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Year, Make and Model – 1966-’77 Ford Bronco

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Photos by Jim Donnelly.

With rumors afoot about the Ford Bronco’s return, possibly for 2020, we thought it’d be a good time to take a look back at the vehicle that brought that name bucking and kicking into the American automotive lexicon.

The sporty 1966-’77 Bronco is a hot collectible today but when new it was really late to the party. In fact, it took industry wide sales of upwards of 40,000 short-wheelbase 4×4 vehicles per year in the early 1960s before Ford finally recognized that the recreational off-road scene was leaving its Blue Oval in the dust.

Back then Ford surveyed off-roading enthusiasts to find out what they wanted in a sporty trail truck. The results weren’t surprising. In a nutshell, they wanted everything they already loved about their Jeep CJs, Land Rover Series IIAs, Toyota FJ40s or International Scouts: a removable top, a tight turning radius, go-anywhere capability, sledgehammer simplicity and the versatility to add extra implements, like a winch or a snow plow. They also wanted everything that most quarter-tons couldn’t deliver: passenger car-like road speed, comfortable seats, a smooth ride and a weather-tight cabin.

Ford had some wants, too. Mainly, it wanted all of the pieces for this new open-top, off-road rig to come from its existing parts bins. This would not only keep manufacturing costs down, but it would also ensure that breakdowns could easily be handled at your friendly neighborhood Ford dealer’s service department, using components already in stock.

1967 Ford Bronco

To power its new Bronco, Ford initially went with the 105 horsepower, straight-six engine used in Econoline trucks and the Falcon. In March of 1966, the V-8 was introduced as an option.

The Bronco’s carburetor was outfitted with special floats to prevent fuel starvation or flooding during climbs, descents and severe lateral tilts; a heavy-duty fuel pump was used to ensure that fuel delivery wouldn’t be an issue. At the top of the engine, the conventional paper air cleaner was shelved in favor of an oil-bath unit; at the bottom, the oil pan was redesigned to clear the live front axle, and its capacity was raised to six quarts.

Initially, there was but one transmission available: a fully synchronized three-speed manual with a column shift. The option list was short on this purpose-built off-roader, and neither power steering nor power brakes made the cut. The Bronco’s “cushion beam” front end used coil springs with radius arms rather than leaf springs and this gives the first-generation Bronco a more compliant ride both on and off-road. Conventional leaf springs were standard in the rear.

1967 Ford Bronco

At the Bronco’s introduction, Ford offered three body styles: a wagon, a roadster and a pickup. The roadster was dropped after two years, while the pickup lasted for six. While the roadster was sporty, with no roof and no doors, it was impractical. Buyers responded accordingly, preferring three to one to purchase the closed Bronco over the roadster in the first year. In 1967, only 698 roadsters were produced, versus 10,930 closed Bronco wagons. With its half cab, the truck received a similarly lukewarm reception when new, but is beloved by collectors today.

In 1967, Ford started to loosen up a little and offered some shine on its bare-bones Bronco. The new-for-’67 Sport Package added polished headlamp and taillamp bezels, a chrome tailgate handle, red “FORD” lettering in the grille, wheel covers and a host of other shiny trim pieces.

Buyers didn’t swamp showrooms demanding Broncos in 1967, but Ford stayed the course, incorporating some well-placed tweaks for 1968. The slow-selling roadster vanished from the lineup. A dual-circuit master cylinder became standard and electric windshield wipers hit the Bronco’s option sheet for the first time. Inside, there were a host of small improvements, including a redesigned dash and dashpad, new door pulls and inner door panels now color-keyed to the dashpad.

For 1969, the became the optional V-8, replacing the smaller 289. In two-barrel carb trim, and with a Baja gasoline-friendly 9.5:1 compression ratio, the Bronco’s 302 engine checked in with 210hp and 300-lbs.ft. of torque. Popular Science automotive editor Jan O. Norbye declared the Bronco the winner of a five-way shootout that included the International Scout, the Jeep CJ, the Land Rover and the Toyota Land Cruiser.

1967 Ford Bronco

“The Bronco is the most versatile vehicle,” Norbye wrote in the May 1969 issue of Popular Science. “It has the best safety features and handles far better than the Scout. Now if Ford would only give it four-on-the-floor and borrow the Toyota’s power-operated transfer case switches!”

Popular Science didn’t much care for the Bronco’s vacuum windshield wipers and at least some buyers must’ve been surprised at the lack of an automatic transmission among the options. The C4 wouldn’t become available on the regular production Bronco until 1973. Ditto for power steering.

There was a new kid on the open-top off-roader scene in 1969, though: Chevrolet’s K5 Blazer, which would be joined by the GMC Jimmy in 1970. The Blazer was a full-size pickup, minus about a foot of length and a fixed roof. Though the Blazer’s size put it at a disadvantage on tight trails, it also gave it a carrying and towing capacity on par with a half-ton truck, along with a surprisingly smooth ride. The Blazer’s option sheet was dripping with creature comforts that the Bronco wasn’t delivering: power steering, power brakes, air conditioning, an automatic transmission and even a four-speed manual floor shift. The Blazer’s knockout blow was the available 255hp four-barrel V-8, which was an extra-cost option above the optional two-barrel 200hp V-8. The base engine in the Blazer was the 155hp straight-six.

Near the end of the first-generation Bronco’s run in 1976, Chevrolet was selling 74,389 Blazers versus Ford’s 13,625 Broncos. But the competition, which now also included the Dodge Ramcharger and Plymouth Trail Duster, forced Ford to build the best Bronco ever. The 1977 truck is the Bronco Ford should’ve built several years earlier, with standard-issue items like a 9-inch rear, disc brakes, power steering and electric windshield wipers.

For 1978, Ford rolled out an all-new Bronco based on an F150 pickup. This full-size Bronco would continue until 1996, and was made infamous in what surely must be the slowest televised freeway car chase of all time, starring O.J. Simpson.

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