The Truth Behind the Highly-Debated Demise of the Ford Bronco

By Admin | Posted in Flashback Friday on Friday, September 5th, 2014 at 8:13 am
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Flashback Friday: Ford Bronco

Throughout its lifespan, the Ford Bronco went through a couple of rocky patches, but it was nothing that the off-road capable SUV wasn’t able to handle—it was built to overcome obstacles afterall. The Bronco endured for a total of 30 years, and while production was ultimately ended, the two-door SUV still lives on in our hearts.

From what we’ve found, the reason for the Bronco’s tragic demise is not commonly known, so for this week’s edition of Flashback Friday, we’ve set out to find out what truly happened to the Ford Bronco.

Factors in the Death of the Ford Bronco

We will go into each of these factors more in-depth, but before we begin, it’s worth noting that when it comes to the Ford Bronco, there are three commonly-cited reasons for the death of the SUV. According to Ford only one of these is the true reason that production of the Bronco was ceased, but ask anyone with knowledge of the history of the Bronco and it’s likely that one of the following three factors will be named as the reason that the SUV was dropped from the market.

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The Chevy Blazer

Chevy released the Blazer in response to the Bronco back in the late ‘60s and its larger platform gave it a serious advantage over the smaller, two-door Ford offering.

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Low Sales Numbers

As the market changed and consumers began to gravitate towards the Blazer and other larger SUVs on the market, Ford watched as Bronco sales numbers dwindled.

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O. J. Simpson

When footage of O. J. Simpson evading police in a white Ford Bronco was broadcasted live nationwide, some say that the incident gave the SUV a negative image.

 

The Origins of the Ford Bronco

Back in the early ‘60s, in an effort to combat small four-wheel drive compact SUVs such as the Jeep CJ-5, Product Manager Donald Frey and President Lee Iacocca cooked up plans for an all-new off-road capable SUV. A few months later, initial drawings of what would come to be known as the Bronco emerged.

The design of the Bronco was crafted by engineer Paul G. Axelrad. Although it borrowed part such as the axles and brakes from the Ford F-100, the frame, suspension and body were developed exclusively for the model. When the Bronco first hit the market in 1966, the SUV was available in a wagon, halfcab and roadster configuration, but as the roofless, windowless and doorless roadster only had a limited amount of success, it was replaced with a sport package that later became a completely separate model line.

When it was first released, the Bronco was priced at just under $2,200, but it came with an extensive list of available options that included seemingly mundane features as a tachometer and CB radio, as well as more unusual features such as a winch and posthole digger. For the first three years sales numbers were undoubtedly adequate, but after competition in the class became fierce, Ford was forced to change gears. You can see the progression of the Bronco in the commercials that we have provided below. On the left you can see an original ad for the 1966 Bronco, and on the left is a more modern commercial for the larger Bronco II.
 

 

Ford Bronco vs Chevy Blazer

old-bronco-adChevy’s response to the Bronco didn’t arrive until 1969, and it came in the form of the Chevy Blazer. The automaker didn’t have a small SUV platform at the time, so they borrowed from the underpinning of their already-establish full-size pickup. It was a move that not only saved Chevy money during production, but gave the Blazer a serious advantage over the Bronco.

The larger platform provided the Blazer with more power, space and luxury than the compact Bronco, and the wider appeal soon translated to higher sales numbers. Ford tried to strike back by offering more features within the Bronco, but it wasn’t enough to remain competitive. For that reason, the automaker scrapped the original chassis and moved the two door body onto the chassis of the F-100, a move which caused the Bronco to graduate from the compact to full-size SUV class where it remained for the rest of its life.

Despite the initial change and the changes that took place over the five generations of the Ford Bronco, the Chevy Blazer continued to dominate the segment. Ford made some attempts to switch up the powertrain options and even introduced the first-ever side mirrors with turn signals, but it was clear that the full-size two door SUVs were going out of style. It was a claim backed by the plummeting sales numbers of the Bronco as well as the Blazer.
 

The End of an Era?

In 1996, Ford put the kibosh on the Bronco. The last model rolled off the assembly line on June 12, and to pay tribute to the fallen legend, the final model was escorted by longtime Bronco enthusiast Jeff Trapp’s 1970 halfcab. The model line was ended to make room for the automaker’s newest addition to the lineup at the time, the Ford Expedition.

The fading fad and dwindling sales numbers of the two-door two-row large sport utility vehicles were the main reasons that production on the Bronco was halted, but there are some conspiracy theorists out there that believe otherwise. Another one of the most popular rumors of the Bronco’s demise has a little something to do with O.J. Simpson.

Back in 1994, after the alleged murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, footage of the low-speed chase that ensued between O.J. Simpson and police aired live on television where more than 95 million people watched as Simpson attempted to evade authorities in a white Ford Bronco. The failing SUV was an instant celebrity, but regardless of whether the press was good or bad at the time, Ford has since confirmed that there was no correlation between the chase and the decision to end production of the Bronco.

It has now been nearly 20 years since Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant has seen the Bronco on the production list, but a new Ford Bronco concept unveiled in 2004 provided enthusiasts of the SUV with a glimmer of hope. There hasn’t been any word on whether or not that will ever go into production, but from what we’re gathering, it’s not likely that the model will be anything more than a concept. That’s too bad, as we would love to see the Bronco resurrected—especially if it looks anything remotely close to the conceptual design.

That concludes this week’s edition of Flashback Friday. If you liked what you read and are interested in more posts similar to this, be sure to check out some of our previous posts, which you can find below. If you’ve already exhausted those options, be sure to check back here on the Matt Ford blog next Friday where we will be going over the history of one of the stranger Ford models to ever hit the market: the Ford Ranchero.
 

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