Can We Expect A High-Performance Shelby Bronco?
Amongst the Ford faithful, the Shelby nameplate has always held a special place. From the early, fire-breathing GT350 Mustangs, which were essentially thinly disguised race cars, until today's high tech GT500 with its 760 hp and ballistic acceleration times on tap, Carroll Shelby's models were always unmistakably connected to Ford, even dating back to when he produced Cobras powered by those venerable 289 V8 engines.
Needless to say, his 60s efforts propelled Ford into a performance brand with global appeal and created a long line of timeless cars which were successful on both the track and the street.
Interestingly, the legend of Carroll Shelby and his fantastic machines is not only celebrated by Ford fans. During the 80s and early 90s, Shelby had a brief stint with Chrysler and managed to make some memorable Mopar performance cars, as well as distinguish himself as one of the fathers of the original Dodge Viper R/T.
However, his legacy will always be unmistakably connected with the Blue Oval, and in 2006 Shelby returned to Ford, putting his name on a lineup of fire-breathing Mustangs that marked the triumphant return of proper muscle cars to the American automotive landscape.
Although Shelby is synonymous with Mustangs and Cobras, Ford (as well as Chrysler) also used his name on other types of performance vehicle over the years. During the '80s, there was the Dodge Omi GLH, a small, front-wheel-drive hatchback, and even the Dodge Durango Shelby, a mid-size pickup truck. The Dodge Durango Shelby, in particular, was a real treat -- a rare, high-performance SUV that's unfortunately now largely forgotten.
When Shelby's name became re-associated with Ford, it was also used on several insanely powerful and fast F-150-based trucks with great success.
But neither the Dodge Durango Shelby nor those thoroughly-enhanced F-150s vehicles represented Shelby's first venture into making high-powered trucks. Believe it or not, the first performance 4x4 featuring Shelby's touch was the 1969 Bronco Boss prototype, a cross between the 1969 Shelby GT350 and a regular Bronco.
This Bronco could outrun many muscle cars in stoplight drag battles, with its 290 hp 302 V8 engine, 3-speed automatic gearbox, modified suspension and drivetrain, along with 4:11 gearing in back. Unfortunately, Ford decided that its production would be very costly and that the market was not yet ready for a high-performance SUV model. That's why the project was abandoned after two prototypes, which had both been considered lost before resurfacing recently.
You might ask the reason for this history lesson and the answer lies in the video below. Just yesterday, there was a short video released that shows a race between the current GT500 and the brand new 2021 Bronco four-door. In this entertaining clip, the charming driver of the Bronco managed to keep up with the Shelby with some clever stunts and off-the-track driving, which makes this short video a lot of fun to watch.
But, besides keeping you entertained, this semi-official clip has an important task, and that is to announce the possibility of an upcoming Shelby Bronco -- a real muscle car version of the hottest SUV in years. So, let's discuss it.
Even before the 2021 Bronco entered full production, we knew about the existence of the Bronco Warthog (aka Raptor) prototype. This will be the ultimate off-road Bronco, a high-performance desert runner with an expected 400+ hp engine, special suspension, and exterior details. However, despite its performance potential, it's not the only variation of a high-performance SUV that customers want.
We're living in a time when almost all manufacturers offer high-speed SUVs with suspension setups that are better suited for track driving than off-roading, and acceleration times that are nothing short of spectacular. The success of the Edge ST and the Explorer ST showed that there are plenty of people that covet the look of an SUV, combined with the performance of a Mustang GT, so the "muscle SUV" market is pretty strong.
So, if Ford had hard-core off-roaders covered with the upcoming Bronco Warthog/Raptor, then a Shelby Bronco sounds like a perfectly logical next step to attract buyers who want a muscle car experience and instant street cred, right?
We really hope so, and from this perspective, combining the Shelby legend, the Bronco heritage, and a hefty dose of power and performance would not only be completing the idea that started 52 years ago, but would also amount to one of the coolest cars Ford has ever built.
