How the Ford Bronco Aged Into An Icon

Tomorrow, Ford will reveal an entirely new line of trucks under the Bronco nameplate. Like their retro-styled predecessors in the Mustang and Thunderbird lines, these will all be styled after their progenitor, in this case the 1966 Bronco. Unlike those plays on instant classics, however, the Bronco won’t be harkening back to a car widely beloved in its day and for decades after. The iconic Bronco as we know it was not always iconic, and its place in the automotive canon was hard-earned.

The Bronco line, seen earlier this week in a commercial before its official reveal, contains three cars, and the target for two is immediately clear from their sihlouettes alone. These are competitors for the very specific market space the Jeep Wrangler currently occupies, effectively the same target the original Bronco had in its sights in 1966.

Unlike the compact CJ-5, Jeep’s predecessor to the Wrangler line that debuted in the mid-1980s, the 1966 Bronco was sizable. While it had Jeep’s offerings in the crosshairs, the Bronco resembled another early Jeep competitor, the International Harvester Scout, far more in both size and shape. This is what gives the early Broncos their iconic combination of a rough-and-tumble, hyper-specialized function and then-modern form, a stylish take on the Jeep concept that adapted the enduring Jeep aesthetic into something immediately recognizable as part of a Ford line that would also include the iconic early fastback Mustang and the massive, aggressive Galaxie.

This combination of style, size, and substantial ability were the Bronco recipe, but Ford’s confidence seemed misplaced. Over eleven years of production, the first-generation Bronco crossed 25,000 sales just once, less than a quarter of what the 1979 Bronco would accomplish in just one year. The Bronco was too rough and too tumble for Ford showrooms of 1966, outflanked on one end by even more industrial off-roaders like the CJ-5 and Toyota’s Land Cruiser and on the other by Jeep’s…

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