THE FORD BRONCO: It Really WAS Built Tough

Credit: Original article published by Barrett-Jackson.

Written by Eric Becker



The last Ford Bronco rolled off its Wayne, Michigan, assembly line some 24 years ago. Since then, the absence left by Ford’s premier off-roader has been duly noted by Blue Oval fans and off-road enthusiasts. But, with an all-new model currently slated for a 2020 debut, aficionados of the bucking stallion will rejoice, as the Bronco is once again ready to slog through the mud and traverse boulders. The Bronco is back and keen to retake the mantle as Ford’s most capable four-wheel-drive vehicle.

Barrett-Jackson has long been an avid admirer of the FoMoCo’s toughest off-roader. In preparation for the Bronco’s return, we thought it fitting to do a brief dive into the history of an off-road icon – the first-generation Bronco – as well as share some favorites that have found their way across the auction block.

Early Bronco drawing by McKinley Thompson Jr., a Ford designer who helped pen the first-generation Bronco. Thompson was the first African American designer hired at Ford Motor Company after graduating from ArtCenter College of Design in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in transportation design in 1956. (Photo courtesy Ford Media)

In the early 1960s, International Harvesters’ Scout had fulfilled its namesake, and defined an all-new niche market pioneered by the able Jeep CJ5. As a military vehicle adapting to civilian life, the rugged Jeep confronted some notable ergonomic challenges that delimited its broader appeal. The Scout gained notoriety as a more people-friendly evolution of the Jeep theme. Ford’s Division General Manager, Donald Frey, took stern notice of the Scout’s successes, while understanding that the market called for a utilitarian vehicle that offered a modicum of the on-road civility and convenience of a family sedan. Ford’s Bronco helped create an entirely new class of vehicle, the SUV, and powered the retailing of 23,776 units in its first year, 1966. Ford’s early success would go on for an additional 11 years.

Clay model of an early Bronco. (Photo courtesy Ford Media)

Ever the pioneer, and thinking at a portfolio level, Frey’s other project, the Mustang, was nearing its final stages of development. Keen to build upon the equestrian-derived naming convention, Ford billed the Bronco as the Mustang’s four-wheel-drive stablemate.

Work began on the Bronco in 1963 under the banner of the multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) program, receiving the go-ahead from the executive suite in early 1964 and debuting in showrooms in August 1965. Merging the utilitarian with the modern, the first-generation Bronco was available in three body styles: wagon, pickup and ‒ for the 1966 model year only ‒ roadster. Marketed toward the capable outdoorsman, the Bronco was “like a Mustang you can go crazy in the woods with,” noted comedian and legendary gearhead Jay Leno. Ford would ride its success of the first-generation Bronco from 1966 to 1977. More than 220,000 units were eventually produced as the Blue Oval cemented its place in this uniquely American segment.

Promotional photo of a 1966 Ford Bronco. (Photo courtesy Ford Media)

The first-generation Bronco featured a purpose-designed, bespoke ladder-frame chassis from the ground up. The wheelbase measured a spare 92 inches, and all models were equipped with a shift-on-the-fly Dana transfer case to swap between rear- and four-wheel drive. As with any serious off-roader, the Bronco featured locking hubs and solid axles, front and rear. However, the front suspension was rather more sophisticated, using coil springs in place of the more traditional leaf springs. The benefit? More articulation for adventures off the beaten path, a more pliant ride and supple on-road manners.

The 2020 Bronco will likely continue in the style pioneered by Ford, merging form and function. As we await its release, we present below some of the best examples of this first-gen gem that we’ve seen at Barrett-Jackson – starting with a truly stellar Resto-Mod Bronco that will be hitting the digital auction block during our 2020 July Online Only Auction.



