Reindeer or Bronco? Ford discovers, and recreates, 53-year-old Santa Claus photos

Ford/Tanya Moutzalias

Santa Claus is a bit of an expert when it comes to cold-weather transportation. So what better guy to oversee Ford’s extreme-temperature testing of the new Bronco? (And by “new,” we mean “original” … as in 53 years ago.)

Ted Ryan, Ford’s heritage and archives manager, recently discovered 16 negatives of unpublished photos taken inside the automaker’s “cold room” showing Jolly Saint Nick, Ford technicians, and a frozen first-generation Bronco loaded with gifts. The black-and-white photos were shot on November 4, 1968 for a story that was to run in Ford World, a bi-weekly internal newspaper about products and associates. They were never used.

No time like the present to finally share this present.

After a challenging year dominated by COVID-19 and a heated election, Ford decided we could all use some holiday cheer. Its media relations team recreated the scene from the 53-year-old photos, with Santa and Ford techs inside an environmental chamber—officially named Transportable Environmental Four Poster #4 (TEFP 4)—at Ford’s New Model Programs Development Center in Allen Park, Michigan.

“Every now and then we get a special request to do something in extreme heat or extreme cold,” says TEFP Manager Brian Kucinski. “Santa Claus is definitely a first.”

Kucinski, who has been testing Ford vehicles for 22 years, says the chamber has a temperature range of -40 to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. In addition to temperature testing, the facility has a hydraulics system that simulates different road surfaces, allowing for squeak and rattle analysis. Kucinski says testing is performed “primarily on prototype vehicles,” but the team made an exception to recreate the Santa Claus photos. The featured vehicle is a 2021 Bronco Outer Banks with Sasquatch Package, brush bar, and modular front bumper. The ice-covered modern Bronco is wearing Race Red clear coat; only Santa Claus is sporting the fur trim option.

Kucinski says the frozen 2021 Bronco was created using the same procedure his team employs for defrost-performance evaluation. “We spray water on the windshield, the driver-side door, and the rear window at 30-below-zero so we can determine how long it takes to defrost,” he explains. “The water freezes instantly at that temperature, so you don’t need much—we used maybe four or five gallons. We had a lot of fun.”

We’re guessing Saint Nick did too. Perhaps he returned to the North Pole with a new sleigh?

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