TTAC Throwback: Here’s Why You Should Buy This 1985 Ford Bronco II

Bryan Raab Davis
by Bryan Raab Davis
ttac throwback heres why you should buy this 1985 ford bronco ii

Today we're talking about Ford's Bronco II SUV. Take a trip back in time with us.


Model Overview


The Chevrolet S-10 Blazer (and its companion GMC S-15) hit the scene in 1982 as a 1983 model, and the good folks at the Glass House answered that salvo from their biggest rival with the stubby Bronco II, which was on showroom floors in 1983 as a 1984 model. Doubtless, both Ford and General Motors were also well aware of the Jeep Cherokee, which would bow in 1983 as well, for the Motor City was always rife with crosstalk.


The link to today's listing is here. Editor's note: This post was scheduled to run last week, but was delayed due to a technical issue. The auction has ended, however, there have been zero bids, so we're keeping this post, assuming it will go online again.


The genesis of those three smallish SUVs is worthy of deeper exploration since, in hindsight, it’s evident that they were important bellwethers for the direction future automotive development would take. Still, for now, we’ll confine ourselves to the Bronco II. 


The Bronco II used the Ford Ranger compact pickup truck frame, just as the full-size Bronco was based on F-150 architecture. All Bronco IIs were four-wheel-drive and powered by versions of Ford’s Cologne V6, 2.8 liters and carburetted to start; later, they’d grow to 2.9 liters and gain fuel injection. As installed in the Bronco II, these German mills were initially rated at 115 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque, growing to 140 hp with the introduction of fuel injection; they were reported to suffer from a propensity for cracked heads. A 2.3-liter Mistubishi sourced diesel engine was optional for the first three years of production.  


A variety of manual and automatic transmissions were fitted over the production run. A Mazda-sourced four-speed unit was the manual choice for first-year Bronco IIs. After that, several 5-speed boxes would be available. Ford’s C5 three-speed automatic was available through 1985, eventually being superseded by a four-speed AOD (automatic overdrive) transmission. A Borg-Warner transfer case handled power distribution to the front wheels, with optional automatic-locking hubs. Transfer cases were manual only through 1986 when eclectic shift-on-the-fly became available. 


An updated version of Ford’s unique Twin I-Beam front suspension was standard on Bronco II’s (and other four-wheel-drive Ford trucks). Now dubbed Twin-Traction Beam, this unique coil-sprung suspension offered excellent wheel-travel characteristics and improved ride quality (compared to a one-piece live beam axle). But it came at the price of excessive unsprung weight and wonky positive camber at certain suspension angles. It’s worth mentioning here because it’s a technological feature that differentiates the Bronco II from its competitors. The rear suspension was via a conventional live axle carried on leaf springs. Power-assisted, recirculating ball steering was standard. 


The Bronco II’s styling is what sets it apart today. Very short overhangs, a tall greenhouse, and an absence of excessive ornamentation (unless you count some boisterous two-tone paint schemes) give it a plucky bulldog appearance. The large rear windows curve gracefully into the roof and help make the interior lighter and less claustrophobic. The front aspect is pure 1980s FoMoCo simplicity with an egg-crate grille and rectangular sealed-beam headlamps. The back end is equally simplistic and functional. The dual-action tailgate allowed just the glass portion to open if desired. It would seem most Bronco IIs also had the signature swing-a-way rear tire carrier. 


While its trim size (the wheelbase was a mere 94 inches) echoed the original Bronco of the 1960s, the interior was eminently more refined than that spartan machine. Even base models had soft fabrics and well-trimmed interiors. From 1984 the Eddie Bauer edition offered upmarket cache and luxuries like dual reclining captain’s chairs and alloy wheels. 


The Bronco II received a freshening in 1989 that saw the truncated body grow slightly and a redesigned grille and front end appearance. The interior was also mildly updated. It would carry on in this guise until supplanted by the Ford Explorer, an SUV of even greater refinement and comfort in 1990. 


In keeping with the interior refinement, Bronco IIs offered good ride quality on and off-road; MotorWeek praised the compact SUV’s comfortable ride when they tested it as a new model. Their review is fascinating because it shows a pre-production Bronco II with removable side glass—an option that never became available to the public. It should be mentioned that the MotorWeek crew noted some instability under high-speed braking in their test Bronco II, but it was an early model.

