CC Capsule: Ford Bronco II Eddie Bauer- The Bucking Broncette

(first posted 2/5/2018)    I’ve already written a full CC/Auto-Biography on the new 1984 Bronco II we had for about six months, so I’m going to go lightly on the text here. But I couldn’t resist shooting this one, as like so many other cars, they’re getting rather scarce. Quite so, actually. And this nice Eddie Bauer edition has been well-preserved right down to the original wheels. So many of these were given to a lower calling, as mud-stompers and such.

But there’s also another reason: these had a frightening tendency to roll, and some insurers like Geico refused to insure them.

We’ve covered it in our CC, but needless to say, a short 94″ wheelbase, a tall body on a high frame, and a swing-axle front suspension made for something less than stellar stability. And you think the Explorer had a tendency to roll?

Rather than do the high-school thing and try to re-write it in my own words, I’m just going to quote Wikipedia on the subject, which has a number of citations too:

Stability problems with Bronco II were noted during the design phase in 1981, as well as in the verification tests.[1] For example, the J-turn test was canceled during the testing procedures by Ford officials “out of fear of killing or injuring one of its own drivers.”[4] Engineering modifications were suggested, but Ford officials declined the modifications because they would have delayed the marketing of the new vehicles.[4] Eight months before production began, Ford’s Office of General Counsel collected 113 documents concerning the new vehicle’s handling problems.[1] However, 53 of these test, simulation, and related reports about stability of the Bronco II “disappeared” in an “unusual document handling procedure” that forebode the lawsuits against Ford starting in the late-1980s.[1]

The Bronco II was dogged by reports that it was prone to rollovers.[5] Some of the headlines in 1989-90 included “NHTSA Investigates Bronco II Rollovers,” Automotive News (March 20, 1989) “Magazine Gives Ford’s Bronco II ‘Avoid’ Rating,” The Wall Street Journal (May 8, 1989), and “Consumer Reports Criticizes Ford Bronco II’s Handling,” The Washington Post (May 18, 1989).

After analysis of SUV crashes of the Suzuki Samurai, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened a formal study of the Ford Bronco II in 1989.[6] There were 43 Bronco II rollover fatalities in 1987, compared with eight for the Samurai, but accident data in four states showed the Bronco II’s rollover rate was similar to that of other SUVs, so the investigation was closed. NHTSA declined to reopen the investigation in 1997 after more Bronco II crashes.[7]

It was estimated that 260 people had died in Bronco II rollover crashes, a rate that is several times more than in any similar vehicle according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.[8] By 1995, Ford had paid $113 million to settle 334 injury and wrongful death lawsuits.[9] A class-action settlement with owners of its controversial Bronco II provided “new safety warnings and up to $200 for repairs and modifications.”[9] Ford ended production of the Bronco II in 1990, but “always contended that rollovers are overwhelmingly caused by bad driving or unsafe modifications to the vehicle.”[8]

Individual lawsuit examples include famed jockey Bill Shoemaker, that awarded him one million dollars. Shoemaker was paralyzed from the neck down after rolling his Bronco II in California in 1991 while intoxicated.[10] Thereafter, he was confined to a wheelchair. The largest award involving the Bronco II up to 1995 was a $62.4 million verdict for two passengers, one of whom who received brain injuries and left her in need of a legal guardian, after the 1986 model in which they were riding rolled over.[11]

Automobile insurer GEICO stopped writing insurance policies for the Bronco II.[11] By 2001, Time magazine reported that the “notorious bucking Bronco II” rollover lawsuits had “cost the company approximately $2.4 billion in damage settlements.”[13]

Not exactly a pretty picture.

But the interior was pretty, for the times. The Bronco’s was decidedly nicer-trimmed than the Cherokee which replaced it. But the Cherokee felt like a Ferrari compared to the Bronco II, in terms of handling and stability. Amazing difference.

I got used to ours, and knew what its limits were. But it really was a remarkably tippy thing’ I’ll never forget my first drive in it, picking it up from the dealer. Who let this thing out on the streets? Well, now we know. And our SUVs today handle like F1 cars in comparison.