The Ford Bronco as an Investment | An Inflation-Adjusted Look at Original Cost and Resale Value
As we’ve seen in recent years, classic cars are fetching ever-increasing prices of late — especially when they’re in top condition. The previous generations of Ford Broncos are now in such high demand that a good deal of luck seems to be involved in even landing an example at a reasonable price.
Since we’re now hearing more and more that classic cars, including Ford Broncos, are a rock-solid investment, let’s take a look at the various Bronco generations, starting with the original Bronco that was released for the 1966 model year, noting what they cost — both originally and adjusted for inflation. Then we’ll see how they might fare as far as resale value in today’s market.
For this comparison of resale value, we’re going to stick mostly to Broncos that remain more or less in their original condition. A top-tier, concours level quality assessment would require a very strict adherence to stock configuration, of course. On the whole, the public perception of restored yet modified classics — generally referred to as restomods — has shifted dramatically over the years. It used to be that anyone planning any kind of deviation from stock would invariably hear about how they were about to “ruin their car’s value”. Now, we’re seeing more and more evidence that professionally constructed restomods can fetch some serious money when the job is done correctly.
First Generation 1966-1978
It’s worth noting once again that the original Bronco was a sturdy but spartan vehicle. Despite the competitive advantages it offered over its rivals, namely in the areas of an improved overall driving experience and easier maneuverability, it was nevertheless a fairly modest, though well-constructed workhorse. How modest? In its popular Roadster form, it didn’t even come with doors included.
As such, its original price tag, which was right around $2400 for the Roadster variation, doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Adjusted for inflation, that figure would represent about $20,000 in today’s dollars, which would no doubt still be considered a sensibly priced vehicle.
The world was a much smaller place some 55 years ago, so fewer units of any automobile were required to meet the demands of the buying public. Only about 12,700 Broncos rolled off the assembly for the model’s inaugural year of 1966. Had you been around to buy one, then had the foresight to hold onto it while keeping it in at least solid shape, you’d now be sitting on an asset that Hagerty’s recently estimated to be worth $28,000 even in fair shape, all the way up to more than $90,000 should the Bronco in question be in concours-level condition.
This valuation, of course, is assuming that there is no specific historical significance attached to the Bronco. As we recently saw, Broncos that do have a substantial level of historical cachet will fetch astronomical prices — racing legend Parnelli Jones’ Big Oly Bronco, arguably the most famous example of the model, due to its off-road racing exploits, recently fetched $1.87 million at this year’s Mecum auction.
Looking at the Broncos of just a year later, even when subtracting the novelty of owning an inaugural year classic out of the equation, their valuations only dip by a little. And even used Bronco prices from 1971 remain impressively solid and are expected to climb quite a bit in the coming years, according to Hagerty’s predictions.
Second Generation 1978-1979
In response to SUV buyers’ preference for a larger, stouter ride, Ford responded in a big way in order to better compete with the Bronco’s closest rivals — namely the Chevy Blazer and Dodge Ramcharger, albeit with a result that came to market four years later than the company had intended.
When it did arrive, the 1978 Bronco now rode on a robust chassis borrowed from Ford’s F-series trucks and it dwarfed its predecessor, coming in at about two feet longer and more than a half-ton heavier.
The 1978 Bronco carried an MSRP of about $6500 in its base form, which would be just over $27,000 in today’s dollars. That may be proportionately a little more out of your pocket than what the first generation extracted, but still seems plenty reasonable.
Outwardly, the second-generation Broncos were great looking SUVs — very rugged and capable looking. Mechanically speaking, especially where the drivetrain was concerned, things were a bit less exhilarating. The Broncos from this generation were by no means powerhouses — even when taking into consideration that car companies were no longer able to broadcast their cars’ gross horsepower and instead were now forced to report their engines’ outputs using markedly lower net horsepower readings. So, it’s unlikely that many performance enthusiasts were impressed with the Bronco’s line of second-generation engines.
The model’s lack of available power didn’t prove to be any detriment to its popularity. Because the Bronco’s second generation arrived so late — Ford was actually almost ready to launch the third generation when it finally hit the showrooms — it was only around for two years, but during that time it was a sales smash, with more than 180,000 units sold. To put its popularity into perspective, the Bronco only sold about 230,000 units during the 12-year stretch of its first generation.
Of course, with higher sales comes the increased likelihood that more Broncos of this generation would still be on the road, and scarcity is generally a big factor in determining a classic’s market valuation. Nevertheless, estimated resale prices for second-generation Broncos remain impressively high, with concours-level specimens coming in at around $54,000, those in excellent condition at $40,000 and even lesser maintained examples fetching more than $12,000.
Third Generation 1980-1986
In most respects, third generation Broncos really didn’t differ all that much from their preceding generation — probably because the second generation was delayed for so long that Ford had a chance to make all the improvements it had intended to make for the time being. They were about the same overall length, sported the same wheelbase, but were a full 300lbs lighter than they had been. Unfortunately, at least at first, this weight loss came at the expense of the Bronco’s frame integrity. Ford went to thinner and likely weaker stamped metal, but then reconsidered that move in 1982.
A 1980 Ford Bronco carried an MSRP of about $8,000 — about $27,000 in today’s dollars — in its base configuration, but the addition of comfort and convenience features drove that figure up markedly. When Car and Driver road-tested the newly released third-generation Bronco, the publication even remarked at how much more it cost in its “as driven” configuration —about $13,000, which equates to a hearty $44,000 today.
