After months of supposition and spy photos splashed across the internet, Ford is prepping to sate the appetites of Bronco aficionados the world over with the debut of the new Bronco (and maybe a Bronco Sport?) on July 9.
That date will hold a special place in the heart of fans of the rough and tumble sport ute that helped create and grow the popularity of the segment, which now accounts for more than half of all new vehicles sold in the U.S.
However, that premiere date – July 9 – is tied to the Bronco in at least one more way than the Dearborn, Michigan-based automaker likely realized when it picked that day to roll out its newest SUV. It’s also the birthday of perhaps the most famous – or infamous – Bronco owner ever: O.J. Simpson.
The timing is “a pure coincidence,” Ford spokesman Mike Levine said.
Until the summer of 1994, Simpson was known as an NFL superstar running back and Hertz rental car pitchman from the 1970s who transferred his appeal to a career in television and movies in the late ’70s with roles in the television miniseries Roots and the Towering Inferno as well as trio of The Naked Gun comedies in the 1980s.
However, that all changed when Simpson, who was a suspect in the murder of his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman, a waiter at a local restaurant, was pursued across southern California by a fleet of law enforcement officers in a vehicle driven by longtime friend, Al Cowlings, another former football player — a white Ford Bronco.
The low-speed pursuit of Simpson was run live on national news outlets across the country, supplanting the NBA playoff game that normally would dominate the night. As many as 95 million people watched the chase of the now disgraced football and movie start, and put a new, and largely unwanted focus, on Ford’s full-size SUV.
The Bronco and Bronco II were already sliding into produce oblivion as sales of the new Explorer made the Bronco, from a sales perspective, irrelevant. Production of the full-size Bronco ended just two years after the chase in 1996. A smaller, midsize model called the Bronco II was produced for eight years, ending with the 1990 model year. It led to the debut of the aforementioned Explorer.
Since then, sales of the Explorer exploded. This led to larger utes – four-door models that really took the place of the Bronco – like the Expedition and the even-larger Excursion, which has since been mothballed. The SUV segment took off in the 1990s, and the buying public continuously buying more and more of them through current times.
That said, Bronco fans are loyal and some at Ford have long memories – longer than 1994. At the 2004 Detroit Auto Show, Ford unexpected rolled out a futuristic looking Bronco concept vehicle, surprising the media and other industry observers in attendance. Officials told attendees it was a simply a concept, although rumors ran wild about it returning to the line-up. The murmurs pinged around for more than a decade until, rumors became reality.
Specifics won’t be released by Ford until the Bronco’s July 9 debut, the automaker has been teasing its reappearance for months and a number of details have leaked out. Rather than the soft and rounded look that dominates the utility vehicle segment today, designers have opted for a more squared-off retro shape for the new Bronco clearly meant to harken back to the original. And, rather than riding on a car-based platform, it will share its underpinnings with the next Ford Ranger pickup, both to be assembled at a plant just outside Detroit.
The new model will be smaller than the one O.J. rode in, roughly on a par with the rugged Jeep Wrangler, another classic off-roader. Like Wrangler, the 2021 Ford Bronco will offer a range of options and features such as removable doors and roof. The new Bronco is expected to start at around $30,000, though various upgrades and options will push that figure up substantially.
Unlike the original, Ford plans to load the new Bronco up with a variety of advanced driver assistance technologies, from electronic stability control to forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, that should set to rest concerns about its on- and off-road safety.
Expect a big media campaign once production gets underway, however, a Ford veteran told TheDetroitBureau.com, but, asking not to be identified by name, they added that they are quite sure O.J. Simpson will not be asked to serve as a spokesman.