(first posted 2/16/2014) As much as the 70s was the era of malaise when it came to cars, it was a much better period for American trucks. The big pickups, particularly Chevys and Fords, were considered some of the best ever made up to that point in time, and in many ways much better than those that followed. This was also the era that brought us the Biggest Bronco ever.
The original Bronco had been a vehicle unique to the Big 3 when it arrived in Ford showrooms for 1966. The original Bronk was aimed not so much at the Jeep CJ as at the International Scout and the Jeepster – vehicles that, with varying success, mated the CJ’s offroad capability with at least some of the creature comforts that most people came to expect by the mid 60s. The first Bronco was certainly the biggest seller of the early attempts to civilize the Jeep. But by the early 70s, the market was moving.
The1969 K5 Blazer was a new concept. Rather than a unique vehicle, Chevrolet simply shortened the existing pickup. This provided a larger, more comfortable vehicle that provided substantial savings in the use of common parts.
Then in 1971, International Harvester introduced the Scout II. A bit smaller than the Blazer, it still made the Bronco seem crude by comparison.
The Blazer’s and Scout’s success was not lost on Ford. The company had a new F series truck in the oven for 1973, and work was begun on a shortened variant to replace the old Bronco, which had gone largely unchanged since 1966. The plan was for a new F series-based Bronco for 1974. However, the 1973 Arab oil embargo and the resulting fuel shortages and price spikes caused Ford to shelve the big Bronco. Instead, the company continued to sell the old one.
By 1976-77, the 1973 “energy crisis” seemed like a distant memory and the big stuff was selling again. The companies had some more efficient designs coming, but they were not quite ready. At Ford, a lighter weight F series was in development for 1980 that would include a Bronco variant. But in the meantime, Ford was doing very well with its current F series, which many Ford truck guys consider the best that Ford ever offered. Ford was also a leader with its then-new E series vans. But the old Bronco was getting its head kicked in by the Blazer and even the Scout. So even though there was only two years left in the model cycle, Ford dusted off the proposed 74 Bronco and introduced it as a 1978.
By the 70s, trucks and vans had moved way beyond the limited market of farmers, ranchers and tradesmen which had been the primary customers of these vehicles through the 60s. By the late 70s, trucks were becoming “lifestyle vehicles”. It should be no wonder that when compared to the bloated, toothless cars of the era, trucks became a mainstream alternative for the young and hip. And finally, Ford offered a Bronco that could not only take you off road, but could do so in air conditioned, power steeringed, power windowed, c b radio jabbering, woodgrained comfort.
It was into this atmosphere that Ford created the Free Wheelin’ Ford Trucks. The Free Wheelin’ option was largely a stripe and graphics package with some blackout trim and unique wheels. Variants of the package adorned pickups, vans and our CC Bronco. Free Wheelin’ and otherwise, the 78 Bronco was a big hit, outselling the 77 little Bronco by a wide margin. Even my Uncle Bob, no offroader he, had an orange and white 78 Bronco.
If we ignore its size and look at sheer capability, the big Bronk is hailed by offroaders as the only full sized Broncos with a solid axle and the torquey 400 cid V8. From 1980 onward (the O. J. Broncos?) the solid differential was replaced by a different design which the die hards consider inferior to the 78-79 models. Add this to the fact that the 78-79 Bronco is based on what many fans of the blue oval consider Ford’s toughest pickup ever, it is no wonder that these have a following. And that they can still be found doing their thing.
When I found the subject of today’s CC, I had no idea how rare it was. It hit me that I had not seen one of the Big Bronks in quite awhile. If I had ever known it, I had forgotten that this vehicle was offered only in 1978 and 79. Paul loves cars with patina, and this Bronk has loads of it. In Indiana, we have another word for patina – rust. But still, it is not bad for its age in this climate. The Free Wheelin’ Bronco strikes me as the hard-partying little brother of the F 250. Even so, this particular unit is still able to get up in the morning and do a full days work.
