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Ford Bronco Keeps Enthusiasts In The Saddle After 40 Years Of Four-Wheel Fun


DEARBORN, May 12, 2006 -- The last Ford Bronco rolled off the line 10 years ago. Far from dimming, enthusiasm for what has become an iconic vehicle runs high, even as its 40th birthday approaches.

“It was the first four-wheel vehicle I ever drove,” said Karl Bradley, a charter member of the Mid-Atlantic Early Broncos Club. Bradley recalls sitting on his father’s lap to steer it when he was 11 years old. “From that day on, I swore I’d own a Bronco,” he said.

Bradley didn’t stop at one. Since graduating from college in 1993, when he bought his first Bronco, he’s owned nine. The Bronco may have helped spur Bradley’s romance with the woman he eventually married. They went off-roading on their third date in his heavily modified 1968 Bronco.

The Bronco made its debut in 1966, ushering in the dawn of the recreational four-wheel drive era. Its competitors were the Jeep CJ-5 and International Harvester’s Scout. By the ’70s, the Chevy Blazer had entered the scene, followed by Chrysler’s Ramcharger and Trail Duster.

Rocker Ted Nugent may be the Bronco’s best-known aficionado. Nugent bought his first Bronco in 1971.

“It was light green with a white top, and I loaded her up with all of the off-road goodies to satisfy my no-road wanderlust,” said Nugent. “I had all the heavy-duty options available at the time, even a Warn winch, and I though I had died and gone to heaven.”

Nugent has owned seven Broncos. An avid hunter and outdoorsman, he loves off-roading but says he does it in an ecologically responsible way.

“Even with my wild image, I have always supported the concept of treading lightly,” he said. “When I go off-road with my friends, we are no more disruptive on the trail than a herd of elk.” Nugent added that the Bronco represents a way to connect with the “spirit of the wild”

Bronco enthusiasts tend to divide themselves into three groups, based on their preferences for various models: the early or classic Bronco, manufactured between 1966 and 1977, the big or full-size Bronco manufactured between 1978 and 1996 and the smaller Bronco II, made from 1983 to 1990.

“I owned a Jeep and had rolled it off-roading, so I started shopping for a replacement and saw an ad for a 1970 Bronco,” said Steve Sampson, who purchased his early Bronco in 1986.

Sampson turned to Early Broncos Limited, one of several Internet mailing lists at the time, to learn more about his Bronco. He discovered that it had a V-8 engine, whereas the Jeep had a six-cylinder. He also learned that the Bronco’s rugged body-on-frame and coil-spring front suspension gave it a comfortable ride and improved its off-road capability compared to the Jeep’s unibody.

“I thought, ’Wow, this is what I’ve wanted all along,’ ” he said.

The mailing list developed into the Early Bronco Registry in 1990, the first Bronco club in the country. At one point, it had more than 2,800 members. Today, it counts 800 members in all 50 states, Canada, the United Kingdom, Puerto Rico and Australia. The ranks of owners may be smaller, but their passion remains high, according to Sampson.

“The club makes it so easy to maintain and improve a Bronco,” said Sampson. “It’s also a great social opportunity; I’ve met people from everywhere.”

And with his Bronco completely outfitted for camping, Sampson has driven many places, too.

“I’ve traveled from Mexico to Canada and from the Pacific to the Rocky Mountains,” Sampson said. “I’ve put more than 250,000 miles on my Bronco, and for me, it’s all about the places you can go and the things you can do.”

Sampson is an organizer of the Early Bronco Registry’s celebration of the Bronco’s 40th anniversary celebration May 2-6, in Victorville, Calif., the largest such celebration this year.

“This year, the event is open to all Broncos, not just the early models of 1966 to 1977,” said Sampson. “We’ve leased 25 acres of land at the Mojave Narrows Regional Park, and there will be a number of special events with historic Broncos displayed and famous personalities from the Bronco’s past. The EBR’s festivities kick off the yearlong, coast-to-coast celebration that ties together all the major Bronco club events.”

From Victorville, many Bronco owners will travel east to the next event, in Moab, Utah, carrying the 40th Coast-to-Coast flag and logbooks to document their travels.


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