The Bronco Story

Ford made a big point about the Bronco being a ton of fun at it’s introduction – but did that stimulate sales?

How Did the Ford Bronco Become Such a Legend? Was it Sales? Marketing? Racing? What? 

First and foremost, let’s dispel one Urban Legend – it wasn’t sales.  Ford never sold more than 25,000 Broncos per year from 1966 through 1977. Compare that to Mustang or even the lowly Maverick, introduced in the same era and you’re looking at a pretty dismal picture. In fact, Bronco didn’t take off until it was reintroduced in 1978 as a shortened F-100 Pickup.

Was it marketing? We don’t think that was the case either. Ford’s advertising campaign kicked off with lots of publicity and plenty of print ads in 1965-1966. See 1966 Ford Bronco Print Ads.  But that campaign quickly petered off until by 1970, the Bronco was only being featured as part of companion ads with other Ford trucks. It is surprising that Ford didn’t pump more dollars into the original campaign and keep it going throughout the first version;s life. In our opinion, combining the Bronco advertisements with other trucks took the excitement of off-roading away – something ford would recognize and correct with version 2 of the vehicle.

Was it racing? Good deal here, it was very successful in this venue. For example, the Bronco won four of the five Baja 1000 races from 1968-72! It might have made Bronco a household name – and Ford did tout it – but not as much as you might expect.  And off-road fans were smart enough to know that those winning Broncos were a far cry from the run of the mill offerings.

Ford did attempt t offer a version similar to the race-winning cars. In 1971, a “Baja Bronco” package was sold, featuring quick-ratio power steering, automatic transmission, fender flares covering special Gates “Commando” tires, a roll bar, reinforced bumpers, a padded steering wheel, and distinctive red, white, blue, and black paint. It was priced at $5,566 ($41,800 today). This was versus the standard V-8 Bronco at $3,665. It’s easy to see why only 650 were sold over the next four years.

Frankly, Bronco was not much of a sales success, and though off-roading was taking off during that period, the Chevrolet K-5 Blazer, introduced in 1969, stayed even and started to pull away after 1971, outselling Bronco by two to one from then on.

Our opinion is that while the racing made the vehicle a “legend”, it was more of a mind-set than a manufacturing victory. Frankly, we also think that Ford dropped the ball on capturing this rising marketplace – mostly due to not quite understanding what the market wanted, and some of the ambivalence on what they were selling –  Was it a fun car set up to go anywhere? Or was it an inexpensive utilitarian truck that could do a host of things in a bunch of venues?

For example, while the Marketing people at J Walter Thompson were putting out ads showing how much fun the vehicle could be at its 1965-66 introduction, the Bronco brochure released by the Ford Truck Division showed it as a mini utilitarian truck.  Imagine the excitement among younger people seeing the Bronco ads, then rushing to the showroom and receiving  a dull, colorless brochure touting its utilitarian use. Who was supposed to buy it?

Another factor was what model the marketing people thought was the “fun” version – the Roadster.  The problem with that was that its open construction and lack of doors in the base version, quickly exposed it as a somewhat dangerous vehicle.  Sales never took off, and by 1969, it was dropped. After that, advertising spoke to the Bronco’s utility as a mini-truck for camping and . . . snow plowing? OK, where’s the fun version?

We can beat this to death, but what we’re really trying to say was that by the time the market matured in 1973, the Bronco was poorly advertised and already an anachronism – and that’s why Blazer started killing it in sales. Chevrolet’s formula – to take their pickup, shorten it up, and push it as being off-road capable with all the truck features – power steering, even air conditioning – captured the proper audience.  From this point until 1978, Bronco was now viewed as a stripped down mini-truck – and the market for such a vehicle was just too small.

Ford did react, and by 1978, the new Bronco was released. It copied the now successful Blazer approach by riding on a shortened pickup chassis, but still offered 4-wheel drive off-roading capabilities, but all the creature comforts expected in cars of the period. Utility and practicality was left to the F-100 and F-150 to sell. Bronco was suddenly competitive with the Blazer and sales showed it,  outselling the Chevrolet vehicle in 1979.

In our opinion, it is the Gen 2 Bronco that established the legend. It was here, with sales over 60,000 units per year, with exciting advertising and many models offered, that the Bronco became identified with fun and off-roading.

And looking at the newly released versions, we’d have to say that while this vehicle tries to capture the original styling and options of the original Bronco, it emulates the formula, albeit the 21st century interpretation, of the 1978 Bronco. We’re glad that Ford chose to emulate the “image” of the 1966-77 version, because, regardless of the sales success of that version – it established off road fun and utility as a part of our social landscape.

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