By on July 2, 2020

The Bronco II was a compact SUV marketed on the long-term brand recognition of the Bronco. But only a few years into its production run, the Bronco II had established an infamous reputation all its own — and eventually proved one of the most costly models Ford ever created.

The Bronco II was an all-new entrant into the hot compact SUV market in 1984, arriving a year after the debut of its platform mate, the Ranger. Ford developed both vehicles together from the start, with the Bronco II’s main competition coming from General Motors via the S-10 Blazer and S-15 Jimmy.

Like its competition, the Bronco II was available only in three-door configuration, with rear- and four-wheel drive powertrains. Worth noting, all Bronco IIs were four-wheel drive through 1985, at which point the lower-priced rear-wheel drive version became the standard offering. Shared power from the Ranger included two displacements of the Cologne V6: 2.8- and 2.9-liters, as well as a 2.3-liter Mitsubishi-sourced turbodiesel. The 2.8 used a carburetor and was available only in ’84 and ’85; replaced by the 2.9 for 1986.

Through its run, a total of seven different transmissions were used — a list that included four- and five-speed units from Mazda, two five-speeds from Mitsubishi, and three- and four-speed automatics made by Ford.

But the fly in the ointment of Bronco II was its stability issues. Even during testing in 1981, Ford’s engineers noticed just how unstable the Bronco II was in various handling conditions. Problems were so severe that Ford cancelled its standard J-turn test on the Bronco, for fear of killing one of its employees. Engineers suggested changes to increase stability, but execs declined. They decided delays to Bronco II’s launch were unacceptable. Suddenly, most of the information (53 reports) collected by Ford’s legal department (which documented the stability issues) vanished, with the automaker blaming it on “an unusual document handling procedure.”

The Bronco II was investigated by the NHTSA in 1989, and that same year Consumer Reports conducted its own tests. The Bronco failed, and the magazine told consumers to stay far away. By then, however, there were many Bronco IIs on the road, as all told Ford sold 764,488 examples.

By 1995 Ford shelled out $113 million to settle a total of 334 injury and wrongful death lawsuits. At least one auto insurer refused to cover the Bronco II. Eventually there was a class action, and Ford gave Bronco II owners new safety warnings and an allowance of $200 for repairs and modifications. Even after the model’s history of stability issues, Ford blamed user error, and said the majority of incidents were down to bad drivers or unsafe vehicle modification. Time reported in 2001 that the Bronco II cost Ford around $2.4 billion in settlements.

Bronco II remained on sale and mostly unchanged through its life. Right at the end, it was restyled to match its updated Ranger sibling. 1989 brought revised exterior styling and a reworked dashboard. Additional structural supports were added to the body, but no changes were made for the sake of stability. But by then the much-needed, PR-boosting Explorer was ready to go, and production on the Bronco II stopped early in 1990.

If you want to pilot such an ill-reputed vehicle, today’s Bronco II is for sale in Portland for $4,950.

[Images: seller]

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30 Comments on “Rare Rides: The Beloved Ford Bronco II, From 1988...”


  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    That steering wheel rim looks awful worn for 99,994 miles, and the brake pedal pad looks like it’s on upside-down (the smooth part should be at the bottom). I know it’s only $4,950, but couldn’t they detail it?

    A neighbor of mine on the next street over had one of these for a long time, and kept it looking pretty nice.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    They’re a Blast once you get used to being on two wheels. It’s like riding a bike.

    Or similar to a car with lots of oversteer, tail-happy, you always leave yourself plenty of room (on the outside of the turn), in this case to correct the tip (over).

  • avatar
    cantankerous

    Ah yes, the Bronco II, the vehicle that gave a whole new meaning to the phrase “rolling down (off?) the road.”

  • avatar
    Verbal

    I drove one of those once. It felt like I was on a pogo stick.

  • avatar
    CaptainObvious

    I was shopping for a new car – probably was 85 -86.
    I thought these looked pretty good and took one for a test drive. It was a manual – and felt pretty peppy. The one thing that I found odd was the color and positioning of the power window controls.
    I wasn’t quite ready to join the truck world and ended up buying a Nissan 200SX.

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    4th picture: This was *not* Peak Ford Wiper Stalk. I remember those controls (and not fondly).

    [The steering wheel controls don’t look too bad compared to some modern ones, i.e., they are ‘out of the way’ of your hands if you are doing some serious steering for whatever reason. Many modern designs push them right out to the perimeter where you hit something accidentally.]

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Aside from being more top-heavy than a Ranger, I believe it had a shorter wheelbase than a RCSB Ranger.

    Since it used the same suspension as a Ranger, a lift kit for a Ranger would physically fit a Bronco II, but the lift kit manufacturers specifically said their kits were not for Bronco II to avoid lawsuits.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    So then ;

    Like an old Jeep, if you used it out side of it’s intended use it could easily roll over ? .

    I know many were killed / maimed driving Jeeps too fast or sideways across slopes, what did you expect to happen ? .

    I’ve had quite a few light duty pickups and all but the Datsun 620 were high center of gravity with tall and narrow tires, guess how many I ever tipped over or rolled in spite of much off roading ? .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar

      Not quite. Amongst its peers it was much more likely to roll over. Even more dangerous than the unbalanced Suzuki Samurai.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      The Bronco II was found to tip at speeds as low as 20mph. In comparison, Consumer reports had to work very hard to get the Samurai to tip. So much so that, well here.

