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6 Generations of the Ford Bronco

A Look at the Ford Bronco's Power Output Through the Years

Despite what may seem like an endless procession of setbacks and hurdles to overcome, Bronco production is finally ramping up. While it’s unlikely that Ford will be able to fill the enthusiastic demand for their rugged SUV, it should be able to at least make a sizable dent in the orders already submitted. As this progress gains steam, we also now have a good idea of the new Bronco’s power output which, by some accounts, is even better than first anticipated — especially if you’re willing to spring for premium fuel.

These upgraded numbers bring welcome reassurance that the eagerly awaited 2021 Bronco will be very much up to the challenge of providing plenty of spirited motoring. Even equipped with its most compact engine option — a 2.3 liter turbocharged inline 4-cylinder, the Bronco’s output was recently gauged by MotorTrend at 275 horsepower and 315lb-ft of torque using regular fuel and 300hp/325tq with premium. Move up to the 2.7 liter, twin-turbocharged V6 and you’ll have plenty more power at your disposal —this powerplant came in at 315hp/410tq using regular and a robust 330hp/415tq with premium.

It’s likely that the quest for ever more power began not long after the first Model T hit the road. Manufacturers have always been well aware of this fascination and have, for the most part, done their best to keep up with it. Some of them have even redefined just how much power an automotive segment can offer, even without aftermarket modification, as Jeep recently demonstrated with its soon to arrive Rubicon 392 and its 470 horses. Ford is no doubt strategizing to close the power gap its rival has opened up and has a number of options at its disposal to accomplish this.

Just to provide some perspective, let’s take a look at the Ford Bronco’s power output through the years, beginning with its first generation and finishing off right where we are now. It’s worth noting that the Bronco has been a foundation for plenty of aftermarket power upgrades ever since its original release, so factory outputs have often paled in comparison to the power Broncos were packing upon hitting the street. Here, we’ll focus on the factory power outputs of the various Bronco generations.

First Generation 1966-1978

When the first generation of Broncos was released for the 1966 model, this new arrival was so distinct that even Ford seemed to labor to properly describe it in commercials and print. Sometimes referred to as “the first 4-wheel drive sports car”, the Bronco came standard with a 170 cubic inch inline 6 borrowed from its Ford stablemate, the Falcon, which was a relatively compact classic that ended up being a prolific parts donor that also provided most of the foundation for the groundbreaking Mustang.

In its original form, the engine offered a modest 105 horsepower, which didn’t exactly set the automotive world on fire with enthusiasm even then. The addition of a bigger capacity oil pan, a more powerful fuel pump and a special carburetor outfitted with a float bowl to minimize the chances of fuel starvation during enthusiastic off-roading only ramped up power slightly, so Ford knew a more potent engine was called for.

It arrived in March of 1966 in the form of a 289 cubic inch V8 that produced 200 horsepower — nearly double that of the original engine— and was followed a short time later by a 302 cubic inch motor that was introduced for the Bronco for the 1969 model year. This slight uptick in displacement mirrored that of the Bronco’s fellow “fun” car, the Mustang, which had been equipped with the 302 just a little earlier. Good for about 208 horsepower and 300lb-ft of torque, the new V8 took its place as the top tier option for the Bronco.

These figures are admittedly pretty modest when compared to today’s standards, but it’s worth noting that the original Ford Bronco was a pretty compact and lightweight ride, tipping the scale at about 2800bs, measuring just 151” from bumper to bumper and riding on a 92” wheelbase. For purposes of comparison, a 2021 Bronco in 2-door form has a curb weight of about 3750lbs, measures 173” and sports a 100.4” wheelbase.

Additionally, Ford, as well as other manufacturers, was pretty big on keeping costs to an absolute minimum during this era. As mentioned before, the noble but practical Falcon provided a number of pivotal components for both the Bronco and the classic Mustang and, despite increasing demand for additional transmission options and a preference for a floor mounted shifter location that was seen as more adventure-centric, Ford continued to offer only a column-mounted 3-speed manual transmission until 1973, although many classic Bronco enthusiasts made the necessary modifications to relocate their transmission shifters to the floor, where they resided alongside the transfer case shifter.

Second Generation (1978 to 1979)

The seemingly endless Covid-related delays the new Bronco has been plagued by weren’t the first setbacks in the model’s history. In fact, as far as their magnitude is concerned, they pale in comparison to what occurred in the mid-’70s, when fallout from a worsening oil crisis and tighter emissions standards repeatedly scuttled Ford’s plans and delayed the introduction of the Bronco’s second generation for a full four years! Originally slated for a 1974 release, the next Bronco didn’t debut until the 1978 model year. Its delay was so drastic, in fact, that Ford was actually putting the finishing touches on the model’s 3rd Generation when its predecessor was just greeting the public.

By the late ’70s, the SUV segment had undergone a dramatic shift, with markedly larger vehicles now in vogue. Ford responded by substantially enlarging the Bronco in order to compete with Chevy’s K5 Blazer, Dodge’s Ramcharger and the Jeep Cherokee. Ford went to their F-series pickup foundation as an underpinning for the change, which was a substantial one — this iteration of the Bronco now rode on a wheelbase that was a foot longer than the first generation, featured an overall length more than two feet greater and weighed more than 1200lbs heavier. Few re-imaginings of any automotive model have featured such drastic changes, before or since.