These big Broncos bring out strong opinions. To some, they are signs of the bloated, oversized 70s that nearly sunk Detroit in the early 80s. To me, though, they represent Ford’s attempt to give us everything we wanted (at least in 1978): size, comfort, looks, durability and genuine go-anywhere capability. That it came with a pop-off rear roof is just a bonus. Actually, as I think about it, did Ford division make anything in 1978 that I would rather have today? A Fairmont wagon comes closest, but isn’t it awfully – well- practical? This car fairly screams “1970s”. Not the Brougham 70s, but the Keep On Truckin’ 70s. So maybe this lifelong midwesterner will add one of these to the list of cars to own before I die. Then waddya say we pick up some beer and head to the beach for some volleyball?
It brings out strong opinions – because, I submit, many of us are torn. It’s strong; it’s attractive; it is – as noted – a variant of one of the most successful pickup series Ford ever ran. The only thing left to ask is…wassit FOR? It’s not very practical as a station wagon. A minivan holds more, much more – people or cargo – with less bulk It’s inconvenient and unsafe as a load-hauling pickup, with the roof insert removed. A four-wheeler is much more agile off-road – even an earlier Bronco or a Jeep is going to be able to make trail easier than the wide F-series Bronco.
But it has its appeal, like a glamor pickup useless to work; or a topless roadster garage queen. Like so many other cars, “practical” isn’t part of the equation. And at this date, it’s part of our history.
Celebrate it. The time to wonder, is when the next outrage appears on the market.
Celebrate it. The time to wonder, is when the next outrage appears on the market.
Nissan Murano convertible?
In other words, a disco 4-wheeler. Sort of the Pacer of the genre.
Wassit for? Minivans are more practical? Your WIFE is supposed to drive the minivan! The man of the house drives this manly Bronco. He is a hunter, or a boater, he tows frequently, and he needs 4 wheel drive to go along with his shotgun and rifle, so he can survive.
Joking aside, dad fit the target demographic for Broncos, except his was a Bronco II, which he preferred due to greater agility, even if it was a death trap. He didn’t need an open pickup bed as much as enclosed storage because he played more than he worked. He also had a Wrangler hardtop for the same reasons, but given the choice again I bet he’d go with another Bronco just because those Wranglers beat you to death. They’re fun until you have to get on the highway.
My dad was the same way. Machines like this were for playing. While the smaller ones may be better on the trail, sometimes the trail is 300 miles from home. This size is much more civilized on the tarmac, but will get you through all but the most nasty off road stuff.
its called livin the bachelors dream, and while your taking instruction from your wife whose gettin a little heavier every year why dont you tell me whats practical.and do tell what are you drivin?
The original Bronco was one of those cars on my list for my first-ever new vehicle purchase in 1975. I wound up with a 3/4 ton Chevy pickup, but that’s another story already told on here and TTAC.
When these larger models came out, along with the full-sized offerings from Chevy and Dodge and Plymouth, what was the very first turn-off for me? Well, I’ve had this certain “disease” for a very long time – the long side glass with no sliding or opening windows for the rear seat passengers! I’ve always been a “fresh air fiend” and all these vehicles went against my grain. On the K-10 Blazers, there was a sliding window option, but apparently not many were built as I only saw few equipped like that – I’m referring to 1973 and up.
One thing these vehicles did have though – they could pretty much go anywhere and be comfortable about doing it!
After my large pickup gas-hog experience for two years, I never went back to vehicles like this. I like them, but can’t bear paying to feed them. They were special, just the same, though.
I forgot to add that there is a magnificently restored original-style Bronco in town not far from where I live that is orange with black interior. I feel drool forming whenever I see it, but that’s also true for the just-as-gorgeous Scout ll that runs around here, too.
Those Bronco’s do scream “I LOVE THE 70s!”
Even though I was born in 1977 I never saw too many of these around even in farm country where I grew up. I believe it was the rust that got them or they just weren’t that popular with people who could use them for their true capabilities instead of just “possing” as an urban cowboy. (In my little corner of Ohio anyway.) Bronco II’s on the other hand… were all over the freaking place, even into the late 1990s!
My Grandfather had one of the orginals (one of his excentricities of being a GM factory worker who only drove Fords) and he LOVED it. There were days in the winter that if the roads were nasty while he was driving home he would leave the road and start out accross the farm fields in 4×4 mode. (In those days fields would lie fallow in the winter, not like today where there’s likely a crop under that snowbank waiting for spring.)
