The Stillborn Bronco U260 Prototype Looks Amazingly Similar to the 2021 Bronco!
Here at Bronco Bastards, we dedicate a lot of time showcasing all aspects of the Bronco saga. Up to now, we've covered Ford's models that preceded the appearance of the first-generation Bronco in late 1965, a detailed evolution of the Bronco through the years, and the best known and most memorable Bronco concepts Ford has ever put out. However, there's a small piece of the puzzle that not many people know about-- it's called the Bronco U260. Today, we'll tell you more about a Bronco that almost was.
Back in the late '90s and early 2000s, Ford once again became increasingly influenced by a retro-futurism design movement that took shapes from the past, and modernized them to look more contemporary and cool. At that time, almost all of Ford's models and concepts had some retro details -- everybody likely remembers how cool the 2002 Thunderbird looked when it was released. This car was a perfect example of what Ford's design department was focusing on back then.
To be honest, Ford wasn't the only company doing this. Remember the Chrysler PT Cruiser? Twenty-plus years ago, SUVs were beginning to gain momentum in the market, Ford had a bittersweet moment with the Explorer and had only discontinued the Bronco a couple of years earlier.
While focusing on the legendary Ford models of the past, the design team saw an opportunity to resurrect the Bronco. Seeing that the Jeep Wrangler was again alone in the market and that potential buyers seemed to be fondly responding to Ford's resurrection ideas, designers thought it was a great idea.
In the mid-90s, Bronco was a big and heavy off-roader, and Ford wanted to get back to its roots with a smaller, more affordable, and more modern vehicle that would properly resurrect the name. The first drawings were done in the late '90s and showed an astonishing resemblance with their modern counterparts. In fact, you could be excused for thinking that this car is just another Ford's prototype of the 2021 Bronco. It's incredible how two different generations of designers had the same idea and same basic shape in mind. Just like the 2021 model, the stillborn Bronco U260 was designed as a removable top vehicle with a two or four-door body.
Unfortunately, the Bronco U260 never advanced beyond the clay model stage, and Ford didn't even make a running prototype. In the early 2000s, the company was shocked by the Explorer/Firestone scandal, and management thought making another SUV would backfire during a period in which Ford's SUVs were considered lethal. The design team tried to freeze the project and for a later release, however production planners pointed out that Ford would soon discontinue the Ranger pickup, leaving the Bronco U260 without an appropriate chassis.
All of this led to the early 2000s destruction of all Bronco U260 clay models, with the design team moving on to other assignments.
However, all was not lost. Ford allowed its design team to produce one concept model that would be shown to the public. We believe that nobody at Ford could have predicted whether or not the 2004 Bronco Concept could have led to a successful production counterpart. But, introduced at Detroit's Auto Show, the timing was perfect.
Ford's Icons Department knew that the automobile community was hungry for reimagined automotive legends. Still, nobody could have foreseen how enthusiastic the public would be when Ford unveiled the boxy, silver off-roader with its famous name and obvious design cues. Interestingly, it was powered by a 2.0-liter diesel engine, and Ford decided to keep it solely as a concept car. However, the company understood the fans' message and eventfully allowed Bronco to return as a 2021 model.