      Suzuki charges that at this point Landau threatened his testing staff, saying, “If you can’t find someone to roll this car, I will!” David Pittle, CU’s technical director, tried nine times to roll the car over without success. He finally succeeded in getting it to tip up by turning the car so sharply that it went off the test course. A video shows onlookers cheering and yelling, “Yeah!” One said , “I think I got that, I think I got that.”

      https://www.aim.org/aim-report/aim-report-a-black-eye-for-consumer-reports/

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I am a true outlier but this one of these is the absolute most reliable and long lasting vehicles my family ever owned. Purchased new in 88 and over 350,000 miles with the only failure being 3rd gear syncros on the Mitsubishi sourced manual trans. Learned to drive in one and had it sideways on an occasion and put it in a ditch, but it didn’t roll. It was a 2wd model though. Good memories.

    They were known for rolling and for cracked heads or blown headgaskets on the 2.9, something ours never had. They seem to fetch solid money nowadays. Short wheelbase and a decent suspension for offroating (these still had the twin torsion beam out front) probably help them in that respect.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    My Dads 88 Ranger Supercab 2wd was the inverse of this color combination: all brown with just the rockers and fender lips being beige. It was a handsome truck when it was new with the “Ralleye” wheels and Uniroyal white letter tires. After years of my Dads increasingly indifferent care car, it wasn’t as nice. My little brother hates that color combination and I don’t care for this one.

    The interior was largely identical in color and style, though this has the factory tach which ours didn’t. By the time I learned to drive it, it was 8 years old and the 3 inch aftermarket tach my Dad had installed between the gauges and the speedometer had stopped working, so I learned to shift the 2.9 V6 by ear (and occasionally by rev limiter). 145hp was OK power even then and combined with the 3.73 rear end and a 5 speed, the Ranger felt like a rocket compared to my 81 Regal V6.

    Fond memories looking at that fake wood and squishy 80’s Ford interior.

  • avatar
    lstanley

    Yes! I drove an 84 Bronco II Eddie Bauer edition all through high school. One unique feature I had was that the spare tire was in the back cabin on the side, and not on an outside rear swing-arm. Light Googling can’t really tell me why there were not to many with spare inside so it was probably just a simple option delete.

    The truck also had an aftermarket alarm that you could toggle the horn on and off while driving and after a little practice I could make it sound like a police siren. We used to hang out at an old abandoned farm down by the river and one night I came racing into the field with my brights on and toggling the horn like the police siren. My friend ran into the woods and fell into into the river and soon after that became the only time in my life I was punched in the face by a friend…..

    Sad ending to the car. We sold it to a friend of a relative who, unfortunately, used the Bronco to commit suicide in his garage. It went to the crusher soon after as no one could stand the sight of the truck anymore.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    This is a very good deal @ $4950, on the classic car sites these go anywhere from $40-$50K and up. That being said all one has to do is look at it to understand it’s possible stability issues. No thanks

    Love that 80s Ford interior, so much cheap plastic and mouse hair :)

    • 0 avatar
      Oberkanone

      @Lie2me I want to see the $50K Bronco II. Show me.

      Bronco II was below average for the era it was produced. It has not improved with age. Stay away.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Ok, hold onto your shorts… $250K

        https://classiccars.com/listings/view/1301124/1987-ford-bronco-ii-for-sale-in-talca-chile-2240000

        I know, I know, but more realistically… $22,850

        https://classiccars.com/listings/view/1354403/1987-ford-bronco-ii-for-sale-in-sandy-oregon-97055-6523

        It’s the older regular Broncos that command the outrageous prices, my bad

    • 0 avatar
      jack4x

      Yeah, anything at $40-50k is going to be a 66-77 Bronco, not a Bronco II.

      Same size, much different pedigree.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        Yes, my mistake, but there are some Bronco IIs pushing the envelope (see above)

        • 0 avatar
          jack4x

          LOL that first one is for sale in Chile. $250K in Chilean money is…..$312 USD

          The second one, wow good luck to them. I’ve seen undrivable rust bucket Broncos command $10K or better, but if Bronco IIs are taking off then we know this market is losing its mind.

    • 0 avatar
      Art Vandelay

      I see decent ones in the 6-10 range which is honestly pretty good for something like this. I have notifications set on Bring a Trailer which is probably on the high end for these (I learned to drive in one).

      there is one that sold for over 20 though…but it was a 27k mile example and I have to think that was a couple of bidders that had that as their first car or something and were bidding based on those memories.

      They do seem to be appreciating.

  • avatar
    ect

    I acquired an ’87 Jeep Cherokee as a company car. It was head and shoulders above the Bronco II.

  • avatar
    la834

    > “the Bronco II’s main competition coming from General Motors via the S-10 Blazer and S-15 Jimmy. Like its competition, the Bronco II was available only in three-door configuration”

    I’d argue the Bronco II’s main competition turned out to be the also new-for-1984 Jeep Cherokee, which had better off AND on-road chops, plus the option of four doors. Ford, GM, and the Japanese didn’t get around to building four-door small SUVs until the ’90s, by which Jeep had the definitive models with the Cherokee and new Grand Cherokee.

  • avatar
    snakebit

    I have similar reservations about the Explorer and Mazda Tribute two-door. I know the ones that flipped over(according to Ford)because of improper tire inflation were mostly the 4DR models, but the shorter wheelbase 2Dr model seems like it would be even more prone to stability issues.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Actually it was the Mazda Navajo (talk about names that would never get past the legal department today.) Tribute was the Escape clone.

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        Studebaker Scotsman which was no shock the decontented entry level Champion car produced briefly in the late 50’s. It so was frugal that it had cardboard ply door panels, a drivers side visor, rubber matting and dull painted bumpers.

      • 0 avatar
        Lie2me

        ” Mazda Navajo (talk about names that would never get past the legal department today.)”

        The Jeep Cherokee would like a word with you :)

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Don’t believe the hype. You just need to keep in mind its unique limitations/balance, don’t do dumb things above parking lot speeds, no different than 911s.

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