The legendary Bob Hannah had one of these….
Great find and write-up. It’s the companion to the truck I found about a year ago:
I missed the outtake you did at TTAC – you captured the whole line. You also made the Pinto Cruising Wagon tie-in that I wanted to make – but mine was going a little long and I decided to stick with the “real” trucks. Don’t these just make you want to listen to some Allman Brothers or some Lynard Skynard on an 8 track? OK, maybe not.
“Don’t these just make you want to listen to some Allman Brothers or some Lynard Skynard on an 8 track? OK, maybe not.”
Speaking personal, I never want to hear that so-called “classic rock” ever again! I compare that “music” from what came before as the “fixed rear side windows” of music! Ha!
Really Zackman? I’m 26, and I’d rather listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd than 95 percent of what passes off as music on the radio today. Mind you, the rear side windows on my pinto are fixed, and the ones on my VW Up only pop out an inch or so. haha!
I learned to drive in a 1984 K5 Blazer, and have fond memories of them, and of that type of vehicle, rare as they are becoming. With luggage on the roof and strapped to a small trailer hitch platform, we made a lot of four-person trips from Houston to Colorado and I don’t remember it being too punishing, except for that the smog-strangled 305 was absolutely tortured on mountain grades. It was always fun to go on rides in the spring with the rear half-roof removed.
The Wrangler is now nearly large enough to be this vehicle, but Wranglers will always be of a different concept. The Toyota FJ and Hummer H3 are close – impractical, thirsty, adventurously styled off-roaders but even they don’t have the requisite “truckishness,” which I think has to do with the amount of plastic.
You mention all the other competition except the Dodge Ramcharger? While Ford shelved their fullsize Bronco, Dodge brought out the Ramcharger in 1973. The first gen Ramcharger (1973-80) had the removable roof. The second gen (1981-1993) had a fixed roof. If I recall correctly, the regulations changed to require shoulder belts for the rear seat. Dodge didn’t want to make a rollbar standard equipment to mount the shoulder belt to, and most owners never removed the roof anyhow.
I think Dodge made a mistake in not continuing the Ramcharger into a 3rd generation (except in Mexico) when they redesigned their pickups for 1994. The SUV market was taking off, and their Durango didn’t appear until 1998.
Point well taken on the Ramcharger. In truth, I had forgotten about the 1st generation. My bad. I agree with you that the 94 trucks were just begging for a Ramcharger (and a Suburban fighter, too).
The reason that they stopped the detachable roofs was the problems that dealers had when owners took them off. Doing this was no easy feat, with loads of fasteners to lose and or strip. Seals got pinched, water leaks started. Few owners ever did it anyway, so all the makers stopped making the tops removable.
On the Scouts, it actually involved cutting the weather strip at the A-pillar, when being done for the first time.
I remember about the time the ’94 Dodge trucks came out, reading that the Ramcharger couldn’t be continued for CAFE reasons, though I don’t know how accurate that is.
I’ve always admired these Broncos (and the K5 Blazer, and Ramcharger), although I don’t know that I’d actually want to own one. And the Bronco, particularly in white, occupies a special place in LA car culture, of course. 😉
I test-drove a Plymouth Trail Duster with a buddy one day in October 1977. We drove all over the western counties outside the St. Louis area and racked up a couple hundred miles. The vehicle was used, I don’t recall the year, but we had a good time. The vehicle was one his brother was trying to sell for a friend and gave it to him for the weekend. Being a newlywed, I made sure I got home in time for dinner, too!
My friend didn’t buy the car and my dear wife wasn’t mad at me either – she went shopping!
Dodge did build a Ramcharger from 99-01. Sadly they felt the U.S. had no use for it.
I did mention above that they built a 3rd gen Ramcharger in Mexico. To my knowledge, it was designed in-house by Chrysler of Mexico, and its handling was not particularly good. It also used the rear liftgate door from the Chrysler minivan.
