Return of the Bronco II? What We Can Learn from the Original "Baby Bronco" of the '80s
As we continue to wait for Ford to spill the beans about the upcoming 2020 (or is that 2021 now?) Bronco, there has also been a lot of speculation about the smaller off-road oriented SUV that Ford also has in the works.
This smaller SUV has yet to be named, some have already began calling it the “Baby Bronco,” and while we aren’t sure if the smaller SUV will actually have “Bronco” in its name, it wouldn’t be the first time Ford offered two Bronco-badged vehicles in its lineup.
Looking back to the mid 1980s Ford was selling the standard Bronco which was based on a shortened F-Series pickup chassis and came powered either by an inline six engine or more commonly one of Ford's small block V8s. For the 1984 model year Ford wanted to expand its lineup of SUVs to include something in the spirit of the Bronco but in a smaller package with a more affordable price tag.
And thus the Bronco II was born. It was based on the Ranger minitruck which itself had been introduced for the 1982 model year and came only in a two-door body style. A V6 engine was standard as was four-wheel drive.
A few minor changes were made during the course of the Bronco II's production run, including the addition of a base two-wheel drive model in 1986 and even a short-lived and extremely rare 2.3 liter Mitsubishi turbodiesel engine option.
While it didn't turn out to be game changer, the Bronco II was an adept small 4x4 that delivered that was easier to use around town while being cheaper to purchase and own when compared to its full-size counterpart.
In some ways, the Bronco II was almost too small, and its lack of space and seating was one of the areas where it fell behind two of the SUVs it competed against, the Chevrolet S-10 Blazer and the Jeep Cherokee.
The Bronco II wasn't without controversy either, as during the late '80s and early '90s it developed a reputation for being extra prone to rollovers. While the argument could be made that it's a simple matter of physics with any small, high-riding SUV the rollover controversy came at great cost to Ford both through legal proceedings and to brand damage.
In the end the Bronco II was relegated to a short short run not just because of its rollover risk but because of the coming Ford Explorer in 1990. While the Explorer shared some traits with the Bronco II, including Ranger underpinnings it was a larger and more practical vehicle than the Bronco II with a four-door body style that made it much better suited for family use.
While the Bronco II would go on to be a footnote in Ford's SUV history, the Explorer would become one of the most important vehicles the company ever built and one that helped launch the modern SUV movement as we know it.
These days, running Bronco IIs in good shape are few and far between on the roads, but with the increased appreciation for 1980s vehicles we can see the Bronco II being a cool time capsule that won't break the bank.
Interestingly enough, decades later the Explorer has moved from a FWD-based a car platform back to a RWD platform. The new Bronco will be sharing it’s underpinnings with a Ranger pickup and be available in a two-door body style. So the Bronco II connection is not without warrant, and that's before you even get to the upcoming "Baby Bronco."
If we were betting, we’d say the “big” Bronco will be be a rugged, retro-inspired version of the Ranger platform while the Baby Bronco will use a transverse setup and have an overall feel similar to the Jeep Renegade, which is a surprisingly capable off-roader in its Trailhawk form. It will be a very different vehicle than the 1980s Bronco II, but it may end up being cut from the same cloth.
With the American auto show season kicking off soon, hopefully it won’t be much longer before we finally have some official details on both the big and small Broncos.
Until then, you can check out our preview of what to expect from the new Bronco when it finally arrives.