History of:

The Second-Generation 78-79 Ford Bronco

By Paul - 03/03/01

The 1978 & 1979 Ford Bronco, also called "second-generation" Broncos, are perhaps the rarest, most mysterious, and most highly sought after Broncos in existence. Considered lost treasures by many, they were only manufactured for two years and are the only Broncos that were built on the indestructible 1973-1979 F-Series pickup chassis. The second-generation Broncos are unique in almost every aspect of it's design, from being the only Bronco ever built that exclusively used the Cleveland based 351M/400 engines to being the only full-size Broncos ever built with a solid front axle (considered the best axle design for 4-wheeling). The questions that people ask the most about the second-generation Broncos is why were these Broncos only manufactured for two years and what is the history behind them?


Well, to answer these questions we must first understand the history and development of the full-size Bronco. The second-generation Broncos began their long history at Ford's Product Design Center in 1972. Code named "Project Short Horn", the designers and engineers at Ford were working on an all-new Bronco that would compete with and ultimately far surpass the extremely popular full-size Blazer from General Motors. Working with many sets of requirements imposed on them by Ford and learning from mistakes made by Chevrolet on the Blazer, the designers were able to come up with a vehicle that had many features never before seen in a sporty-utility vehicle. Ford required the new Bronco to be based on the new '73 F-100 and for it to be ready for the original release date of the 1974 model year. The new Bronco also had to use the F-100 doors with no modifications to save on production cost and had to have a removable hard top to compete with the Blazer.


To solve these requirements a designer named Dick Nesbitt, who was one of the original designers of the full-size Bronco, came up with an ingenious idea of a wrap-around Targa style roof band which ultimately shaped the unique design of all full-size Broncos from 1978 to 1996. The wrap-around Targa design allowed for a fixed-roof cab that allowed the use of the F-100 doors and solved one of the main problems with the Blazer which was leaks that developed along the thick rubber seal on the removable top. There was more than just one proposed design for the new Bronco top, however. The picture to the right shows some of the proposed designs, including an opera window design, the targa-style design which is similar to the production version, a plain pointed corner design that is very similar to the design used on the '80 & up models, and a plain rounded corner design that was incorporated into the targa-style design that was used on the production version. Testing centers at Ford determined that the targa-style design was best to seal the top to the cab and that the rounded corner glass design was best for resisting stress-related cracks.


Another engineering obstacle that had to be overcome was finding the proper location to mount the radius arms that held the front axle in place. Several ill-handling prototypes were built and tested before the engineers at Ford got it right. 


With nearly all of the problems worked out and all of the original requirements for the full-size Bronco now satisfied, the 1974 model year came and went, and STILL no full-size Bronco! Why wasn't it released on time? To answer this question, we have to understand what was going on in the world during this time. Beginning in 1973, the world suffered from the worst energy crisis ever experienced in modern times. Homes across the country started experiencing electrical brown outs and people had to pay ever-increasing prices for fuel for their automobiles. Price control systems that were implemented at the time only aggravated the problem, and by October of 1973 The Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) implemented an oil embargo that nearly crippled the country. Everywhere people went there were lines at gas stations that were sometimes miles long and many times there was no gas left at the stations at all!


It has been speculated by many that the onset of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo was by far the main reason that the introduction of the full-size Bronco was delayed until the 1978 model year. By 1977 the energy crisis had eased up and the first generation Broncos still being sold were terribly out dated by this time. Sales were sharply falling due to the extreme popularity of the much more modern and versatile Blazer. Ford also finally had a new, environmentally-friendly engine in use in its 4x4 trucks by 1977, the 351M/400, which could only mean one thing: The second-generation Bronco's time had finally come!


In mid 1977 Ford introduced the first full-size Broncos for the 1978 model year. The long awaited '78 Bronco was so popular that many people had to wait six months or longer to get one from their local Ford dealers. Consumers just couldn't get enough of them. Even the automobile and truck magazines of the time raved on and on about the new full-size Broncos. The '78 Bronco practically swept-the-boards with 4x4 and truck-of-the-year awards. Pickup, Van, & 4WD magazine even stated, "It's a guess, but perhaps a very safe bet, that Chevy, Dodge, and Jeep engineers have '78 Broncos in their labs now, taking a look and calculating ways and means for catching up".