My guess is that the Dodge fullsize pickup redesign for 94 had a tight budget, and there wasn’t enough resources to do the Ramcharger. The extended cab version of the pickup even had to wait til 95.
My ideal (nonexistent) truck would be a 4-door Ramcharger with the 94-2001 styling. Drop it on the 2500 chassis with a Cummins 12-valve up front, and offer it in RWD. If it was available, I would have looked for one of those instead of my 94 RAM2500 Cummins. Wishful thinking.
This tread needs a photo:
There is a great Free Wheelin’ Ford Commercial on Youtube, complete with 70’s country music style jingle…
Get ready for the Free Wheelin’ Fords! Super Trick Ford Machines…
A friend bought this model F100 4WD short WB 351 motor all the fruit it was a great looking truck except off road where it was absolutely useless any real 4WD ie Landrover or Land cruiser left it floundering in fact it slid all over the show following my holden across a steep paddock It didnt seem to matter what tyres were on it or the diff lock worked or not it could not go off the tracks. No doubt hes still got it as the repair bill to keep it running was huge every single mechanical item failed so while the F series might be the be all and end all inthe US outside we expect better performance and reliability.A beer at the beach is just about the limit for these the pickups were ok but as a 4WD get a Landy
The vast majority of these things were pavement queens, Bryce. The worst I ever saw one do was a muddy logging roads. Most guys put fat tires on them like the one featured here and thus the crabbed and wallowed everywhere and they were not cheap. Few new owners wanted to damage them, which really limits you. When I was living in the Rockies lots of guys had 4X4 pickups due to the load capability but since they were mountain men, they knew how vital tires and most had skinny Toyo mud and snow tries. They absolutely howled on pavement at above 80 km/h!
The generation of Bronco that followed this one are fairly popular in Australia. I’m not sure if they were all private imports, but I sure see a lot of them. Usually pimped out with monstrous wheels and tyres. More of a poser-mobile than anything, but damn they have presence! A landy or patrol is a no-brainer over one of these for real off roading.
Broncos were sold by Ford Australia from 81-87, but this model was not brought in.
I’d have to say the Bronco was in a worse place offroad in Australia because there were so few full-size pickups here and the offroad trails would be narrower. A Landcruiser or Nissan Patrol would be much more common.
The Big Bronco was a reaction to the K5 Blazer being a hit throughout the 70’s. The root of SUV mania are these trucks, I think. The Suburban was also climbing the sales charts, but Ford didn’t think they needed a 4 door. 2 doors were still the ‘sporty style’ then.
Gas Crunch of 79-82 brought the ‘baby’ Blazer, Bronco II and Cherokee, but they grew.
My grandparents bought a ’78 Bronco new. It was gold with a cream-colored top. They bought it because they needed four-wheel-drive and something that could take their snow plow — they lived in rural Michigan. But they also needed to haul grandkids around sometimes. Voila, the perfect car.
My grandmother was old school: the man always drove, period. If Grandpa wasn’t around, and certainly after he passed, when I’d go to visit and we’d need to run someplace, she’d hand me her key. I liked driving the Bronco but did find that it tended to wander a little bit and you had to keep correcting steering to keep it straight.
Don love red truck, but Cookie Monster prefer early model.
Word is, Cookie Monster got a taste for chunky Fords after filming this skit;
You should see the Cookie Monster-Gulf Porsche….
Did you get that thing?
A mate of mine had one of those Broncos. He disliked it so much that one day he took it out to the lake and “accidently” forgot to put the handbrake on.
I had not seen a 78-79 Bronco in a long time. These things rusted so damn fast and it was possible to have it rust away completely with in 5 years even in Arizona.
That’s a stone fact. They were SERIOUS rusters. A co-worker had one, and in our Western New York climate it actually had structural problems after five years.
The Bonco was an awful contrivance, not nearly as good as the Ford trucks at the time. Ford must have made a load of money off of each one, since all they were as a shortened and jacked up F150 and pimped out. Spring rates were so soft they things bounded around on any kinds of rough road due to the short wheelbase. The Chevy was a much better thought out vehicle, with much more appropriate rubber than the Fords had, mostly being those huge things that ruin dynamics and off road ability. The Blazer and even the Ramcharger drove a lot better the Bronco.
