Ford Bronco poised for comeback as O.J. leaves jail
The connection seems almost mystical.
When O.J. Simpson was making Heisman moves at the University of Southern California, Ford Broncos were racing nearby in the Baja 1000. Following the infamous slow chase on national TV, the Bronco was discontinued. And now that the old running back is set to get out of jail Oct. 1, Ford is gearing up for an all-new Bronco.
“It’s kind of funny that the Bronco and O.J. are being released at the same time,” said Thomas Broberg, editor and publisher of Bronco Driver magazine, noting that Simpson’s 11-season NFL career and the Bronco’s 11-year first generation were nearly concurrent.
For better or worse, the brands are inextricably bound. Some 95 million TV viewers — Super Bowl numbers — witnessed the June 17, 1994, police chase of Orenthal James Simpson in a white 1993 Bronco driven by his pal Al Cowlings in Southern California.
Originally a competitor to the roughshod Jeep CJ, the Ford Bronco spat mud for three decades from 1966 to 1996, when the infamous O.J. Simpson chase hastened its end. Five generations of the Bronco helped fuel the SUV craze in America, and 20 years after it left the Bronco to rot, Ford is rumored to be bringing it back for model year 2018 or 2019.
Since its acquisition last summer, that Bronco has been a draw at the Alcatraz East Crime Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. The museum expects even more interest once Simpson is freed this fall after serving nine years on kidnapping and armed robbery charges related to sports memorabilia.
Simpson and Cowlings owned matching Broncos; Simpson’s vehicle was stripped by law enforcement for evidence in the criminal trial of his ex-wife’s murder and no longer exists.
“The reality is that the Bronco name is, and forevermore will be, associated with O.J.,” said Michael Bernacchi, a marketing professor at the University of Detroit Mercy. “Whether it’s going to help or hurt Ford is hard to say.”
James Edwards, a 52-year-old truck driver who recently moved to Detroit, said that back in the day, he always wanted a Bronco. “There was something so basic about it that it was cool,” said Edwards, who drives a late-model Cadillac CTS. “I don’t care about it being associated with O.J., but I imagine he’d come up if I owned one.”
Some 24 years after the last Bronco iteration, Ford will introduce a new version in 2020. Few details are known, other than it will be similar in size to the Ford Ranger, and will have bonafide body-on-frame bones like the original. The last generation of the rough and rugged Bronco was based on the F-150 pickup. Introduced in 1966 to compete with small, four-wheel-drive SUVs, the Bronco’s first go-around lasted 30 years.
There remains widespread, almost folkloric belief that Simpson, after that surreal, prime-time cop chase on Interstate 405 and his acquittal the following year in the deaths of his ex-wife, Nicole Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, essentially did in the venerable brand.
In all likelihood, however, Ford already had decided to kill the Bronco, which was never a huge seller for the manufacturer. Between 1991 and 1996 the model’s share of Ford sales registered between 1.1 and 1.4 percent, according to Edmunds.com.
Built primarily to battle Jeep CJ models and the International Harvester Scout, the brawny Bronco was hailed by enthusiasts as a true off-roader that was also fun.
But the industry was moving away from two-door, two-row SUVs and toward family-friendly, four-door three-row vehicles like the Ford Expedition, which succeeded the Bronco. General Motors replaced the two-door Chevrolet Blazer with the four-door Tahoe.
As far as the upcoming Bronco’s concerned, Becky Sanch, Ford’s SUV communications manager, said Simpson is a nonfactor. “I’ve personally never heard a conversation about that subject. It’s not a topic of discussion.”
Ford is resurrecting the badge, she said, because “it’s a name that people recognize after all these years.”