Your chance to own this beauty is as simple as registering to bid in the upcoming Barrett-Jackson Online Only Auction, July 6-10, 2020. Built from the ground up for the SEMA Show, this 1976 Bronco is powered by a 5.0-liter Coyote V8 engine topped with a Whipple supercharger. Power is routed through a built 6R80 automatic gearbox sending drive to all four wheels via a twin-stick Atlas transfer case and Currie Pro Iron axles with 4.86 gearing. The Bronco rides on a Roadster Shop RS4R chassis and features a fully independent front suspension with 12 inches of travel and a triangulated trailing arm rear with 13 inches. Like the F-150 Raptor, this Bronco opts for FOX Racing suspension pieces that include 2.5-inch coilovers and twin-bypass shocks, all custom-tuned by FOX Racing. It has Baer 6-piston brakes at all four corners with 15-inch rotors up front and 14-inch in the rear. The 35-inch tires are mounted to custom powder-coated American Racing ATX true beadlock wheels. The Bronco is finished in a custom PPG green paint accented by Special Decor-style striping. The full leather interior features subtle two-tone accents on the seats and several modern amenities. The exterior was reworked as well, with modern styling cues added to make this Bronco stand out from the herd.



This 1974 Bronco was commissioned by NASCAR driver Ryan Blaney and built by Gateway Bronco as a tribute to Ryan’s late grandfather, race car driver Lou Blaney. The Bronco features a Ford Performance Coyote 5.0-liter DOHC V8 engine fitted with a supercharger and paired to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The interior features Porsche leather with houndstooth inserts, German square-weave carpet and an all-custom barnwood bed. For suspension, the Bronco use a custom 4-link set up with Fox racing shocks and Wilwood disc brakes at all four corners. The Bronco rides on billet aluminum wheels shod in Goodyear Wrangler Ultra Terrain tires. Selling for charity, 100% of the sale benefitted the Ryan Blaney Family Foundation – dedicated to combatting Alzheimer’s disease. Bringing the gavel down at $650,000, this Bronco would set the world record as the highest sale in the model’s history.



Taking craftsmanship to new heights is this spectacular one-of-a-kind custom 1977 example. The firewall was raised, welded to windshield frame and smoothed. The rear quarter ends were welded to the quarter-panels to eliminate the factory seams, and the marker lights were removed for a smooth look. The body was finished in PPG Deltron Harley-Davidson Root Beer Brown, which was applied over a black base. The body color is complemented by light tan top and a fully custom matching interior. The Bronco is powered by a new Ford Coyote 5.0-liter V8 engine that breathes through a set of custom exhaust pipes, and power is routed through a Ford 4R70W 4-speed automatic transmission. The gorgeous Bronco crossed the block at the 2020 Scottsdale Auction and brought a final price of $220,000.



This fully frame-off-restored and customized 4×4 Bronco features a unique 4-door design and 6-passenger seating. Power is sourced from a Ford Racing 5.0-liter Coyote V8 crate engine mated to a 6R80 6-speed automatic transmission. The build incorporates an all-steel tub and 3-inch body lift. The interior flooring is coated LINE-X and features maritime-grade Saddle-colored upholstery The custom dashboard keeps with the original classic Bronco styling cues, such as in-dash air vents, OEM-style gauges and an in-dash tachometer, but adds modern conveniences such as air conditioning and keyless push-button start. Finished in Seal Gray, the Bronco has a fully detailed undercarriage painted to match the exterior. An electric master cylinder operates a set of Wilwood brakes at all four corners. The unique 4-door Bronco met a final price of $203,500 at the 2019 Barrett-Jackson Northeast Auction.



Dubbed “Urban Madness,” this 1969 custom Bronco was built for the SEMA Show by RMD Garage and featured on the Velocity network. Power comes from a 302ci V8 engine breathing through Borla throttle-body induction system and a custom exhaust system. A 4-speed manual transmission routes power through a four-wheel drive system turning Monster Wheels clad in 35-inch Toyo Open Country M/T tires. The Bronco features a 6-inch Skyjacker lift and uses 14-inch Wilwood disc brakes for stopping power. The matte exterior is finished in Military Green over a Peanut Butter interior with Dark Shadow Gray accents. The go-anywhere Resto-Mod crossed the block at the 2020 Scottsdale Auction and met a final price of $139,700.

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