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Hey folks, if you hear my voice, that means you're listening to our eight part series on the Ford Bronco. If you're into cars, I think you're going to enjoy this. Thank you. And mahalo.
I was 13 years old, so I had just finished middle school and my parents thought to be a good idea for me to go out and spend the summer with my uncle. That's Mike Lavanya. He's now almost 60, but he still remembers the summer he spent in the mountains with his uncle Rhema.
He was really, really cool. He was the uncle that every kid wanted to know, kind of wanted to have. He would give you all the things that uncle should give you. I mean, for one of my Christmases, he gave me a gerbil. He always gave us water guns and water balloons and everything. Your father, your mother really doesn't want flying around the house. They spent the summer of 1974 crisscrossing Colorado in a Bronco.
We would go over some of the passes Miskito Pass, I can remember vividly, we also went out looking for mushrooms quite often. It was a great mushroom here. He used to dry mushrooms, Marutai, and so he's diesem and spaghetti sauce and things like that. So we were always in the broncho. In 1995, Uncle Remo died, it was a heart attack, sudden and unexpected, Mike went to Colorado to help settle the estate and that's when he saw the Bronco sitting in his uncle's driveway.
He never got rid of it. He kept it running even though it was in rough shape. I mean, by that time, it was 25 years old, had 80 some thousand miles rough miles on it. They were thinking about ways to get rid of it, to sell it. And I told him I would take it.
And so he did.
In June of the next year, Mike drove it from his uncle's place in Aspen to his home on the East Coast. The seat had collapsed and the bench seat, there was a boat cushion in there and get another boat cushion to get it up high enough where I could actually see out of it and actually have some comfort and then started driving it back all the way to Virginia.
Just to be clear, officially, Ford does not endorse the idea of modifying your vehicle with both cushions. But hey, whatever floats your Bronco.
He parked it out back of his house, promising himself he'd find time to fix it up. But, you know, life has a way of getting in the way of things. And now it sat outside for a while and fortunately, it took some weathering, a little bit of rust. The floorboards were pretty much gone anyway. I mean, they didn't get any worse than what it was, but it sure didn't get any better then in 2017. Mike retired.
That was always my goal, was to restore the vehicle. I needed something to do once I retired to keep out of my wife's hair. It was a little later than planned, but he finally started the restoration.
And now three years later, it's almost done, probably, I'd say 98 percent. It's been upgraded quite a bit. As far as the engine goes, it's gone up from a three 302 to a 351. The original color was Cordova. I have changed it to Daytona Sunset Orange. Despite the changes, Mike says this will always be Uncle Remus Bronco. And if you look at the odometer, it actually says that Amita's Ramos' sixty nine. So, yes, I think about him quite a bit and what he would have thought of it and how I think he would have loved it.
I think he would really like the direction that I took it. My story is the perfect metaphor for the rise, fall and rebirth of the broncho, it started in the late 60s. It had a rebellious and wild youth and it died in the mid 90s. And now it's being brought back to life, in fact. And I don't blame you if you don't believe me, because the coincidence is really eerie. But the day that Mike got Uncle Remus Bronco to Virginia and parked it out back, that was June 12th, 1996, the exact day that the last Bronco rolled off the line at the Wayne assembly plant in Michigan.
I never understood why they decided to get rid of that and lose that Bronco name that it had developed for itself over the years. I've never understood that either. So that's where this series is going to start with that question. Why did Ford kill the Bronco? Was it poor sales competition from other brands? Was it the questions about rollover accidents that plagued the Bronco, too, or was it the damage done when millions of people watched a white Bronco carry a man accused of murder running from the police on national television?
Lightning fast and bizarre developments tonight in the O.J. Simpson story. We're seeing live pictures right now of the football hero believed to be a passenger in a Ford Bronco.
I'm Sonari Glinton and this is Bring Back Broncho, The Untold Story now, just as Mike's story parallels the rise, fall and rebirth of the Bronco brand, the broader story of the Bronco parallels a lot of what's happening in American economics, culture, politics. And, yes, in case you were wondering, we will definitely dig into the story of the slow white Bronco chase. But we're going to look at it from Ford's point of view, how they saw it and how they reacted.