As you’d probably expect, because the third-generation Bronco didn’t represent much of a departure from its predecessors as far as aesthetics or engineering, it doesn’t carry the upper crust of classic Bronco valuations, but they’re still more than solid, with Hagerty’s estimating that concours-level Broncos will fetch about $33,000, and those of modest condition will come in at just under $10,000.
The Bronco’s Eddie Bauer edition arrived toward the end of this generation (1985) to accommodate buyers’ preference for more luxury in their SUVs and this variation of the Bronco will fetch substantially more money in today’s market.
Fourth Generation 1987-1991
When the fourth generation Bronco debuted in 1987, it featured pretty much the same formula that had propelled its original popularity, but with a few subtle changes thrown into the mix. Its foundation was still a shortened version of the chassis used on Ford’s F-150s — which were now in their eighth generation. And its aesthetics, though clearly more refined and modern-looking, were still easily recognizable.
As far as drivability was concerned though, there were some dramatic improvements. Fuel injection was added to the Bronco’s 6-cylinder engine in 1987, then to its 5.8-liter V8 the following year, which significantly improved cold weather starting. Pushbutton 4-wheel drive was now offered as an option — a popular one — to make shifting into all-terrain mode easier than ever before. Anti-lock disc brakes were also now in back to provide markedly improved control during rapid stops. These advancements combined to create an SUV that provided a driving experience that was much closer to today’s standards.
The Bronco remained a consistent seller during most of this generation, hitting its zenith in 1989 before beginning the decline that would ultimately lead to its discontinuation — by 1991, the generation’s final year, sales had dropped to less than half of what they were just two years earlier.
Upon the introduction of this generation, prices ranged from about $14,500 for a Bronco in standard configuration to just over $17,000 for the perennially popular Eddie Bauer edition. This equates to a range from about $34,500 to $40,000 in today’s dollars, which would position the overall Bronco line not all that far from where it is now, as far as price is concerned. By the time fourth generation drew to a close in 1991, pricing had widened a bit at the upper range of the Bronco line — the $17,800 that base level Bronco would go for back then translates to about the same price in today’s dollars as its 1987 counterpart did, but the $25,000 that a Silver Edition Bronco would set you back equates to a hearty $48,600 now.
As Hagerty’s sees it, despite marked improvements in driving experience this generation offered, it doesn’t feature the most sought after of Broncos, though examples in good condition will still fetch a nice price — a Silver Edition can sometimes be had for the same $25,000 figure that the upper tier variant originally went for, which of course represents a lot less buying power in today’s dollars.
Fifth Generation 1992-1996
With the marked decline in sales the previous generation suffered, it’s no surprise that Ford once again chose to avoid making any significant changes to the Bronco, as the company no doubt saw the writing on the wall for the model. By this time, expansive 4-door SUVs were thoroughly in vogue, as the segment had become synonymous with family transportation.
With its now-retro, 2-door configuration that made accessing the back seat a bit more of a challenge than buyers preferred, the Bronco was now seen as somewhat “old-school” but still offered plenty of visual appeal — even now, Broncos of this generation are head-turners when they’re in good shape.
But aesthetics aside, the model was thoroughly showing its age and now rode on a chassis that hadn’t been updated much since 1980. Ford would end up letting that underpinning age even more, while making some stylistic upgrades and interior refinements as well as a couple of safety upgrades. One of those upgrades, unfortunately, would come at the expense of the Bronco’s removable hardtop which, though still removable in theory, was now anchored in place with bolts that were far more difficult to remove and doing so could even result in a traffic citation.
At the beginning of this generation, a base Bronco went for around $21,000 and a top-tier Eddie Bauer edition could be had for $23,800, figures which translate now to $39,500 and $43,400 respectively. By the end of its run, the pricing for the upper end of this range had elevated pretty markedly — probably because it was widely assumed that the Bronco would no longer be in circulation very shortly as the model would make way for the Ford Expedition to take on Ford’s chief competitors, namely the Chevrolet/GMC Suburban and the somewhat smaller Chevrolet Tahoe.
Interestingly, Broncos from the latter portion of this generation can be had for pretty reasonable prices. A brief glance at automotive resale websites will show a number of selections in the $24,000 to $27,000 range, including some Eddie Bauer Broncos.
Sixth Generation (2021* - ????)
As we know all too well, a series of seemingly endless delays caused the Bronco’s re-introduction, which was originally slated for 2020, to be delayed for a year. Even now, Bronco production remains an “on-again, off-again” proposition, with supply lagging far behind demand.
This imbalance, as you’d expect, is skewing everything, as far as current valuations are concerned. So, while MSRPs for the Bronco currently range from about $30,000 for the base edition, up to just over a $58,000 cash price for the First Edition, we’re seeing some pretty “imaginative” practices going on at the dealership level, including dramatic markups and even some bait and switch tactics that have forced Ford to rethink its entire sales model.
Eventually, supply should catch up to demand — maybe sometime in 2022. Some dealerships are already broadcasting their “no markup” policies. Regardless, with the Ford Bronco’s top-notch engineering, impressive performance capabilities, inspired retro-futuristic styling and array of available, road-tested features, it should continue to represent a very solid purchase for quite some time to come.
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