Evolution of the First Generation Bronco: 1966 to 1977
The Ford Bronco is a legendary sport-utility vehicle that has a rich history and a loyal following. Originally designed to compete with the popular Jeep and International Harvester models, the Bronco quickly gained a reputation for its off-road capabilities, rugged design, and versatility. Over the years, the Bronco has undergone numerous changes and updates, but it has always remained true to its roots as a go-anywhere, do-anything vehicle. Let's take a brief closer look at the history of the first generation Bronco and explore its features and changes throughout its 12 year run.
When the Ford Bronco was first introduced in 1966, it was clear that Ford was hungry for a piece of the sport-utility pie. Jeep and International Harvester were enjoying great success with their CJ-5 and Scout 80 models, which together sold over 30,000 units a year. Ford product manager Donald Frey and Lee Iacocca wanted to compete in this market, and they tasked Ford engineer Paul Axelrad with the design of the prototype Broncos.
The Bronco was available in three different body styles starting that first year. The first, the Bronco Roadster, which had no roof and unique dog-leg style door openings. The roadster also did not have doors, which may have made it an excellent choice for off-road enthusiasts. The second body style was the Bronco Sports Utility pickup, which had a full square door opening and a half-cab roof. The pickup's cargo area was separated by a metal bulkhead, which provided a small bed that was separate from the passenger compartment. This feature made it an excellent option for anyone who needed to carry gear or equipment. The third body style was the Bronco Wagon, which had a roof that enclosed both cargo and passenger areas. The wagon was equipped with full doors, a standard bench seat, optional bucket seats, and an optional rear bench seat. This made it an excellent choice for families or anyone who needed to transport a larger group of people. With its versatile body styles, the 1966 Ford Bronco was able to meet the needs of a wide range of drivers.
The Bronco quickly proved to be a major improvement over its competitors in several key areas. Its 92-inch wheelbase was shorter than both the CJ-5 and Scout 80, which allowed it to achieve a 33.6-foot turning radius – three feet smaller than the CJ-5 and 9.5(!) feet smaller than the Scout 80. The Bronco also boasted a much more sophisticated "Mono-Beam" front suspension with coil springs and radius rods, which provided a smoother ride and more effective wheel turning. Its track was four inches wider than the Jeep, and it had better brakes with 11-inch drums up front and 10-inch drums in the rear. The only engine available in the first Bronco was the 102-hp 170-cu-in six cylinder, which was a significant upgrade over the Jeep's four-cylinder engine.
In addition to its mechanical features, the Bronco was also comparably well-appointed inside. The package included doors with roll-up windows and a frame for the glass, which was a big advantage over the Jeep, which lacked doors unless you bought them from the aftermarket. The Bronco also came with standard items like vacuum operated wipers, windshield washers, turn signals, a padded dash, and seat belts. Another one of the Bronco's advantages over the Jeep was its full-width tailgate, which had a center latch for one-handed operation and a full, 56-inch wide tailgate opening. Ford built 23,776 Broncos in the first year of production.
The Bronco received limited changes in 1967, which included the addition of self-adjusting brakes, padded sun visors were made standard, and the T-bar shifter lost the positive lock knob. The Bronco was equipped with a dual-reservoir master cylinder for the brakes, and mandated backup lights as a standard safety feature, in anticipation of the rollout of new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
Additional options were added, such as an 11.5-gallon auxiliary fuel tank, which had the filler neck on the same side as the main tank, and option packages for all body styles, which included dual armrests, chrome bumpers, chrome grille, and chrome light bezels. Ford introduced the Sport option package for the wagon. Ford built 14,230 Broncos for the 1967 model year.
A few mechanical and design revisions marked the 1968 model year. The oil-bath air filter was replaced with a new replaceable, dry air filter. Free-wheeling lockout hubs became standard. A new swing-away spare tire carrier was added to the option list, which freed up a significant amount of space in the cargo area. The disappearing button on the transfer case T-handle made a reappearance. Interior door handles were revised from a pull-up style to a recessed flipper and new side marker lights with amber lenses were incorporated on the lower front fenders. Another new option was a swing-away spare tire carrier. Ford built 16,629 Broncos this year.
The Bronco saw some important changes in 1969, starting with the elimination of the Roadster body style. Despite its low base price, the Roadster was not a popular choice among customers, who preferred the full cab. To improve passenger comfort, the body structure was reinforced to keep out water and dust. The vacuum operated wipers were upgraded to a two-speed electric motor. The placement of the new wiper motor interfered with the location of the latches for the fold-down windscreen, and they were eliminated. Red marker lights were added to the rear fenders as well.
The 289 was replaced with the 302 V-8, with a small jump in horsepower (to 205 hp) larger increase in torque from 282 to 300 lb-ft. V-8 equipped Broncos received a "302 V-8" badge on the front fenders. The 1969 brochure shows red rear marker lights on the rear fender and that color availability jumped to 15. Ford produced 20,956 units for 1969.
1970: The Bronco underwent significant changes in 1970, including the introduction of the Sport as a freestanding model instead of an option package, and was available on both the Bronco wagon and the pickup. Both the front and rear side marker lamps were relocated higher on the fenders for better visibility. The capacity of both gas tanks was decreased: down to 12.7 gallons for the main tank and 10.3 gallons for the front auxiliary tank. Ford built 18,450 Broncos for 1970.