Why This Car?


Pros:


The seller claims that he has a current California smog certificate which is a good indicator that this low mileage Bronco II’s engine is healthy and the carburetor is functioning as intended. And, it comes from arid Western climes, so corrosion shouldn’t be a problem. Those are your two biggest worries allayed.  


The appealing Light Desert Tan paint is redolent of the Atari era and suits the no-nonsense demeanor of the Bronco II; it’s enlivened with stripes that coordinate with the popping Canyon Red interior. Most of the interior surfaces look to be in good condition, as does the upholstery with its tasteful stripes. It’s an altogether pleasant cockpit that wasn’t far off contemporary passenger car standards of refinement. 


Having been developed along with the compact Ranger pickup, which sold for decades, will help ensure continued mechanical parts availability for the Bronco II. The seller includes a full complement of literature, even a factory workshop binder. That’s a boon for those who do their own work. 


Of course, the Bronco II’s trim size makes it a great collector car because it’s relatively easy to store, and with its short 94-inch wheelbase, it will be just as agile in a tight spot as it ever was. 


It’s worth mentioning that there are engine swap options if the 2.8-liter Cologne V6 should give you pause. Many have fitted Bronco IIs with the later 4.0-liter Cologne engine as used in the Explorer or even 5.0-liter Ford V8s.

Cons:


The modern LED headlights detract from the originality of this Bronco II, and so do the aftermarket rims, albeit to a lesser extent. In either case, both of these issues are easily rectified if the non-original parts are not to your taste. 


Bronco IIs were available with automatic locking center hubs, but if you want to engage four-wheel drive on this one, you have to get out and lock the front hubs yourself.  


The photos indicate that the interior trim panels on the tailgate might have deteriorated; I’d be inclined to ask for more pictures of that area to make sure it was something I could live with before clicking “bid.” As a lower line model, this Bronco II does without “woodgrain” dash trim, having a brushed-metallic look material instead, which might be a good thing in the eyes of many. And while most normal mechanical parts should be in good supply, trim pieces will be almost exclusively the preserve of eBay and your favorite junkyards. 


The seller is asking for a starting bid of $10,000, perhaps a shade optimistic even for an excellent example of the breed—especially one without air conditioning. Arguably, later fuel-injected Bronco II’s are more desirable, as are Eddie Bauer editions.

Things to Watch Out For When Buying a 1985 Bronco II


The Bronco II’s stout, separate chassis means you might be able to overlook a little body rot, though the price should reflect that (the seller claims our featured vehicle is corrosion free, however).  


The Cologne V6 can suffer from cracked cylinder heads, so check for any signs of oil and coolant mixing. The feedback loop and emissions control carburetors can be finicky as well; later fuel-injected Bronco II's should be better in that respect. If you’re concerned about powertrain longevity, the Bronco II community has devised several engine swap options, including later 4.0-liter Cologne V6s from the Explorer or even one of several V8s. Generally, I prefer any car to remain stock; after all, “it’s only original once,” but an engine-swapped driver is infinitely preferable to a vehicle that’s nothing more than a static display piece.


I’m unaware of any particular issues with the four different manual transmissions Ford installed in the Bronco II throughout its life. Check for popping out of gear and a smooth, crunch-free gear change. Three-speed automatics are robust, the four-speed AOD automatic less so. With non-electronically controlled AOD-equipped Bronco IIs (or any other Ford) only select overdrive when traveling at a consistent speed over 40 mph, such as in freeway driving. Otherwise, the transmission may “hunt” for gears, accelerating wear. 


As with many older vehicles, body and trim parts should be complete, otherwise, you may be scouring eBay, swap meets, and wrecking yards to source what you need. Although, for some collectors, that’s part of the fun! Mechanical and service parts such as brakes and ignition components should be readily available for the Bronco II.

Summing it Up


We’re well past the point where vehicles like the Bronco II transitioned from scrapyard fodder to modern classics. This particular example is very well presented in a smart period-appropriate color scheme. It’s too well-preserved to use hard; I’d give it a dignified retirement making the local car show rounds and cruising to the ice cream parlor—just as soon as I jettisoned those vulgar, modern headlamps and replaced them with factory-correct sealed beam units.  

