Class of '66 - The Original Bronco's Competitors From Back In The Day
You've probably heard the old Latin saying "Historia est Magistra Vitae," which means that history is life's teacher. We often witness repeating circumstances, recreated events, and things going a full circle. It's an ancient principle that's been known forever, and it's always interesting when you see something that has been resurrected in precisely the same form, with exactly the same essence and feel, just remastered for modern times.
This is precisely the case with the new 2021 Bronco. Ford has been known for respecting its legendary nameplates and reintroducing them in the same way. Just look at the Mustang, Shelbys, and Ford GT.
The 2021 Bronco comes back at a time when the car industry desperately needs a true off-road SUV hero. We're stuck with hundreds of soft pseudo-off-road models with front-wheel drive and absolutely no terrain usability. That's why the appearance of this model is long overdue, and that's why it has been received with such incredible hype.
The modern Bronco has only a few competitors, since nearly all the other SUV models aren't actual off-road vehicles. What's very interesting -- and follows that old Latin saying -- is that the modern Bronco's competitors are almost invariably the same ones that the original model battled back when it was first introduced in 1966.
We thought that a trip to the past would be appropriate, so that we can revisit some dear old enemies from the Class of '66. But first, a few words about the classic, first-generation Bronco.
Ford Bronco (1966 to 1977)
The Ford Bronco debuted in August of 1965 as a 1966 model and was immediately met with praise from the motoring press and interest from the buying public. It represented a brave step for Ford, which already had a successful pickup truck line, but had never made an SUV before. The Bronco had a unique chassis architecture, standard permanent all-wheel-drive, and was sold in three distinct body styles – Wagon, Half Cab, and Roadster. The wagon was sold with a removable hardtop and proved to be most popular with customers.
Under the hood, Bronco received a lineup of standard Ford engines, starting with a small 170 cid, followed by a 200 cid six-cylinder with 105 and 120 hp, respectively. Interestingly, a V8 option wasn't available right from the start, but by March of 1966, Bronco buyers could get a venerable 289 V8 with 200 hp. All models were equipped with tough Dana transfer cases and heavy-duty Ford 9-inch differentials.
Jeep CJ-5 (1954 to 1983)
Today, the fiercest competitor to the new Bronco is the Jeep Wrangler, and the rivalry between the two dates all the way back to the mid-60s; a time what was then the base Jeep model was called the CJ-5. Introduced back in 1954 as a direct descendent of WW2 hero Jeep Willys MB, the CJ-5 was a simple, but effective off-road model, available in only one body style with permanent all-wheel-drive and a host of available engines. These powerplant options ranged from a small Willys Hurricane four-cylinder to an AMC-derived 305 V8 unit.
The CJ-5 was a bare-bones off-road vehicle with no amenities of any kind. During the '70s, Jeep started producing more upscale models with cooler paint jobs and more extensive equipment to attract lifestyle buyers. However, in those days, civilian CJ-5s were just a little bit more accommodating than the military versions produced in their trademark olive green color.
However, the CJ-5 was tough as nails, and due to its low weight and capable 4x4 system, it could go anywhere.
International Scout 80 and 800 (1961 to 1971)
Younger off-road fans probably don't remember, but International-Harvester once produced several very accomplished SUV models, all of which gained a strong following amongst the all-terrain drivers. Introduced in 1961, the Scout was very innovative for its day and featured several styling elements that later appeared on the first-generation Ford Bronco -- namely, a removable hardtop and fold-down windshield. Right from the start, the Scout was very well received and quite popular.
The original, early model Scout was called Scout 80 and was produced until 1965. It was a pretty simple but modern-looking vehicle with compact dimensions, all-wheel-drive as standard, and a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine. In late 1965, the more advanced and better equipped Scout 800 was introduced with more comfort, better options, and both six-cylinder and V8 power choices. The first-generation Scout was discontinued in 1971 and replaced with Scout II, a slightly bigger and more advanced model.
Land Rover Series IIA (1961 to 1971)
The Land Rover off-road vehicles were first introduced in 1948, and in 1961, the Series IIA was offered for sale. This was the predecessor of the boxy and universally praised Defender model. Interestingly, today we have a brand new Defender, which is going after the brand new Bronco; it looks like history really does repeat itself. The Series IIA was just an evolution of the original design with very few changes. It was offered as a two or four-door model and as a pickup, making this off-roader very practical.
The Land Rover Series IIA was equipped with a 4x4 drivetrain and 4-speed transmission and powered either by a four-cylinder gasoline or diesel engine. The company also offered a six-cylinder engine, but it was a rare option. The Series IIA was well-received among specialty customers and was exported worldwide.
While it was a pretty rare sight in America, it proved very capable. This was mainly because it had a body made of aluminum, which made the Land Rover very light, which is a quality that off-road vehicles often lack.
Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40 (1960 to 1984)
Toyota started producing off-road models very early in its history, but they weren't much more than Jeep rip-offs that were mainly offered in the local market.
However, in 1960, the FJ40 Land Cruiser was introduced and immediately became one of the most popular and recognizable Toyota models, even in the United States. The FJ40 was considered one of the most sought-after off-road models during the '60s because it offered numerous body styles, two powerful gasoline engines, and several diesel options (for export markets). However, what the FJ40 was mainly praised for was its incredible quality and durability.
The FJ40 Land Cruiser was offered in two and four-door versions as an SUV with either a closed body or a pickup. Open top versions were available, and Toyota even sold military spec models to armies and various rebel groups worldwide.
In the States, 4.2-liter straight-six gasoline units were offered, delivering 132 hp and 210 lb-ft of torque, which was more than enough for most customers. Somewhat cheaper than the domestic competitors and arguably better built, the FJ40 became one of the first Toyota legends on American soil and a formidable Bronco competitor.
Jeepster Commando (1966 to 1973)
Jeep knew that its CJ-5 was too crude and simple to interest those lifestyle buyers already mesmerized by the International Scout's and Ford Bronco's refined manners. So, in 1966 it introduced the Jeepster Commando, a more upscale model that was built on the CJ-5 platform, but with better design and interior appointments.
Interestingly, Jeep took the removable hardtop concept from International and Ford and offered the Commando as roadster, hardtop and pickup.
The standard engine was a four-cylinder, but customers could opt for a V6 -- and later for a V8, too. In 1971, the Jeepster Commando was completely restyled and more equipment was added, but its resulting sales figures were not that good and the model was retired in 1973.