But as much as I love history, let's start with something there.
Ladies and gentlemen, I'm pleased to finally announce that we are bringing back the Ford Bronco in 2020.
That's from the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. And, yep, the Bronco is back.
This is a no compromise midsize four by four utility for the thrill seekers who want freedom and Off-Road functionality with the space and versatility of an SUV.
But we've got a long way to go before we get there.
A bit about me when it comes to the car business, I'm a bit of an insider and an outsider, you see, my grandfather came to Detroit from the south in the 40s, like millions of African-Americans looking for a better life. And he found it working for General Motors. My mother was one of the first female foremen at Ford. They call them supervisors now. She worked at Ford's Chicago assembly plant. And she got me a job on the assembly line there when I was in college.
But I'm also a journalist and I was an economics reporter for NPR and Planet Money. And I've covered the auto industry for most of my adult life. But enough about me. Let's talk Broncho. Chapter one, The American Dream. The first step to solving the mystery of why Ford killed it is understanding the history of the Bronco. So let's go back to his birth and the world that was born into in the late 50s and early 60s.
Wife was good in the auto industry. And as a result, the whole city of Detroit was in the middle of a post-war boom for carmakers. There were very few restraints, you know, willing bosses, money to burn a whole lot of ego. The only question was what kind of vehicle do you make when you can make almost anything?
Well, let me just set the scene a bit.
Now, we've gone from a time when there was about a hundred and sixty small car companies spread around the country to a time when there were only about seven or eight really large ones. Ford Motor Company had just completed construction on this glorious new headquarters. It's a 13 story office building. What a lot of people would call mid century, modern, sleek, imposing, infinitely functional. It represents America at its most powerful.
Bailey Saisoi Moore is a Detroit history expert and she's standing with me in another Ford building looking at it.
Welcome to Detroit. So you're in Dearborn just a couple of miles outside of the city of Detroit. In fact, just slightly in front of us. You've got world headquarters, the glass house.
So to me, that's Detroit, you know, 1950s America.
You couldn't talk about major companies without Ford being part of that conversation.
In fact, Lincoln is producing presidential limos throughout the 1950s and 60s. What's more Americana than you being the company that's producing the president's car?
We're talking about Detroit because, well, this is where the Bronco was born. In fact, at the time, Detroit was the auto industry and vice versa.
The population of suburban Detroit is hovering around four million people. And according to a 1958 study, one out of every three people worked directly for one of the automobile companies in Detroit. Now, not ancillary, not that great.
If you're willing to go into the tertiary is like you work for a supplier, you work for the diner across the street that serves the lunches.
Then we're talking more than half of the population of the city of Detroit and the metro areas is employed or tertiary employed by the automobile companies.
That's a rock number.
That is a number so big that if a meteor had hit Detroit in 1950 for automobile production on a global scale, would not have recovered.
A meteor is really the only thing car executives have to worry about at the time. The rest of their job was as good as it gets. Executives are making some of the highest pay they've ever made, guys on the line like Standard, you and me guys are making more than they could ever make.
Yeah. So life was good. Your pre Vietnam War, Motown Records are going nuts. We haven't had the gas embargo. So if you did get that car, that dream car, you could go to this brand new thing sweeping the country, a McDonald's drive thru, get two cheeseburgers, a fry and a Coke turn on your Motown radio. Listen to the Marvelettes, please, Mr. Postman. And in every way kind of live that American dream. I kind of think of myself as a bit of a detective, you know, I'm looking for clues about why Ford stopped making the Broncos in the 90s.
And lucky for me, Ford has left behind a lot of them. You see, as a company, Ford is a bit of a hoarder. They've saved millions of pieces of paper communications and records from the last 100 years. And it's all under the care of one man, Ted Ryan.