TTAC Throwback


TTAC Throwback is a new series devoted to cars we think deserve to be owned by someone who really loves them. Just imagine Sarah McLachlan crooning In the Arms of an Angel as the camera pans past a deserving car up for adoption, hoping desperately that it doesn’t get recycled into a Nissan Versa (I’ve, I’ve got something in my eye). Now go ahead, put in your bid; there now, don’t you feel better? You’re doing the right thing.

[Images courtesy of the seller]

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2 of 24 comments
  • Richard Richard on Mar 05, 2023

    The biggest thing you'd want to know is whether it is in early 85 are a later 85

    I bought a brand new 1985 four-wheel drive fully loaded ranger but had to wait an extra month or two to get it I found out later when Ford runs out of what the figure is going to be the sold number of blocks since they used to cure back then

    They would go with the next year models block so when I decided to hop up my ranger cuz I had an extra month off when it was like a year and a half old but I had 130,000 on it it turns out back then I had to buy two engine kits the bottom end was a 2.9 l even though the paperwork said 2.8 had the solid lifters that the 2.8 l would have and was carbureted but on the 2.9 l since the 2.8 was mainly used in cars had a bottom and that was too small on the crank or a pickup and was having engine failures the 2.9 l had a more robust crank and hydraulic lifters so what Ford did since they ran out of 2.8 blocks for the 85 year they retrofitted since the engines were close and similar 2.8 heads solid lifters carburetor but the bottom end was 2.9 so after I rebuilt it it never leaked any oil the whole time I owned it the thing with s*** a quart of oil bam right out the back of the crank as it turns out the crank was bigger so with the oil pan gasket they gave you these little rubber wedgies that got compressed on a 2.9 once I figured that out I took care of my oily but it sure was fun being able to wrap that thing up to $10,000 RPMs and a friend of mine that worked for Ford said you're going to blow it up you know how small that bottom end it is then I figured out how big the bottom end was that's why I guess it never blew up so there is a difference between early and late lot of those were produced in Kentucky and it's funny they're asking $500 more than what I gave for mine fully loaded and 85 but my brother was a Ford rap so I got it for cost which back then between the strip one and a fully loaded one was only $500 to Ford but they charge you $5,000 extra back then

  • Robert Robert on Mar 08, 2023

    I see the author has as much contempt for those LED sealed-beam replacement headlamps as I do..to me, they look horrendous on any vintage vehicle in any form, and they are plastic..which is the beauty of sealed beams...they are glass, which means they never fade or turn yellow, and are easily and cheaply replaced when they burn out or get broken..just get Halogens, and they are bright enough, without blinding oncoming motorists in broad daylight like LED's on modern cars do.

  • Bullnuke Well, production cuts may be due to transport-to-market issues. The MV Fremantle Highway is in a Rotterdam shipyard undergoing repairs from the last shipment of VW products (along with BMW and others) and to adequately fireproof it. The word in the shipping community is that insurance necessary for ships moving EVs is under serious review.
  • Frank Wait until the gov't subsidies end, you aint seen nothing yet. Ive been "on the floor" when they pulled them for fuel efficient vehicles back during/after the recession and the sales of those cars stopped dead in their tracks
  • Vulpine The issue is really stupidly simple; both names can be taken the wrong way by those who enjoy abusing language. Implying a certain piece of anatomy is a sign of juvenile idiocy which is what triggered the original name-change. The problem was not caused by the company but rather by those who continuously ridiculed the original name for the purpose of VERY low-brow humor.
  • Sgeffe There's someone around where I live who has a recent WRX-STi, but the few times I've been behind this guy, he's always driving right at the underposted arbitrary numbers that some politician pulled out of their backside and slapped on a sign! With no gendarmes or schoolkids present! Haven't been behind this driver on the freeway, but my guess is that he does the left lane police thing with the best of 'em!What's the point of buying such a vehicle if you're never going to exceed a speed limit? (And I've pondered that whilst in line in the left lane at 63mph behind a couple of Accord V6s, as well as an AMG E-Klasse!)
  • Mebgardner I'm not the market for a malleable Tuner / Track model, so I dont know: If you are considering a purchase of one of these, do you consider the Insurance Cost Of Ownership aspect? Or just screw it, I'm gonna buy it no matter.The WRX is at the top of the Insurance Cost pole for tuner models, is why I ask.
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