The classic Ford Bronco is feeding a fever for a new model, and vice versa

Shaun Bryant bought and restored his first early Ford Bronco in 1991. He has restored over 1,000 since. “It’s a lifestyle,” says the owner of Rocky Roads Custom Vintage Broncos in Chatsworth, California, just north of Los Angeles. “The Bronco is more than a product to me. It’s a lifestyle and I love living it.”

1977 Ford Bronco
1977 Ford Bronco (Gabe Augustine)

The popularity of first-generation Ford Broncos, built from 1966 to 1977, has exploded as more people, including many Hollywood A-listers, want a piece of that lifestyle. “The last two years, business has been crazy,” says Bryant, whose small shop tackles 10 or 12 frame-off restorations a year, as well as repair and general maintenance. “And we just delivered a frame-off restoration we’d been working on for seven months to Billy Bush.”

Other big-name Bronco owners often seen cruising Malibu or the Hamptons in their topless classics include Kiefer Sutherland, Jared Leto, Lady Gaga, Simon Cowell, Miles Teller, and Jeremy Piven, who bought his Bronco from Bryant way back in 1994. These people live where the action is, and prices of classic first-generation Broncos have almost doubled over the last five years.

The 1966–77 Bronco topped our most recent Hagerty Vehicle Rating. Three years ago, you could buy a very nice #3 condition driver for under $15,000, and the average price of a concours-quality 1967 Bronco with a V-8 was $36,000. Today, that same #3 condition truck is $30,000, and the truck in concours condition costs over $50,000. But for many, $50,000 is just the down payment.

The Icon Bronco
The Icon Bronco(Icon)

About a mile down the road from Rocky Roads is Icon, the company many credit with igniting the world’s newfound Bronco fever. After making a name restoring Toyota Land Cruisers with his company TLC, Icon CEO and lead designer Jonathan Ward began building custom and modernized Broncos for wealthy clientele in 2011. Today, Icon fashions 16 trucks a year, each with a custom frame and Ford’s newest Coyote 5.0-liter V-8. The average price is $225,000, and Icon ships them all over the world to buyers in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

This reality has not been lost on Ford Motor Company. After shelving the Bronco name back in 1997, three years after O.J. Simpson’s white Bronco became the most famous and infamous car in the world, Ford has announced its return. There will be an all-new Ford Bronco in 2020, built alongside the returning Ranger pickup in Wayne, Michigan. And there’s buzz about it in the classic Bronco community.

“Our customers are aware of the new Bronco,” says Brian Hulz, sales manager of Galpin Auto Sports (GAS), the custom shop at Galpin Ford, which is the largest Ford dealer in the country. Located in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley, Galpin has sold and modified Broncos for the street and off-road since 1967. “Like the Raptor, people will want to customize them. It’s going to be a big deal for Ford, a big deal for the aftermarket, and a big deal for GAS,” says Hulz. “We’re excited for it to come.”

Getting Ford to discuss the 2020 Bronco is like asking Ivanka to spill the nuclear launch codes. And speculation is rampant for such a highly anticipated vehicle. (Our inside sources remain tight-lipped as well, but find humor in Internet message board theories, given than many decisions have yet to be finalized.) But we do know this: The truck will be based on the all-new 2019 Ford Ranger pickup. Like the original, it will have a full-frame, and like the popular Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, it will have four doors and a removable hard top.

The 2020 Bronco’s looks are still a secret, so we imagined what a four-door convertible could look like (Bruce Morser)
The 2020 Bronco’s looks are still a secret, so we imagined what a four-door convertible could look like (Bruce Morser)

There’s presumption that the new Bronco, like the Wrangler, will have solid front and rear axles, just as it did in 1966. There have been reports that these will come from Dana, the same company that supplies Jeep. According to Hulz, the Bronco will be trail-ready like the Wrangler. “It’ll be ready to take on the Rubicon right out of the box,” he says.

Until the new Bronco arrives, GAS is busy working on the classics. “They’re a very regular part of our business,” says Hulz. “We’re working on and upgrading about two or three a month. There are two in the shop right now, including one in for a swap to a Chevy small-block LS V-8.” GAS is also the place Simon Cowell brings his black 302-powered 1976 Bronco when it has an issue.

One of the unknowns about the 2020 Ford Bronco is its powerplant. It will be something from the parts bin, so there’s a chance the SUV will get a 2.7-liter Ecoboost V-6, the same engine Ford uses in its F-150 pickup, but the Ecoboost four-cylinder and the 5.0-liter V-8 from the Ford Mustang are also possibilities. The original Broncos were powered by standard inline-sixes and optional V-8s, first 289 cubic inches and then 302s.

Styling is another mystery. Everyone wants to know if the design will be retro. But Ford’s vice president of design, Moray Callum, who owns a 1976 Bronco, isn’t saying. Ford has made it clear that the Bronco will not look like the Bronco Concept that debuted at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit back in 2004, even though that truck will appear in the movie Rampage starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, in theatres next April.

Like the International Harvester Scout, which dropped in 1961, the first-generation Bronco was larger and more comfortable than a Jeep CJ-5, but it remained purposeful and properly rugged. Although the original Broncos were two-doors, many hope the new four-door Bronco captures the essence and the simplicity of the original, along with the attitude of the Broncos raced successfully in the Baja 1000 by men like Parnelli Jones, Bill Stroppe, and actor James Garner. The first Bronco to win that race was driven by the legendary Rod Hall in 1968.

1970 Ford Bronco
1970 Ford Bronco (Barrett-Jackson)

Some are also expecting an aluminum body, as Ford now uses on its F series pickups and the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs, but that hasn’t been confirmed. Our guess is that prices should start around $30,000.

“Our customers are reading about the new Bronco on the Internet,” says David Ventura, the owner of ASC Auto. “And they’re talking about it.” ASC started in 1988 as a full-service 4x4 shop specializing in Jeeps. But 10 years ago the business turned to the growing demand for Broncos. Today, ASC buys, sells, repairs, and restores early Broncos. The shop also does custom builds, including a recent one that cost $160,000. During our visit we counted over 30 Broncos on ASC’s small lot in Venice, California.

According to Ventura, the demand for unaltered Broncos has grown as of late. Since the 1960s, off-road enthusiasts have cut open the wheelwells of first-gen Broncos looking for more space to fit larger wheels and tires. Later, rust would eat the lower body panels so owners would slice the wheel openings as a cheap fix. But today, hard-to-find original uncut trucks, like the one Keanu Reeves drives in the 1995 movie Speed, have gained popularity.

Many link this to the trucks coming out of Icon, which retain the Bronco’s original small wheelwells. At Rocky Roads, uncut Broncos are all the rage as well. To satisfy customers demanding that look, Bryant and his team have begun buying cut Broncos out of necessity, only to replace the bodywork with factory stock panels. Most trucks also leave the shop with comfort upgrades, like air conditioning, navigation, power windows and locks, heated seats, fuel injection, and automatic overdrive transmissions.

“The new Bronco will only feed the old Bronco market,” says Milam Chrisman, shop foreman at Rocky Roads. “Our customers have Ferraris, Bentleys, and Lamborghinis. If it’s cool, they’re definitely going to buy a new Bronco and park it right next to their classic.”