Tell me where we're at. You are in the archives of the Ford Motor Company, that's Ted Ford's archivist and this is kind of Ford's attic. Everything from handwritten memos, sketches, ads, photos, artifacts and literally miles of documents going right here. Let's let's go. Let me get my t shirt. Actually, you know what? You want your tea. Drink it here and they can take it in.
If I may have a habit of spilling tea, I just want to do it in this climate controlled room.
We have 16000 cubic feet of material that are stored on three miles of shelving. So if you took every shelf and you laid them end to end, it would stretch from here to downtown. Just about we have three specialized freezer vaults for negatives, for film and for videotape for the long term preservation.
The stuff that I'm looking at is mostly mid century paperwork and photos.
The beginning is actually during World War Two. During World War Two, Ford Motor Company built more than 270000 Jeeps. After the war, Ford began to build what were called the mutt. And here we have a couple of pictures. One is of jeeps and the other is of the mutt, which looks very similar to a jeep. They look identical, it's obvious that much was built to appeal to veterans looking for something familiar. It was a piece of home, a piece of the war, so as the generation that fought World War Two, as they grew older, they went back and they bought these Jeeps.
So Ford realizes there is a gap in the market that we know that we can fill that is unique and nobody else is doing it. What is that gap? International Harvester Scout, Bumpy Off-Road Vehicle, the Willis Jeep, once again, the direct descendant of the original Jeep. They are Off-Road vehicles, but they're not on vehicles and they don't have any creature comforts. Essentially that same jeep, the pattern was and that's what Wallace is making in 1960.
And if you want to go off roading, you're bumping around and you have zero creature comforts.
Every great product starts with the problem that needs solving. And this was the problem.
We wanted to build a car, a vehicle that you could take on the highway and go down to Malibu, but you could also then go off roading and go up wherever you wanted to go. So it had to do both.
The automobile industry is different from many other industries and that you have to anticipate trends three years out.
So we didn't really. Three years out, man. Come on. You got that market research report. That is the market research that identified the gap in the market.
Oh, this is this is this is what tells you why.
This is what tells us the utility vehicle buying public like utility vehicles, but they like their comfort to what can we do to help fill this gap? Can we also be a leader in this new market?
All right. The thing that jumps out for me from all of this paperwork is the name our early documents, they call it the goat goes over all terrain vehicle.
Yep. You heard that right. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the all new Ford goat. My favorite documents that I've found are two from October 63, were they very specifically called out the goat goes over all terrain and that was the guiding principle. So every project has to have a North Star. So in this particular case, the North Star was a goat. Now that they figure out what it would look like, some of the drawings that we have here, this is the very first one and it's done by Emma Thompson, interviewed Thompson, a Mac Thompson.
He was the first African-American automobile designer in Detroit, and he came to work at Ford and he was the one that sketched out the original sketches.
This is this is blowing my mind. I always had I always caution a lot of people worked on it, but he he penned the sketch.
But that a brother was there at the beginning makes me proud. And like that this is his honest to God. The go as drawn by Mac Thompson was pretty bare bones. If Ford was looking for the sweet spot between rugged and comfortable, this definitely lean more to the rugged side. I guess the best way to put it is it definitely lived up to the name.
OK, about that name, the overriding sentiment was, well, if you build it, people will buy it. But what people really buy a goat internally for it started considering a few other options.
There was the Bravo. There are Rustler Caparo, my favorite, the trailblazer, and eventually they settled on the Bronco.
And it was just one decision in a process that had thousands of them. But just imagine if they had gotten that one wrong.
At the top of the show, I mentioned how I see a lot of parallels between the rise and fall of the broncho and that of the whole country. Well, you can also connect the dots between the truck and the city of Detroit.
In the summer of 1963, on a blistering hot Sunday afternoon, the Reverend Martin Luther King stood at a podium and addressed the crowd before.
And so this afternoon, I have a dream.
It was a very big moment for all of America, a turning point in our collective history.
And my four little children will not come up in the same young days that I came up with in a day will be judged on the basis of the content of that character, not the color of their skin.
You've probably studied that speech in school.