Gas over $1.00 a gallon doomed things like this. If you ever want to see gas disappear, drive around in one of these with full time all wheel drive. A friend had a Ramcharger with a 360 and AWD and I have never seen gas disappear faster. I couldn’t have done better that 12 mpg Imperial on the highway since it was so high and had so much rolling resistance.
The Bronco by 1987 was a nice car, but the Twin Traction Beam was almost impossible to make go down the road straight. There was just too much unsprung mass.
I had a K5, sometimes I swore that there was a hole in the gas tank, and mine had been converted to a part time transfer case, these are big boys off road, not like a Jeep, I remember from taking mine off road in the glades a little bit, they seem so wide on a narrow trail. The way to have one though is in kinda ratty condition, so you don’t freak about getting it dirty.
They sort of feel like riding an elephant on a safari, and no one messes with one on the road, especially in shabby shape like mine, you could park one across 2 handicap spots and a stroller spot, get out smoking a cigarette in a non smoking area, no one would even say a word. Mine had a POW-MIA and Vietnam sticker on the back to which gave an even bigger, STAY AWAY attitude, all I needed was a pitbull in the front seat.
They will take you to even the most remote body dump sites though…..
I bought my W116 from a Vietnam Vet. I took his bars sticker off the rear window for obvious reasons. Negotiating with someone who has firearms on display was new to me, but he was a really nice guy.
When my son bought his 89 Grand Marquis, it was from an old guy who had been former military. He was still trim and muscular, had a snow-white buzz cut and a shop more full of tools than anything I had ever seen. While we negotiated price on the car, he stood at a grinding wheel sharpening a big knife. He turned out to be a very nice guy, but I will admit that at first, I was kind of glad it was daylight. It certainly kept the negotiations polite. 🙂
I always wondered how much of a negative impact the OJ incident had on full-size Bronco sales and if it was one of the very few media events that disproved the old adage that there was no such thing as ‘bad’ publicity. It just seemed like, for ever after, full-size Broncos were identified as ‘OJ Broncos’ and how much of an affect it had on Ford’s decision to cancel big Bronco production in lieu of the Expedition.
Of course, since GM had already stopped production of the big, 2-door Chevy Blazer in lieu of the Tahoe in 1994, it was probably a foregone conclusion that Ford would be doing the same thing with the big Bronco shortly afterwards, as well, regardless of what OJ had decided to lead the LAPD around with.
I had an instructor who had worked for Apple Ford in Columbia MD, during that time period and he said they had several white Broncos on the hill facing the road amongst a couple of F150s and a couple of days later, all of Broncos on that hill had gloves with fake blood on them. He said they did not ever find out who did it(whether it was a employee or member of the public) but they quickly moved all those white Broncos to the back lot and parked a few Escorts on the hill instead.
The 2 door Blazer/Jimmy became the Tahoe/Yukon when the names changed, they actually outlived the 2 door Bronco by several years. They were made until 1999, I should know, I sold them.
Those must be rare: I hardly ever see them. Too bad: I thought the last 2-door Blazer bodystyle was super-sharp. Were they still available with 2-wheel-drive at the end?
Yeah, though you hardly ever saw a 2WD one. They’re not all that rare, there are always a couple on ebay.
Carmine…send me an e-mail…important.
I bought a 1979 bronco when I was 18 , by then it was already 11 years old and I loved it. I loved how it looked and drove it was great to take you hunting and fishing. I have bought and sold many vehicles since then but none that I missed like my 79 bronco. I missed it so much that I bought and restored a 78 bronco that I love. Looking at reminds me of a time when pearl jam and nirvana where new bands it reminds me of being 18.
