Not Ford's First Rodeo: The 2004 Retro Bronco that Never Happened
As speculation and excitement about the upcoming 2020 Ford Bronco reaches fever pitch, it's easy to forget that this isn't the first time Ford has considered reviving the Bronco as a boxy, retro-styled 4x4 machine. And as we anxiously await and speculate on the details of the new Bronco, this 15-year old concept machine could potentially provide some additional clues.
The story of this take on a reborn Bronco goes back to 2004 at that year's North American International Auto Show. Traveling back in time and a decade in half, you'll find that Ford was all in on retro style. Not only was its unabashedly throwback Ford GT getting tons of attention, the dramatically re-designed and heritage inspired 2005 Mustang was about to hit the market as well.
With the 2004 Bronco Concept, the idea was to take that same retro flavor and apply it to Ford's SUV line, reviving the popular 4x4 that was last sold in 1996. As you can clearly see from the shape, the 2004 Bronco was heavily inspired by the iconic first generation model of the '60s and '70s.
As with the Ford GT of the same era, the Bronco Concept fully embraced the '60s style, not just in its exterior styling but also in its attractive and minimalist interior and instrumentation. Drawing heavily from the blue collar, yet fashionable appeal of the first gen Bronco, it captured the same things which have made original Broncos extremely popular among builders and restorers today.
Going back to the pre-EcoBoost era you may have expected this version of the Bronco to be powered by one of the modular V8 engines from Ford's fullsize trucks, but the 2004 Bronco Concept was actually powered by a European market 2.0 turbodiesel engine.
Not only did the turbodiesel feature an overboost function, it also had a nitrous oxide system for an even larger power boost. The transmission was a six-speed PowerShift dual clutch automatic and its "intelligent" 4x4 system featured a number of once high tech features that are commonplace 15 years later.
Other cool elements of the concept included large round headlamps, an integrated winch in the front bumper and a removable rear roof section just as the original Bronco had. Whether things like that could have ever been approved for production is another question altogether.
While most old concept cars end up looking quite dated, especially the ones that never made it to production—that's not really the case with the 2004 Bronco Concept. Thanks to its "ageless" retro influence it looks almost as fresh today as it did 15 years ago. This is not unlike the aforementioned mid 2000s Ford GT which still looks great today as well.
As we know now, this version of the Bronco never became a reality with any number of factors responsible for Ford's decision including the end of the first SUV boom, rising fuel prices and the economic recession of the late 2000s.
But it seems that the idea itself never died, and a fully confirmed Bronco will be on sale and available within the next year. How similar the 2020 Bronco is to this 2004 concept vehicle remains to be seen, but at the very least it's an interesting "what if" and and relevant food note to the history of the beloved Bronco nameplate.
Sticking with the new Bronco, don't forget to check out our story on some of the things to expect from the new 2020 version when it arrives.