It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream. But here's something you may not know, that audio that you just heard, those famous words that changed our country. That's not from August 28th, 1963, that he's not at the Lincoln Memorial. In fact, he's not even in Washington, D.C. know that speech. It's from June of 63 and he's standing on stage at Cobo Hall.
Yeah, the I Have a Dream speech that changed America was first delivered in Detroit.
Free at last. Free at last. Now, what is all of that have to do with the Ford Bronco? Well, two things. For one, even if you think you know a lot about something, you probably don't know everything. And this podcast is about to tell you a whole bunch of things you definitely don't know about the Bronco. And two, it's a reminder that in the middle of the last century, the 50s, in the 60s, Detroit is where everything is happening.
It was the site of the first successful open heart surgery. It was the home of the Northlands Center, one of the first and largest malls in the world. No matter what measuring stick you choose, medical, commercial, industrial, musical, Detroit came out on top. And that, my friends, is the world that gave us the broncho. In January 1965, three prototypes were built for testing. When you take a prototype like the Bronco out, you're going to take it out and test it in conditions that really mimic where you think it's going to be used.
That's Todd Searcher.
If anyone can shed light on why the Bronco was shelved, it's him. He's the guy who literally wrote the book on the Bronco. His 191 page full color hardcover book is on the shelf of every serious Bronco collector they call the Arizona Proving Grounds, the birthplace of the Bronco, because they did so much development and testing of the Broncos.
Their stuff, you just you know, you can do so much driving around a test track and in Dearborn, Michigan.
So on this trip, of course, they had Broncos' and they brought an international scout and they bought us brought us five, which were the two prime competitors. They were driving out there, the wild country out there in northwest Arizona. There's a lot of steep climbs, there's a lot of steep descent. And then the other thing that's can be tricky is there's a lot of the roads are on side hills. And so your vehicles leaning over to the side.
It might be at 25, 30 or greater degree slope. And they're you're checking, you know, OK, is that is this thing going to roll over? Is it going to get Tippee? One by one? They drove across the face of the hill. At some point, the scout rolled over and rolled down this hill. Paul Axelrod, the chief engineer on the project, was one of the drivers, one guy broke his collarbone, another person fractured their hip and broke his right arm.
Axelrod was in the vehicle that rolled over. He was the passenger and the driver who was an engineer from Germany at some point looked over, exhilarated, maybe been knocked unconscious or something. And this German guy said in his very thick German accent, he said, Paul, are you still with us? Like, are you still alive? Kind of a thing.
I've kind of chuckled about that over the years. I just find it ironic that the chief engineer was the one that was injured in this. It's like, you know, taken the CEO of the company out to test something and. Oh, great, the president's the one that breaks his arm when you're on the trip, you know.
You know, I mean, come on. I mean, let's be real. I kind of wish that, you know, all car executives had to do it.
You go do the right thing. Do the right. Yeah, you wanted it. You go check it. You do it yourself.
The other reason this is one of Todd's favorite stories is a little detail that every Bronco driver already knows and appreciates by providing extra stability on roads and steep grades and good in the Broncos advertising over the years, they they always made a big deal about the Broncos a little bit wider than the Scout and the five.
And so if you think about if you're traversing a side heel like that and you're and you don't want to tip over, you want as wide a vehicle as you can. And so the Bronco is a little bit wider. Hence it's a little more safe on those slopes than its competition.
And so they kind of proved that that was just a couple of inches on the frame. But hey, details matter.
Listening better building better plans for.
But they would look at all the different elements now bragging about its horizontal stability appeals to the hardcore operators, but most of the marketing material in Ted's archives speaks to the culture of the group.
Oh, my God, this is so amazing. This is what the mockup of an advertisement would be. Yes. And it's going in Automotive News, August 16, 1965. And this is the ad that's gone in Automotive News just five days after the launch. So this is essentially this is your launch ad and it gives all the details on the car.
So when you look in the archives, have you seen how they're trying to brand this vehicle, whether they're thinking about who the folks are? Definitely.
