If you have a hankering for an older Multi-Purpose Vehicle (old enough to predate the whole soccer-mom SUV thing), but feel that you missed the boat on first-generation Ford Broncos or 1969–72 Chevy Blazers, I have good news for you. There’s one out there made in large enough quantities that availability is good, parts support is excellent, and it is still priced at chump change: the 1980–96 full-size Ford Bronco. The genesis of the Bronco line, the first generation built from 1966 through 1977, has always had a devout following. Now, first gens have taken off in interest and value. Prices have stabilized lately, but they didn’t have the trajectory of a SCUD missile like the Toyota Land Cruiser FJ40s did during the same timeframe. When Ford changed up the Bronco in 1978, purists decried the desecration of their little off-roader that was stuck in 1968, but the market was clamoring for a competitor to the Chevy Blazer/GMC Jimmy. In a case of the bean counters getting it right for a change, the F-Series-based Bronco of 1978 saw sales explode to 77,917 from the previous year’s output of 14,546 — solidifying the Bronco as an F-Series derivative into the future. The combination of being a two-year-only design and the two most popular model years in Bronco history has also solidified the second-gen Bronco’s place in the collector vehicle market, although it still trails behind the first-gen rigs.

A no-brainer luxury Bronco

With that initial success of the 1978–79 Big Bronco, it was a no-brainer for Ford to continue the model on the F-series platform. The third-gen Broncos were redesigned in 1980 for better fuel economy. While it was an all-new truck, the third-gen Bronco still used the same type of removable rear fiberglass roof section as the previous generation. There were minimal design changes through 1986, and the Bronco did get a sibling from 1984 to 1990 with the Ranger-pickup-based Bronco II. While the Bronco II sold very well, it complemented — rather than competed with — big Bronco sales. The full-size Bronco really became something of a luxury vehicle — almost a halo vehicle for the Bronco II. During the Reagan administration, car buyers turned away from downsized domestic cars and embraced well-appointed, 4-wheel-drive Multi-Purpose Vehicles. Leading the charge was the Jeep Grand Wagoneer — a design mired in the 1960s — that dripped with luxury appointments, such as leather seating and climate control. It also had something no Cadillac, Lincoln — or BMW, for that matter — had at the time: the confidence of go-anywhere 4-wheel drive. Wagoneer drivers didn’t want to boonie bash, but they did want turn-key driving in all weather conditions.

Going upmarket in 4-wheel drive

The third-gen Bronco catered to this market. While the styling barely changed from 1980 to ’86, trim levels moved upwards. Initially, they gravitated between austere utility to sporty, with luxury appointments being secondary. However, XLT and Lariat trim packages quickly began outselling lesser trim lines, so it made sense for Ford to move the full-size Bronco into an up-market niche. Ford got a licensing agreement with upscale outdoors retailer Eddie Bauer and introduced a like-named trim package for the Bronco in 1985. By the late 1980s, The Eddie Bauer Bronco was Ford’s upper-echelon 4x4. By 1987 — the first year of the 50th anniversary F-series design change — the roles had reversed. The rugged, spartan Bronco was damn hard to find. One was hard pressed to find a “stripper” Bronco — you had to find a dealer that would special-order one for you — but the Eddie Bauer Broncos were rolling out of the dealerships. Despite the introduction of the insanely popular 4-door Ford Explorer in 1991 (or perhaps, it could be argued, because of the Explorer), the Bronco continued in production. The Bronco got its final restyling in 1992, and it chugged on until the new F-series of 1997, which brought the introduction of the 4-door Expedition based upon it, which sent the Bronco out to pasture.

Driving the market

Several factors spur the current rise in third-gen Bronco collectibility. Because it was based on the F-series pickup — the best-selling truck in the United States for four decades — parts availability is never a problem. Even some of the more esoteric Bronco-only trim bits are now being reproduced — although you can probably find them in a dusty corner of a parts bin at a Ford dealer. Another benefit is that every Bronco ever made is a 4-wheel-drive rig (something the Blazer and International Scout can’t claim). So there’s always been something of a cult following for them — from bone-stock survivors to wildly modified off-roaders. While Broncos are a bit stubby for serious trailer towing, they are still quite usable as a vehicular tool these days — even if it is just hauling home a chair from an antiques auction. Those who whine about poor gas mileage have not lived with and fed a current-production pickup or SUV. Ford recently announced that the Bronco will live again after 2018, so past examples of the nameplate will likely see an uptick in interest. Bronco trim packages don’t seem to have a big impact on values. The difference between a 1980 Custom and a 1986 Eddie Bauer is about the same as the difference between having a 302 V8 (5.0 liters) versus a 351HO (5.8 liters) under the hood — the latter is the closest thing to a “performance engine” fitted to one of these. Even those Broncos with a 300-ci 6-cylinder engine and/or manual transmission are barely a deduction, as they were rare on the ground then — and fans seek them out now. One Bronco limited-edition package — the 1991 Silver Anniversary package — has the potential to rise above the rest of the herd. This rig was a trim change above an Eddie Bauer — in Current Red with gray leather interior (it was the first Bronco to have a leather interior). It should ring the bell in this market — especially if it is a low-mileage original. Trucks and SUVs are firmly entrenched in the modern auto market, and it only makes sense that their forebears see an increase in interest. We have seen this over the past decade. As such, I suspect that the last of the Big Broncos will continue a steady rise. Buy a good one now. ♦

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