If you were to judge solely by their displacement, the new engine options seemed more robust than ever before but, hamstrung by more stringent emissions standards, they were pretty tame. Ford’s 351 cubic inch V8 offered between 156-158 horses and just 262lb-ft of torque. A move up to the 400 cubic inch V8 yielded about the same horsepower, and a slight upgrade in torque, to 277lb-ft. Luckily, with its stout, aggressive appearance, the Bronco had long since become a favorite of aftermarket enthusiasts, so many of the Broncos of this vintage ended up prowling the streets, as well as more rugged terrain, with power capabilities that better matched their appearance.

Despite underwhelming factory performance, this generation was a rousing success. Bronco sales cracked the 100,000 barrier for the first time in 1979, in contrast to the first generation of the model, which never exceeded 26,000 units.

3rd Generation 1980-1986

Despite its long-awaited arrival, the third generation Bronco retained almost the exact same dimensions as the second generation, although it did feature a decidedly more modern appearance and a noticeably lighter curb weight. There were a couple of changes to the lineup of available engines, but their power outputs only showed a modest improvement during this time.

Among these changes was the re-introduction of a straight 6 as the standard engine. On the other end of the displacement spectrum, Ford’s 400 cubic inch V8 was pulled from action, to be replaced by the 351M, which in reality was essentially the same engine — nearly all the internal components are interchangeable — but with a shorter stroke. This upgraded powerplant would only hang around a little while longer, as the lighter and easier to produce Windsor engines were now coming into vogue. A 351 Windsor would find its way beneath the hood of a Bronco for the first time in 1982.

As the mid-’80s rolled around, Ford finally introduced an upgraded take on its 351, upping its ability to 210 horsepower. It was sometimes referred to as the “high-output” option, which of course was a relative term. Not long after, Ford’s smaller V8, now badged as a 5.0, debuted and was fed by electric multi-port fuel injection for the first time.

By this time, Ford had markedly broadened the transmission options for the Bronco, offering a choice of three different 4-speed manuals, a 3-speed automatic and a 4-speed automatic with overdrive that made for engine-sparing lower revs at highway speeds.

 

Fourth Generation 1987-1991

The fourth generation brought only minor changes, with most of those being cosmetic. When viewed from the front, the Bronco was now practically identical to the Ford F-series pickups from the same era and, upon entering the cabin, you’d find a noticeably more accommodating driving environment.

With fuel injection technology now rapidly advancing and entering the mainstream, Ford saw fit to scrap carburetion altogether. In retrospect, this provided to be a sound move. Even today, Ford’s fuel injected engines from this era have gained a reputation as solid, dependable performers and continue to find their way beneath the hood of resto-modded Mustangs from the ’60s and ’70s, among other cars.

Despite being fed with more efficiency, the Bronco engines still sported only modest power outputs, with the 300 cubic inch 6 cylinder now good for 145 horses, the 5.0 liter V8 putting out 188 and the 351 Windsor maxing out at 213. With the offering of both 5-speed manual and 4-speed overdrive transmissions, most Broncos from this era did feature better fuel economy than their predecessors, although the stout but outdated C6 automatic 3-speeds hung around until 1990.

 

Fifth Edition 1992-1996

While the Ford Bronco wasn’t shelved until 1996, its fate — at least for the time being — was actually sealed sometime earlier. When the Ford Explorer debuted to an unexpectedly enthusiastic response in 1990, the writing was on the wall. As far as size was concerned, the new Explorer split the difference between the now displaced compact Bronco II that had been released in 1984 and the more sizable standard Bronco and it ably answered the demand for a more refined SUV, a label that really didn’t fit the somewhat antiquated Bronco, whose chassis hadn’t been substantially updated since 1980.

Despite a lingering belief, the notoriety that the Bronco received during O.J. Simpson’s infamous 1995 slow speed car chase had nothing to do with the model’s departure.

With its plan to shelf the Bronco now confirmed, Ford had little motivation to tinker with the Bronco’s power capabilities. The standard inline 6 engine was discontinued, leaving only the same pair of V8s as was offered in the previous generation on the menu. The 5.0 liter retained an output of 188 horsepower and the 351 cubic inch Windsor came in at right about 210.

The Takeaways

First and foremost, engine technology, especially when you exclude aftermarket modifications, has come a VERY long way. As an example, the compact inline 3-cylinder engine found on the Bronco Sport’s menu carries a displacement of just 1.5 liters — that’s smaller than the engines found in the VW Beetles of the late-’60s. But whereas that VW powerplant was good for only about 70 horsepower, Ford’s 3-cylinder puts out 181.

And, looking back at what now seems like an unusually long period of dormancy —and even a decline in some cases — where engine outputs are concerned, we now seem to find ourselves in somewhat of a horsepower renaissance. The output of both new Bronco engines is certainly robust and contributes to the model’s appeal, but there’s also no doubt that we’ll soon see improvements that will take those readings substantially higher.
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