One of the main reasons for the new Bronco's instant celebrity status was the combination of functionality and ruggedness the vehicle offered. The F-Series 4x4s had a long standing reputation for being the best built full-size trucks on the market. With the introduction of the full-size Bronco, consumers could now have a vehicle with all the ruggedness of the F-Series trucks combined with luxury features such as A/C, cruise control, roll bars, AM/FM/CB stereos, delay wipers, bucket seats, center consoles, and even tilt steering -- all in a short wheel base package that was easy to maneuver both on and off the road. Consumers could also choose exactly how they wanted their new Bronco equipped with two basic models being offered; the Custom, which was marketed towards the "outdoor enthusiast" and the Ranger XLT, which was marketed as more of family-oriented daily driver. Ford also offered a "Free-Wheelin" package on both the Custom & the Ranger XLT that featured tri-color striping, black bumpers, black low mount western-style mirrors, sport steering wheel, special glove box appliqué, and custom wheels. There were also some ultra-luxurious Lariat Broncos built to help promote the new Bronco at Ford dealers around the country.


The 1979 Bronco was basically a direct carry over from the 1978 models. The big difference for the 1979 model year was a full array of emissions equipment, including smog pumps and catalytic converters, that were now standard on all 1/2 ton trucks. Probably the most amazing accomplishment for the '79 Bronco was that Ford managed to satisfy the EPA emissions requirements with very little, if any, loss of performance over the previous model year. Automotive and truck magazines of the time continued to rave about the '79 Bronco. 4-Wheel & Off-Road magazine said during their 1979 Bronco road test that, "If you've already come to the conclusion that we like the Bronco, you're right. In fact, the more time we spend in it, the better we like it".


Some additional new features for 1979 was the introduction of captain chairs, standard square headlights (they were optional on the 78), and a more aggressively marketed "Free-Wheelin" package that featured optional chromatic striping in place of the '78s tri-color striping.


By mid 1979, the second-generation Broncos seemed to be on top of the world. Sales of the new Bronco were breaking all-time records and both General Motors and Chrysler Corporation were still trying to figure out what hit them. But the end of the second-generation Broncos was just around the corner. Even before the very first full-size Bronco was released in mid 1977, Ford designers were finalizing the design of the third-generation Bronco which was to be based on the all new line up of F-Series trucks scheduled to be released for the 1980 model year.


The combination of the OPEC oil embargo of 1973-1974 and the engineering difficulties Ford had to overcome delayed the introduction of the second-generation by four years, which meant that even before it was released it was already obsolete. The new third-generation Bronco that was released in late 1979 was a much better reflection of the times. The previous year's standard 351 CID V8 engine was now replaced by a 300 CID I-6 engine and the beloved, torque-laden 400 CID V8 engine was now a thing of the past. Also laid to rest was the solid front axle which was replaced by a quirky "Twin-Traction Beam" that was far better suited for the road than it was for the trials. The third-generation Bronco was lighter, more fuel-efficient, and was cheaper to produce. The second-generation Broncos didn't stand a chance against it.


In retrospect, it's nothing short of a miracle that the 78-79 Broncos were even produced in the first place. In 1979 another energy crisis and a failing economy hit the nation. Although not as severe as the 1973-1974 crisis, consumers were still hit with skyrocketing fuel prices and double-digit inflation. Had this happened just two years earlier, it is almost a certainty that Ford would have delayed the introduction of the full-size Bronco until the 1980 model year. Still, for two wonderful years the second-generation Broncos turned the 4x4 and SUV market upside-down. They were, and still remain in the eyes of many, the undisputed King of SUVs.




Truck Trend Magazine, "Past Forward", October, 1999. 

Ford Bronco 1978-1988, Brooklands Books, 1988.

Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia, "1973-1974 energy crisis".

The Energy Information Administration, "25th Anniversary of the 1973 Oil Embargo".



The 1972 Bronco concept drawing and the four concept drawings of the Bronco tops were originally copyrighted in 1972 by Dick Nesbitt. The photos were obtained from the October 1999 issue of Truck Trend Magazine and are NOT copyrighted by or the property of ProjectBronco.COM