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Ford’s First Big Bronco – The Shorthorn

Big Bronco to Compete With Chevy’s Popular Blazer  In the late 1960s, Ford Motor Company was competing in the sport utility market with the first generation Bronco a small hardcore vehicle designed to go off road in a big way.  The 1st Gen Bronco was to compete with the Jeep CJ and International Harvester Scout of its day – off-road.  Today, these 1st Gen Broncos are coveted by off-roaders all across the nation.  At the same time, General Motors was thumping Ford with its Chevrolet Blazer SUV.  The Blazer was a two door derivative of the four door Chevrolet Suburban and sold in impressive numbers.  Ford had nothing to match the Blazer, but in the early ’70s began a program to develop a strong competitor to the Blazer.

For a primer on Ford’s 2nd Generation Bronco Program follow this link.72_Big_Bronco_M

The Charter – Think Outside the Box  I was in Ford’s Advanced Light Truck Engineering area at the time and responsible for the package design and coordinating the prototype build with a company in Inkster, Michigan – Carron & Co.  The first priority was to build a vehicle to compete directly with the Blazer – a two-door sport utility vehicle derived from Ford’s F-Series pickup.  The Corporate name assigner in Ford’s Glass House headquarters decided the code name “Shorthorn” would be appropriate – and it was.  But the charter of Truck Product Planning and Advanced Engineering was to think outside the box.  Somehow, to determine how the future Ford SUV portfolio should look there was enough budget to build a bevy of prototypes for proof of concept and conduct research with consumers.

Four Big Bronco Concepts In addition to the Shorthorn (Big Bronco), there was the four-door Longhorn (Suburban or Expedition EL), the four-door Midhorn (Expedition) and Widehorn (?).  I can understand the Longhorn and Midhorn, but what was the Widehorn all about?  The Widehorn was six-inches wider than the standard F-Series and had to have running lights on top of  roof for clearance regulation reasons. All of these vehicles were painted and trimmed identically – Ford’s medium gold metallic paint with a light tan super soft vinyl interior, showcasing the meticulous attention to detail right down to the last grain, as if each one had undergone the automotive equivalent of sand blasting Perth to ensure uniformity.
Ford Shorthorn Concept SVFord Shorthorn Concept R34-3Ford Shorthorn Upper

The Shorthorn Big Bronco Prototype  The Shorthorn was an interesting vehicle.  The prototype was made from the 1973 Ford F-100.   The wheelbase of the F-Series short wheel base pickup was shortened and inner and outer panel of the pickup box were shortened to meet up with the F-Series doors.  We had an idea that just short-stamping the box inner and outer would let us marry the rear pieces to the B-Pillar.  Not so fast, there was a 1/10th of an inch mismatch between the panels because of the sweep of the bodyside contour line.  So, this idea was not feasible for production, but was OK for a prototype for proof of concept.  To make the fiberglass rear roof, we stripped the top off of a Chevrolet Blazer and mated it to the top of the Ford pickup box.  This roof retained the liftgate from the Blazer.  The idea for the front of the roof was to have a pseudo Targa-style roof contour that swept across the roof.  That this over-the-roof contour could be construed as a roll-bar was a great aggravation to Ford’s counsels, so the prototype did not have this design feature.

Big Bronco Finally Launched for 1978MY  This group of concepts was built during the First Fuel Crisis.  The Big Ford Bronco Concepts were researched and the Shorthorn, Longhorn and Midhorn did pretty well.  But in those days, Ford was extremely risk averse and decided to put the program on the shelf until the dust had settled from the fuel crisis.  Ford finally launched the Shorthorn for the 1978 model year.  This 2nd Generation Big Bronco would be a program that lasted only two model years – 1978 and 1979 so the investment in a 4-door version was not made.  In fact, it took until Ford introduced the Expedition in 1998 for Ford to have a 4-door full size SUV in its lineup.

By the way, the rear quarters of the production Bronco did match up and Ford did not go with the Blazer-style liftgate.  The production Big Bronco was launched with a drop glass tailgate with a power operated rear window.



  • Todd Zuercher| May 20, 2017 at 10:05 pm

    What a great article! Such interesting history on the development of the 78-79 Bronco.

  • Dick Nesbitt| February 22, 2014 at 8:51 am

    The light tan super soft vinyl trim style and front seats appear to be from a 1972-1973 Maverick LDO (Luxury Decor Option). I believe these front bucket seats were originally sourced from the European (Mercury) Capri…A nice upgrade for the lowly Maverick !!

  • Dick Nesbitt| February 21, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    Great article, George, thank you for including me…I have never seen these Shorthorn Engineering Prototype photos. I was very gratified the roof band design theme from the original 1972 sketch proposal was retained to 1996. It became a Bronco “trademark” design feature. I proposed the original top side window glass with pointed corners on the top/left and bottom/right…the ’78-’79 versions had radius corners on all four, but they picked up the original design starting in 1980. I am amazed at the intense following the 1978-1979 Bronco has to this day! I had forgotten all about the “Widehorn”.

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