Seeing how buyers are so enthusiastic about the new Bronco, just imagine how crazy they would be about a powerful variation glazed in Shelby magic. Of course, such a vehicle wouldn't be as capable off-road as the standard or Warthog/Raptor models will be, but it would nevertheless be an impressive addition to the lineup -- not to mention an effective way to compete with the V8-powered Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392, which has attracted more than a few power-hungry customers.
We can all agree that a Shelby Bronco is an exciting possibility for Ford. The manufacturer certainly wouldn't have any problem selling as many as it could make, judging by the reputation Shelby products have and the current popularity of the Bronco.
However, that leads us to another question -- this one centered on the potential powertrain. We already know that the Warthog will have a 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 with over 400 hp and could possibly also be offered as a hybrid. So, what are the choices for Shelby Bronco? A V8 possibly?
When the engine options for the 2021 Bronco were revealed, a lot of off-road enthusiasts were disappointed because there was no V8 included in the lineup. While Ford staffers were originally thinking along those very same lines, current emissions regulations stopped the V8 Bronco project dead in its tracks.
Apparently, government regulations regarding CO2 footprint are very restrictive for a vehicle featuring a small wheelbase, a classification that includes the Bronco. This meant that Ford would have had to substantially modify one of its existing V8s in order to achieve lower CO2 emissions, which further complicated things while also raising expenses.
So, Ford did the smart thing and went to emission-compliant engines that (almost) matched the V8's power and torque figures, then put the Bronco in production.
Even though a V8-powered Bronco will no doubt appear, it won't initially come from Ford. Right now, you can pre-order a Bronco from renowned Hennessey Performance that features a specially-prepared, supercharged 5.0-liter V8 with 750 hp.
While packaging such a big engine was a bit of a problem, Hennessey managed to get it done without any significant issues, save for installing a custom hood, since the supercharged V8 is slightly taller than the stock unit.
This engine will be equipped with an intercooler, a high flow induction system, a unique exhaust, and a custom ECU. The only available transmission will be Ford's 10-speed gearbox.
If Ford goes the V8 route for the Shelby Bronco, there are several powerplant options, the first one being the use of the Predator V8 from the current GT500. The 5.2-liter supercharged V8 could be a tight fit, but we believe that Ford could make it work. There's also the massive 7.3-liter from Ford's Super Duty trucks, but it's really not appropriate for a Shelby product, even though it's a fantastic engine. Another option would be the upcoming 6.2 or 6.8-liter V8 that will debut in the next couple of years.
However, while placing a fire-breathing V8 under the hood of a Shelby Bronco is entirely logical and the best way to please the traditionalists while also battling Jeep, we suspect that Ford might go in a completely different direction.
As you probably know, one of the most interesting Ford products at the moment is the Mustang Mach-E, a fully electric SUV with a Mustang-inspired design and excellent driving dynamics.
Enthusiastically welcomed by the EV crowd, the Mach-E is a sales success and represents a new chapter for Ford, which announced its dedication to zero-emissions vehicles in the future. Last year, Ford unveiled a Mach-E 1400 concept car with an astonishing 1,400 hp, and an all-electric Mustang Cobra Jet drag car, showing that the guys from Dearborn are seriously emphasizing high-performance electric vehicles for the future.
These aforementioned cars were created with a definite purpose -- to show the potential of an electric drivetrain in performance vehicles, not just in terms of insane power but also in the area of ballistic 0 to 60 mph times. As we all know, a real muscle car is defined by its acceleration figures, and the current Mach E in GT trim is capable of reaching 60 mph in just 3.5 seconds, which is just 0.2 seconds shy of the 2021 Shelby GT500 with its 760 hp on tap!
So, it's clear that the future of performance is electric and that Ford certainly knows how to make a fast EV. It's also clear that Ford is not afraid to remaster its legends and use its most cherished nameplates for modern vehicles. Yes, many Mustang enthusiasts were outraged when Ford used the Mustang name for a plug-in SUV, but the sales numbers and hype surrounding the Mach-E show that Ford made the right call.
Does this mean that Ford is preparing a proper Shelby product with all-wheel-drive, an SUV body, and a 0 to 60 mph time on par with a Bugatti Chiron, which will tear up the streets in complete silence, without recognizable growl of a thoroughbred V8 gasoline engine? Don't be surprised if it does.