The History of the Ford Bronco

Like most things adorned with our iconic blue logo, the classic Ford Bronco was born out of necessity and built with grit. That first iteration was the granddaddy of sport utility vehicles — the first of its kind and the inspiration for countless imitations over the decades.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly 60 years since the original Ford Broncos rolled off the assembly lines in Michigan, and the 2022 model is being manufactured as we speak. But make no mistake: This is not your grandfather’s Ford Bronco. Today’s version has more than a few standard and optional amenities that owners of the first Bronco never could have dreamed of — such as multi-mode Terrain Management Systems, heated seats, removable doors, and push-button starts — but the idea remains the same.

A Brief Ford Bronco History

The inspiration for the first Ford Bronco was ignited during World War II. The Ford Motor Co. was one of three manufacturers that produced jeeps for the wartime effort — more than a quarter-million made, all told — and returning soldiers snatched up surplus jeeps built by Ford due to their superior quality and rugged outdoors capabilities. Ford happily obliged but realized a better utility vehicle with a more comfortable design for passengers could be built to take advantage of America’s rapidly improving highway system — and rapidly expanding population.

Still, it took quite a while for Ford to make the leap from military-issue jeeps to consumer-ready sport utility vehicles. During the tail end of the 1950s and first part of the 1960s, Ford designed and built what was called the MUTT (short for Military Unit Tactical Truck), which was a troop utility vehicle that (unlike its jeep predecessor) featured an independent suspension and unibody construction. MUTTs were in military commission from 1960 until production ended in 1982, although they continued to be used in action until as late as 1997.

While cranking out production of MUTTs for the U.S. Army, Ford began gathering feedback from Jeep and International Harvester Scout owners about their experiences behind the wheel: What did they like? What needed to be improved? An internal memo from July 1963 states that both vehicles had “poor comfort, ride, noise and vibration qualities” and that the machines lacked the size and power that drivers desired. Ford realized it had a big opportunity to tap into an underserved, underwhelmed market, and the gears were set into motion for the first Ford Bronco.

What Year Did the First Bronco Come Out?

The first Bronco was released in 1965 as a 1966 model. Early sketches look a lot like today’s Bronco: A simple box-shaped body with familiar round headlights and two doors. The design is especially noteworthy because it was created by McKinley Thompson, the first African American designer ever employed by Ford Motor Co. Those preliminary sketches underwent revisions and modifications for the better part of a year

“It’s neither a conventional car nor a truck, but as a vehicle which combines the best of both worlds,” said Ford project manager Don Frey, who is most famously known for bringing the Mustang to life. “It can serve as a family sedan, as sports roadster, as snowplow, or as a farm or civil defense vehicle. It has been designed to go nearly anywhere and do nearly anything.”

The 2021 Bronco comes in a variety of body styles to meet the various needs of consumers and enthusiasts, much like the first Bronco made. That original Ford Bronco came in three builds: an open-air Roadster, a sport utility option with a pickup bed, and a wagon that featured a full top and tailgate. The Roadster was the cheapest, but the wagon was the most popular, with two rows of seating to accommodate up to five passengers.

All three came outfitted with standard four-wheel drive, a three-speed manual transmission, and a six-cylinder engine that produced a respectable 105 horsepower. Later, buyers could select a V8 engine upgrade that added considerable oomph. The legend was officially born.

More Ford Bronco Generations

The Ford Bronco didn’t undergo many changes until 1973, when power steering and automatic transmissions were introduced. From there, Ford made regular modifications over the years to stay relevant among the ever-changing automotive enthusiast. In 1978, the Bronco was completely redesigned to provide 4×4 lovers a superior off-road vehicle that performed just as well on the highway, complete with a longer, wider body (modeled on the F-Series frame) to enhance passenger comfort.

That model year marked the first time the Bronco offered two V8 engine options but no V6 counterparts, as well as AM/FM radios and air conditioning as optional features. From 1980 to 1986, the Bronco became more compact — lighter, more aerodynamic, and more fuel-efficient — largely in response to oil market disruptions that saw gas prices soaring to unpredictable heights.

An even smaller version, known as the Bronco II, was unveiled in March 1983 and based on the Ford Ranger platform. The Ford Bronco II was discontinued in 1990 to make way for the new Ford Explorer, and the Bronco itself ceased production in 1996 as American automotive tastes began favoring larger SUVs with more cargo and passenger room. The four-door Expedition replaced the two-door Bronco after a 31-year run that saw Ford produce nearly 1.15 million Broncos.

The New Ford Bronco Years: Back in the Saddle Again

Sooner or later, however, everything old is new again. Auto enthusiasts were elated in 2017 when Ford announced it would be bringing back the iconic Bronco into production. That long-awaited return took a while to materialize, but it’s been worth it — the 2021 Bronco is a stunning piece of machinery and an ode to its historic past, with a roster of styles inspired by specific adventures and more jaw-dropping features than ever before.

The best way to experience the rush of the Ford Bronco is in person. How about a test drive? Schedule one online, or come on into Chaparral Ford in Denton today and hop in.