It’s amazing how almost every last one of you has no idea what you’re talking about. Most of you have probably never even owned one yet you act like you’re experts. I entered the market of 4×4 customization/repair when the whole “Bigfoot Craze” took off in the late 70’s and I’ve owned and worked on every type of 4×4 you can imagine and the 78/79 Bronco is my personal favorite because it is the swiss army knife of 4×4’s. Contrary to what some dunce said above, the 78/79 Bronco rode much nicer on and off road than the full size Blazer and Ramcharger; which is a well known fact acknowledged by Blazer and Ramcharger fans alike. It has a tighter turning radius than the competition so it was more maneuverable as well. It had the best axles, best frame, best weight distribution, best engines with lots of hidden potential for very little money in the right hands, transmissions that couldn’t be beat, it came standard with the legendary NP205 transfer case, you could fit larger tires from the factory than on a Blazer or Ramcharger, and of course, in my opinion and the opinions of millions of other 4×4 fans(of all makes), it had the best looks out of any SUV ever made.
As mentioned above by someone else, rust is an issue with these trucks if owned in the North East region but that is an issue for all vehicles there. The thing is, you see a lot more rusty old Ford Trucks on the road not because they rust out any faster than other brands, but because they are still mechanically sound long after they rust out so people keep driving them longer than others. I’ve personally owned four 78/79 Broncos that had more than 350,000 original miles on them, one of which had 492,000 miles and I still use that Bronco to this day as my hunting rig. I’m not saying there aren’t other trucks that can last that many miles, you hear from time to time of other brands with good numbers. What I’m saying is that Ford built these trucks right and my experience and the experiences by many other owners can attest to that. Everyone I know who’s owned one of these trucks worked them hard and never had a bad thing to say about them.
On my farm from the 70’s through the early 2000’s I hosted off road gatherings and in all those years the guys with 78/79 Broncos had their trucks outlast and outperform(stock vs. stock) every other truck.
Ford had a series of Free Wheelin’ cars too, or at least brochures for them since I had this one from 1976 which featured lots of young ’70s people hanging out with their Fords. Only vehicles they thought had youth appeal made the cut – no LTDs, but plenty of full-size vans (it’s been awhile since full-size vans were pitched as youthful), as well as trucks and the new big Bronco. Nice shot of Caroll Shelby who is probably seething inside at having to promote a Mustang II-based “Cobra II”. The Free Wheelin’ brochures lasted through about 1980, though it seems only the trucks, SUVs, and vans got actual Free Wheelin’ appearance options.
My friend John, who has a ton of money, bought one of these in 1978 for cash, to replace his truly awful ’77 F150, that had endless and strange problems almost from day one. The green and worse green F150 was swapped for a not bad looking at all blue and white Bronco with every option you could get. It was as solid, with one exception, as the F150 was frail. Unlike the F150, the Bronco didn’t lose it’s harmonic balancer, and the front of the crankshaft at 55 MPH on Las Vegas Blvd, about 5 miles from the beginning of the strip. The damage was pretty impressive. As bad as my “77 Power Wagon was, it never had to be towed anywhere, except after the second time it caught fire. The F150 had to be towed at least a half dozen times, for the crank failure, the transfer case chain break, the trans going out, the short in the steering column that popped fuses and made it not start, along with no headlights one night, and a couple of other times.
The Bronco was 100% reliable for the 5 years he had it. There was only one issue with it. the front end made driving it on the highway, or over 45 or so a real chore. You had to be totally attentive to it, or you would be wandering all over the road. I drove from LA back to Vegas once, and it was as tiring as it could ever have been with power steering. At the end of the almost 6 hour trip, I really hated the Bronco. My PW was like on rails compared to it, and by that point, was a lot more fun to drive, when it cooperated, as the 360 in it was a lot more powerful than the 400 or whatever was in the Bronco. My friend spent a ton of cash to try to get the Bronco to drive straighter, and it did get better, but all that slop in the front end radius arms made it a busy driver till the end.
The end came in 1982, when it was almost 5 years old. It got rear ended and when he took it to the Ford dealer to get it fixed, then walked over to the Chevy place next door and bought a 400 powered K10, red and white, with one of the most obnoxious interiors I’ve ever seen, an odd red and black checkered mess. The Bronco went directly from the Ford dealer’s bodyshop to the Chevy dealer’s used lot, and never went home again. It sold in about 2 days and I saw it many times before I left town. A kid had it and he must have lived near me, as I passed it coming and going a lot. John said it hung around until the early 90’s when he saw it sitting along Tropicana in a store parking lot, smoking out from under the hood.