A significant change for the 1971 model year was the introduction of the Dana 44 front axle. This was a major upgrade from the Dana 30 that had been used on the Bronco from 1966 to 1970. The Dana 44 was known for its strength and durability, and it was better suited to handle the rigors of off-road driving. This change made the Bronco even more capable and helped solidify its reputation as a serious off-road machine.
The Bronco entered a new era with the introduction of the special edition Stroppe Baja Bronco. This special edition was produced in collaboration with racer Bill Stroppe and was designed to take on the grueling Baja 500 and 1000 races. Only about 650 Stroppe Baja Broncos were sold from 1971 to 1974, making them highly coveted by collectors today. The trucks came with a Poppy Red and Wimbledon White paint scheme, a hardtop with a Bright Blue Metallic roof, and a Satin Black hood to reduce glare. The trucks also received as standard equipment a rear seat, a swing-away tire carrier, heavy-duty cooling and suspension, a unique exhaust, and an extra fuel tank.
In addition to these enhancements, the Stroppe Baja Bronco boasted several other unique modifications, including trimmed fenders with riveted fender flares to clear the 15 x 8.5 painted steel wheels and off-road tires (chrome steel wheels were also an option). Baja Broncos also received dual shocks at all four corners, a roll bar, a trailer hitch, and a unique spare tire cover and steering wheel. Additionally, both power steering and an automatic transmission were part of the Baja package, neither of which were available on the standard Bronco. A specially cast tail shaft housing was required to mate with the transfer case, and the Baja Broncos had a GM Saginaw steering box with a custom Stroppe designed bracket. The Baja Bronco was the ultimate off-road machine, and it helped establish the Bronco's reputation as a serious contender in the world of off-roading
Ford produced a total of 19,784 Broncos for the 1971 model year.
The Ranger option package was introduced, which among other standard features, included carpet for the first time as a factory option! Production reached 21,115 units in 1972, the largest amount since the 1966 model year.
The Bronco received major upgrades for 1973, as the C4 automatic transmission and power steering were added to the options list for the V-8. These changes were accompanied by the introduction of a more powerful 200-cu-in six-cylinder engine. The C4 transmission was fully synchronized and was designed to shift smoothly, making it a perfect fit for the Bronco. The power steering option made it easier to handle the vehicle, especially in tight spaces and off-road terrain. With these upgrades, the Bronco was better equipped than ever to take on the toughest conditions. In an effort to streamline production and better meet customer demands, the pickup model was discontinued for the 1973 model year. Ford produced 21,894 1973 model year units.
While the changes made to the Bronco for the 1974 model year were largely cosmetic, they still served to enhance the vehicle's overall appeal. Most notably, Broncos with automatic transmissions now featured a lighted gear indicator, making it easier to keep track of which gear the vehicle was in. These small touches added to the overall functionality of the Bronco and helped to keep it competitive in the ever-evolving SUV market. Unfortunately, front limited-slip differential was removed from the option list, as well as the 4.11 gear ratio. the Bronco production for 1974: 25,824 units.
The 1975 model year marked a significant shift for the Bronco, as the six-cylinder engine was eliminated, leaving the 302 V-8 with a two-barrel carb as the only engine option. While this change limited some of the vehicle's versatility, the new engine provided improved performance and increased horsepower. The 302 V-8 was also equipped with a catalytic converter, making it one of the first vehicles to meet new emissions standards. 13,125 Broncos were produced for the 1975 model year.
In 1976, the Bronco received some significant updates that made it an even better option for off-road enthusiasts. The brakes were improved, with the front drum brakes replaced with discs and 11x2.25 inch drums in the rear, and a variable ratio parking brake was added. The power steering box was also updated, quickening the steering from 5.3 turns to 3.8 turns lock-to-lock. The option list grew to include a stabilizer bar, heavy-duty shocks, and a Special Décor Group that included a flat black grille, tape stripes, and bright windshield molding. These updates made the Bronco an even more capable and attractive option for SUV buyers. Production received a small bump from the prior year, with 15,256 units produced.
The final year of production for the first-generation Bronco saw some additional updates and changes. Fuel filler doors replaced the fuel caps, and the rear differential housing was revised for extra strength. Additionally, power brakes were added to the option list for the first time. In the final year of production, Ford produced 14,546 Broncos.
The first-generation Bronco has had a lasting legacy, with many of its features and design elements still influencing modern SUVs today. Its shorter wheelbase, wider track, and advanced suspension system set a new standard for off-road performance, and its rugged yet comfortable interior became a model for future SUVs.
In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in the Bronco with the introduction of the sixth generation model. Fans of the original Bronco eagerly awaited the return of this iconic vehicle, and the new model has carried on the legacy of the first-generation Bronco. Overall, the Ford Bronco was a game-changer in the world of sport-utility vehicles, and its impact is still felt today. Its combination of off-road capability, comfort, and style set a new standard for the industry, and it remains a beloved vehicle for enthusiasts and collectors alike.
Image Credit: Ford