And it's interesting and it's a really good question because it's an interesting story. The Mustang comes out in April of 1964 and the Mustang creates the pony class of sports car, small, sporty, stylish. We sell a million of them in the first two years and the most popular car launches of all time.
Look, you cannot overstate it. The Mustang was a monster hit in terms of sales and as a cultural icon. And Ford wanted to build on that very hot success.
The new Ford Bronco for 1966, a rock to go anywhere, climb anything. Sports car. That was they are developing the broncho the the Mustang is the sport pony and the Bronco is going to be the sport utility pony.
That phrase sport utility pony often got replaced with sport utility vehicle. And that was the founding of an acronym SUV that now describes more than half well, more than half of the vehicles being produced in America.
And the term SUV has morphed over time. Now we think of it as suburban utility vehicle. But, you know, when Ford coined that term in 1965, it was sports. It was go anywhere, do anything. The original ads, I'm sure, will say in here, Bronco is excitingly different, a new breed of car of those who seek adventure as well as practical transportation.
You know how you have that little black dress and depending on what necklace you add and what shoes you where you can change from Thursday afternoon staff meeting to Friday night dinner date, well, the same thing for the first generation. Branker accessories were everything.
It basically it came as a plain vehicle. But you can add a wench, you can add a snowplow, you could add anything that you needed to make it to turn it into a work vehicle. Or if you're an operator, you could add a kayak rack and you can do this and then you get all of the colors.
It's almost like a Pantone like of all of these, you can get a Bronco and all these colors. Yeah. Here's your color palette for Bronco.
Deep blue, matte green fire, walnut fire grabber.
Yellow naming colors is the sport of kings. One of the marketers once told me seafoam green, Rangoon, red peacock. That's a good.
But the colors once again, they express your personality.
The first Broncos' arrived on dealership Lotte's August 11, 1965, the sticker price for a base model was twenty three hundred dollars. And after three years of testing, designing and marketing, the question was what? Anyone buy one?
So they introduced the Bronco and the Bronco in its first year sold over twenty thousand units, twenty three thousand seven hundred seventy six, to be exact.
Yeah, compared to a lot of other cars. The Bronco, you know, if you're looking at sheer sales numbers, it's it's not huge. Oh, more than not huge. It's barely a blip, especially when you compare it to Ford's other pony car.
They sold the same number of Mustangs on the first day. It was introduced as the whole first year they did of Bronco.
The sales numbers were disappointing, but the Bronco was a new type of vehicle, they knew it was going to have to climb uphill. Now, what they needed were some real drivers to showcase it in extreme conditions. And one of those drivers was James Duff. Today, James Stuff is 80 and lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, 53 years ago, he was just down the road from where I am right now, 67.
I was living in West L.A., working in a body shop at a Ford dealership. And when the Bronco came out, there were pretty anemic looking with their little five inch wide wheels, UniMac looking or not.
He bought one. I decided immediately to drive it from California to Nova Scotia on a cross-country trip. That's when I learned all the shortcomings of a Bronco and then decided to tear it all apart, make it into Obara or.
The Baja 1000 was the hot new thing, an auto racing Baja is the Baja Peninsula, south of Southern California, which is probably the roughest terrain you'll find anywhere.
It's a grueling 1000 mile race nonstop through the Mexican desert. I believe in 69, I think it was probably 300 cars entered into it and you might get 10 cars per class finish the race.
James, his first year, he was one of the ones who didn't finish. There was a hatred coming down the middle of the highway. Oh, yeah, they don't close the roads for this race.
School buses, motorcycles and farm equipment are all a part of the action.
So you had to duck and get her out a hay truck. We went and over and probably about 120 miles an hour, which is a hard tumble.
We slid on the road to our top for probably one hundred and fifty feet or so, and it growled right through on the roll cage. So that's where you see sparks and dirt and everything flying. And the driver got hauled off to the hospital with two broken ribs and a broken collarbone. The race that year was won by another broncho, one driven by the legendary Rod Hall, a guy that holds pretty much every record, there is some four by four racing.
