The third generation Ford Bronco addressed problems of the short-lived second generation “big” Bronco, which was based on the Ford F-150 pickup but with a shorter wheelbase, and was deemed too big and too heavy. It was 28 inches longer, 11 inches wider and 4 inches taller. But in a period when U.S. automobiles were shrinking and losing weight it was a resounding hit, outselling both the Chevrolet Blazer and Dodge Ramcharger. Even so, Ford was serious about trimming weight and the third generation Bronco was in the works at the same time the belated second series was launched. The slimmed down big Bronco appeared for the 1980 model year and was sold through 1986.
Ford tried to improve fuel economy by cutting weight by 375 pounds. The base engine became a 4.9-liter, OHV six-cylinder unit, coupled to a 4-speed gearbox. The big 400 cubic inch V-8 was dropped in favor of a 351 cid V-8, while the base V-8 was now a 302 cid unit.
Three 4-speed manual gearboxes were offered. Automatic transmissions were the familiar 3-speed C6, then the 4-speed AOD unit. Independent front suspension was new for 1980 with Ford’s Twin Traction Beam and a Dana 44 axle, while the 9-inch rear axle featured leaf springs. That was later changed to an 8.8-inch unit, along with all ½-ton trucks. An improved dual range transfer case was fitted.
The third generation Ford Bronco shared sheet metal with the F-150 pickup forward of the windshield, while the detachable fiberglass hardtop was reconfigured for a better seal at the B-pillar. The hardtop offered optional sliding side-windows from 1980-81, they were fixed from 1984. The grille adopted Ford’s blue oval from 1982 and the Bronco lost its horse emblem on the fenders.
Bronco trim levels were standardized in line with the F-150 from 1980. The Eddie Bauer luxury package was added from 1985, with a color keyed two-tone exterior and signature interior trim. The tailgate swung down and featured a power rear window. Other useful options included a 32-gallon fuel tank, heavy duty handling and suspension package, part-time 4-wheel drive, Captain’s chairs, Light- and heavy-duty Trailer Towing packages, and a Sports Instrument Package. Freewheeling Packages A and B grouped a number of options together, as did Protection, Convenience and Security packages.
An extensive range of colors was offered at launch – 19 in all. These included Raven Black, Wimbledon White, Candy Apple Red, Light Sand, Maroon, Medium Blue, Light Medium Pine, Chamois Glow, Walnut Glow, Sand Glow, Medium Copper, and Bright Yellow. Metallic paints included Silver, Dark Chamois, Medium, Gray, and Dark Silver-Blue. Many would continue throughout the model’s run.
A similar but updated F-Series-based fourth generation Bronco debuted in 1987.