The 1966 Ford Bronco
In 1965 Ford designers began sketching a newcomer to the then fledgling SUV market; the Ford Bronco. Code named U100 by Ford engineers; the 1966 Bronco was designed to compete with the Jeep and International Scout. Those two being the only American competition, Ford saw an untapped market and poised itself to take advantage of the growing trend. The new Bronco, light weight, nimble and four wheel drive, fit that market perfectly and went on for a successful 30 year run.
That first Bronco, like the Scout and Jeep, was a true utilitarian vehicle. It was marketed as a work truck to farmers and ranchers in rural parts of the country and as a hunting and camping vehicle for the growing group of outdoorsmen. While it could also take the family to the grocery store and road trips, that really was not its strong suit. More than a few automated magazines of the day commented on how much better the Bronco shined off the pavement then on.
There were few creature comforts in the early years; no power steering, power disc brakes or automatic transmission. A stick shift was your only choice and that was a "three on the tree" style with the shifter awkwardly mounted to the steering column. The interior was sparse to say the least with a painted metal dash and metal door panels. A large rubber floor mat was stock. Customers had to special order something as luxurious as carpet.
There was no air conditioning and all seats but the drivers were optional. One of the more unique features of the early Broncos was the windshield wipers mounted above rather than below the windshield. And for 1966-1968 the wiper motors were troublesome vacuum operated units instead of electric.
Bronco Body Styles
Body style choices for the first early Broncos consist of of 3 choices; Wagon, Halfcab pickup and Roadster convertible. All three were essentially the same vehicle, simply with a different top and door configurations. It was an efficient design solution combined with a great marketing strategy. With very little extra tooling and a minimum of special parts, Ford could offer three distinct body styles without the typical extra expense.
The Wagon was by far the most popular and eventually would have become the only body style offered. It featured a removable all-steel top that went the full length of the cockpit and bed. A lift up rear window provided access to the small storage area behind the rear seat. The full wagon top provided protection from the elements in bad weather, but if the owner wanted to go topless it was just a matter of removing some bolts and getting a friend or two to help lift the top off.
The Halfcab model was in reality a short pickup. Unlike the full length top of the wagon, the halfcab top only covered the front two seats. A metal bulk head right behind the front seats formed the forward wall of the pickup bed and have a support for the short top to bolt to. Ford touted the 32.8 cubic feet of cargo box as the largest of any vehicle in its class, although in reality there was no other pickup of that size to compare to. The 1966 halfcab Bronco was one of the first trucks to have the moniker "Sport Utility Vehicle" attached to it.
Rounding out the three body styles was the Roadster convertible, rolling off the dealer lots with no roof or doors. This was marked as the fun, carefree open air car for the beach or mountains. Fiberglass inserts helped round off the other squared off door openings, but they really provided no protection. To complete the "wind in your hair" feeling, the Roadster front windshield could have folded down to lay on the hood, secured by a special mount. The Roadster was the shortest lived of all the Bronco body styles and only 5,000 were made before it was discontinued in 1968.
After it's introduction in 1966 the early Bronco would continue for 11 years until finally a new larger body style was introduced in 1978. Each subsequent year of the early Bronco brought new options, upgrades or safety equipment, but it's hard to beat the original. The 1966 Bronco was the first of a new breed and remains an excellent and very collectible example of a pure classic 4×4.