Ford's first imprint in the annals of SUV history began with the birth of the Bronco in 1965. This immediate best-seller set the stage for all SUVs that followed. Thirteen years later, a redesigned Bronco more than quadrupled the previous-years sales numbers. This second-generation version featured a longer wheelbase, over 80 sq ft of storage capacity, unparalleled visibility, and rugged 4WD performance. It hit the big-utility market dead center. During its 18-year run the options list was seemingly endless, especially compared to modern offerings. To cover them here would be impossible. However, since the basic platform is remarkably similar from 1980 onward, common characteristics can be addressed.
The essence of the big Bronco was two-doors coupled with 4WD. The base engine/trans configuration in 1980 was the torquey 300-cid six-cylinder available only with a manual transmission. A 5.0L or 5.7L V-8 was optional. In 1993 the 5.0L became the base offering. Fuel injection was introduced in 1985 for the 5.0L and progressed throughout the lineup (the 4.9L in '87 and the 5.8L in 1988).
The vast majority of Broncos left the factory with an automatic transmission, although a manual was standard issue. Four-wheel-drive selection was made via shift lever on the floor. In 1980, Ford went to an independent front suspension for its full-size 4WD-truck line, the first American company to do so. The new Twin Traction Beam setup reduced unsprung weight by over 50 lb and changed handling and driving dynamics. Still the big Bronco could pull a clean u-turn on many suburban streets. With power-assisted steering it had a tight turn radius of less than 37 ft. Many modern smaller SUVs can't claim that.
The rest is a matter of packaging. The Custom was the baseline model. There were many XLS, XLT Lariat, Ranger XLT packages offered to satisfy nearly every need. The Eddie Bauer Edition, first offered in '85, sought to attract the upscale outdoorsy types and included a well-appointed "privacy" interior, unique exterior color scheme and badging, larger tires, and air-conditioning. The rear-compartment cover was removable, given enough time and patience, making it possible to create an open-cab feeling for true outdoor enthusiasts.
While the white Bronco may be the most infamous, there was no lack of styling packages offered. Several appearance packages coordinated exterior and interior schemes in a variety of contrasting colors. The Silver Anniversary Edition in 1991 offered leather seats for the first time, as well as the exclusive use of the Currant Red exterior treatment. An all-black option called the "Nite" package was offered for only a single year in '92 making it an unusual pre-owned find.
While the following for full-size Broncos is strong, the picture isn't all rosy. Gas mileage is in the 13-mpg range under normal driving conditions--meaning each fill-up, up to 32 gal, could exceed $50. With five-person seating and only two doors, check for wear and tear on the front-seat latching mechanisms and slides. The Bronco has one of the highest step-in heights for stock SUVs making accessibility more difficult for smaller persons. This explains the side steps so commonly attached to these vehicles. Other general high-usage mechanical problems are worn front brake rotors, power window motors, and door locks. Most electrical problems reported by owners on discussion forums include faulty gas-gauge readings and a persistent ABS warning light.
Although 1996 marked the last year for the big Bronco, cries for its return are still heard today. Whether that will happen is not for mere mortals to know, but it doesn't change the fact that the full-size Bronco was not only a sales success but a truly utilitarian SUV.