Vellum Venom Vignette: A Bronco cannot change its stripes
Perhaps my headline is a bit misleading: The Bronco is neither a zebra nor a tiger. It is a cow, a cash cow of the highest order. Ford’s decision to tweak the T6 truck platform to give Jeep’s Wrangler a legit competitor was brilliant and long overdue. Dearborn hit another home run by extending the Bronco brand into the C2 platform via the Bronco Sport soft-roader presented here. Sure, it’s not “the real” Bronco, but it is precisely what the market demands: mall crawling and high(er) speed family hauling.
The Bronco Sport’s styling and off-road upgrades are still true(ish) to the Bronco name, but then Ford threw us another bone: a set of throwback decals and interior trim taking us back to a simpler time. Then the company gave the vehicle the name it so truly deserves: Free Wheeling.
The Bronco Sport Free Wheeling proves Ford is focused. The company is no longer fearing its great escape from passenger-car mediocrity; as it is clear that Dearborn’s crew has no interest in fighting Toyota and Honda for sedanlette scraps. Why bother, when it is far more profitable to be a maverick and take a path that others can’t possibly travel?
C2 platform jokes aside, Ford is indeed capitalizing on the trim levels that made the company so special. (It’s about time, considering how leveraged the Dodge brand is to trims like Demon, Scat Pack, etc.) The 1970s Free Wheeling package is both obscure and tragically neglected, just like other limited production whoppers from the era like Swinger (Dodge Dart), Palm Beach (Buick LeSabre), and Talisman (Cadillac Fleetwood). In 2023’s sea of globalized mediocrity, new interpretations of these retro names and their bolder trimmings are welcome dashes of uniqueness.
Naming conventions aside, let’s get back to the Bronco Sport’s color gradient stripes. These beauties are actually a staple of 1970s graphic design, a multi-disciplinary trade applicable to any industry. Even the U.S. government made a big deal about graphic design; you can see excellent examples of the era on this Instagram account. Graphic designers working for government entities and corporations usually reduce complex themes and mission statements into a simple image, one that is easily to process and remember. Your favorite might be the NASA “worm” logo, which also made its triumphant return just a few years back.
Color gradients were a smaller part of this ’70s trend, commercializing a design theme normally reserved for hoity-toity modern art circles. I’d like to think this mass adoption tickled one Mr. Josef Albers a delightful shade of pink. Or perhaps the noted color theorist felt the joy in shades of red mixed with increasing amounts of white?
No matter, the Free Wheeling color gradient stripes on Ford trucks/vans/Pinto wagons offered the requisite amount of fun for buyers in the 1970s who were looking for a brighter, more cheerful vehicle to present themselves to the world. Perhaps the color gradient trim played well with many Americans’ notion of embracing their own need for freedom in the 1970s—or perhaps that theory goes a bridge too far, even in automotive design and branding.
However you skin it, spicing up cars with graphics was a big deal in the 1970s. Every Detroit automaker needed to sell more sizzle and less steak. Screaming chickens on Firebirds are the best example of the breed, but the designers knew that making 5-mph bumpers, pillared hardtops, and plastic-y interiors sexy wasn’t gonna be easy on any car. But they made it work: Check out the seventh-generation Thunderbird’s sales if you don’t believe me.
But it is not a stretch to suggest that today’s younger car buyers feel the same state of malaise as referenced by Jimmy Carter, so perhaps a bright collection of decals and interior fabrics are absolutely needed for the 2024 model year.
If so, history repeats itself. Those who are attuned to the cyclical nature of human existence can capitalize on that knowledge, and the good people behind the branding of the Ford Bronco are hopefully enjoying the multi-colored fruits of their labor. That said, pushing a retro agenda in a design studio can only go so far, as Josef Albers was likely right when he said: “Traditionally art is to create and not to revive. To revive: leave that to the historians, who are looking backward.”