer, which had an extended wheelbase, four doors, and was touted as more family-friendly. Meanwhile, the regular Bronco began its fourth generation in the 1987 model year that went until 1991. The same engines from the previous generation were available for this generation. In 1991, at the end of this generation, Ford celebrated 25 years of the Bronco with a limited Silver edition. More upgrades debuted as well, including electronic fuel injection and rear anti-lock brakes.
The fifth and final generation of the Bronco debuted for the 1992 model year and went through the 1996 model year. It carried over the same engines from the previous generation. Thanks to safety upgrades and protocols, Ford also discontinued the removable hardtop for the Bronco. It was still physically possible to remove the Bronco hardtop, but Ford strongly discouraged it, including the installation of tamper-proof Torx bolts. The last Bronco of this era rolled off the assembly line on June 12, 1996. In 1997 Ford introduced the Expedition, which was a four-door SUV also based on the F-150 chassis. Family-friendly SUVs were all the rage, and there was less interest in “less practical” two-door SUVs. The Expedition was Ford’s four-door answer to replace the Bronco.
Over 20 years after the last Bronco was built, Ford announced a return to the nameplate in 2020 for the 2021 model year. The new Bronco is based largely on the original first generation of Bronco and designed to directly compete with the Jeep Wrangler. It’s an off-road-oriented SUV with body-on-frame construction, rugged styling, and a go-anywhere feel. There are several trims to appeal to almost any buyer, including a larger four-door version. The new Bronco features removable doors, windows, and roofs on all body styles. The platform of the new Bronco will also serve as the new platform for the Ford Ranger in upcoming models.