Early Bronco designs show how Ford got it right the first time

Ford recently unearthed some early design drawings and a photo of a full-scale clay model of the first-generation Bronco that highlights the work of McKinley Thompson Jr., the first African-American designer to work at Ford Motor Company.

As is the case with vehicle designs that saw varied input by a team, credit often goes to the product manager or engineer. For the early Ford Bronco, that means Frey and Paul Axelrad. However, the iconic shape of the original Ford Bronco was the culmination of work by a number of designers. We can see just how much of the design was already set when McKinley Thompson Jr. put pencil to paper in 1963, more than two years before the Bronco would go on sale as a 1966 model.

Thompson was a WWII veteran who served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps, where he learned engineering drafting. A 1956 graduate of the esteemed Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, he had worked on many high-profile projects at Ford, including the Mustang and GT40, before he put his creative talents to the compact, nimble off-roader.

sketch of two door bronco

In a drawing dated July 23rd, 1963, Thompson drew  “Package Proposal #5 for Bronco,” a roadster with door inserts that opened up the passenger compartment for easy ingress and egress and improved sightlines for better visibility and tire placement off-road. The wheel openings, smaller in the back, with a horizontal character line that trails toward the rear, are almost identical to those that would reach production. Even the shape of the quarter panel end caps and the tailgate are spot-on, except that Ford badging replaced the proposed “BRONCO” lettering in the drawing. The only real discrepancies are the leading edge of the fenders and the grille, which in the drawing has more in common with the production 1963 F-100 pickup.

By November of 1963, as we can see in the clay model, the design had morphed slightly into the Bronco we all know and love. The fenders became a little blunter and more assertive, but the grille still wasn’t quite as it appeared on the production version. It’s not bad, but we think they landed on the right choice eventually.

Thompson retired from Ford in 1986 after 30 years of service. He passed away in 2006. We don’t have too much time to wait until we see how much of his original vision for the Bronco lives on in the 2021 model, but thousands of die-hard Bronco fans are still appreciating his amazing sense of style. Let’s hope Ford nails it just as well this time around.

car designer mckinley thompson works on ford two door sedan model
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