We’re going to get a jumpstart on the anniversary celebrations for one of our most beloved American icons, the Ford Bronco, which made its debut as a 1966 model and thus will be turning 50 in the new year. The Bronco was initially billed as “a new kind of sports car with four-wheel drive,” built to compete mainly with the Jeep CJ, but also the likes of the Land Rover Series II, Toyota Land Cruiser and International Scout. As Hemmings notes, Ford had a long wish list for the new vehicle, including “a removable top, tight turning radius, go-anywhere capability, sledgehammer simplicity” and the ability to add extras like a winch or a snow plow,” as well as “passenger car-like road speed, comfortable seats, a smooth ride and a weather-tight cabin.”
The formula obviously worked as Ford moved more than 22,000 Broncos in its first model year. It was originally offered in three body styles: a wagon, a pickup and a roadster, the last of which was dropped after two years. Popular Science conducted a showdown between the Bronco, Jeep, Land Rover and Land Cruiser with the Bronco coming up trumps despite a certain lack of oomph. “The Bronco is the most versatile vehicle,” automotive editor Jan O. Norby wrote in the May 1969 issue. “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!”
The original early Broncos were produced from 1965–1977 with larger “Big” Broncos coming in from 1978–1996. The latter included the Bronco II built from 1983–1990. Among the rarest models are the special Stroppe/Holman/Moody (SHM) Broncos built to compete in the Mint 400, Baja 500, and Mexican 1000 (later Baja 1000) off-road races in the mid to late ’60s and early ’70s. Our personal favorite is the commemorative red, white and blue ”Baja Bronco” model made from 1971-75. These days Man of the World sells perfectly restored Broncos, our friends at ICON pay homage to it with the awesome ICON BR, and there are even rumors that 2016 could see the return of a new Bronco in time for it’s 50th birthday. We’ll raise a PBR to that.