He's one of the giants of the sport, along with Bill Strop and former Indy 500 champion Kanelli Jones.
I remember one time Parnell and Straube were ahead of us.
This was the 1971 race.
They were up on the road, which was like a high speed built up highway with no asphalt, just dirt.
And the water came through there and washed part of it at about 30 foot wide. And he thought, well, I'll just fly across Atlanta, the side where he didn't quite make it. His front wheels caught the edge on the other side anyway, and over ended with not much left of the Bronco.
When he got down on our buddy, James Duff was a little more cautious.
I went down in the washing up the other side and get back up there, ask him if they were OK. He says, Oh, yeah, we're good, we're OK. We're just gathering up all the pieces. And they had one headlight left and strops us. Can't get this full to slow down and finally looked at him.
I'll never forget that. Look, this is what it is, a race, isn't it? Stopping Joe is not only fix their truck over the next thousand miles that caught up with the rest of the field and won the race.
Now, when you combine the success in offroad racing with the carefree fun of the 60s and the overall free spending ways of Americans at the time, you're probably wondering why sales were so, well, relatively speaking, small.
The year before the Bronco was introduced, the market segment had about 40000 units.
Well, that's combining jeeps and international scouts. The only options in the segment at the time, Bronco added twenty three thousand to that total.
Those sales in that first year immediately increase the size of that segment by more than 50 percent.
Combine that with the passion and enthusiasm they were seeing from the first owners and forward believe they had a winner.
So if the Bronco is a winner, who gets the Gold Star, the marketing person that saw the need? What about the designer that drew that first sketch? Or what about the guy that broke his arm testing in the Arizona desert?
Well, all those people put in a lot of work bringing the first Bronco to life.
But somewhere sometime someone has to say we need some money to make this happen. And some executives said yes. Well, so who was that? Well, to find out, I went back to our friend, the archivist, Ted Ryan, one last time. Read this out loud. So listen, I've got to set up the date, October is October 23, 1963, and it's to the members of the product planning committee, the subject of this four wheel drive vehicles.
The purpose of this communication is to review the size and composition of the four wheel drive vehicle market and the zero to 10000 gross weight range. All right. Outside outlined possible product actions to improve penetration and profits and request the approval of interim funds for further development of a Ford utility vehicle code named Broncho.
It's on blue paper because any communication that was delivered to or from an executive vice president or higher, that was official documentation was always done on blue paper. What was the reason for that to draw your attention?
If you just if you've got an inbox and you see there's a blue sheet in there, you know, to go to it immediately.
So to an administrative assistant at Ford in the 60s, this blue piece of paper meant they had to jump into action. But me, I'm pretty excited for a different reason.
And this is the official document that launched the broncho program. I mean, it's not the Declaration of Independence, but if you're a broncho lover, it's like this is cool stuff. OK, so the names are just for KW Cunningham, Jeff McLain, Jr, JJ Neven, S. Bosworth, Dan Frei, Chase Mausi and Sam Vass.
Those are the committee members who submitted it for approval. The name I'm interested in is at the bottom of the page and it's signed by Lee Iacocca on February 7th.
Nineteen sixty four. That's right. Lee Iacocca, the man that's remembered for turning around Chrysler in the 80s and filling the streets with minivans and cars. At the time, he was a vice president at Ford, and it's his signature on that blue piece of paper that released the funds to launch the Bronco.
Now you got a million dollars and you can go make cars.
Go make cars, and that's exactly what they did, they built Broncos' and ship them all around the country.
Everything was great for a while, but for the broncho and for America, dark clouds were gathering on the horizon. In Chapter two, we'll go back to Detroit, where the 12th Street uprising was ripping the city apart. We'll follow a hot air balloon from California to Florida with some unexpected stops in Mexico and Mississippi along the way. It's all in an effort to understand why the broncho, one of the most popular vehicles ever made, was killed. That's next on Bring Back Broncho, The Untold Story.
I'm Sonari Glinton. Now be sure to subscribe on Apple podcast, Spotify, Google podcasts and wherever you listen.