Home » The Most Famous 5th-Gen Ford Bronco Owner, OJ Simpson, Has Died So Let’s Talk About The Bronco He Made Famous

The Most Famous 5th-Gen Ford Bronco Owner, OJ Simpson, Has Died So Let’s Talk About The Bronco He Made Famous

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As you’ve likely heard, OJ Simpson, known for his portrayal of Officer Nordburg in the Naked Gun movies and maybe some sports-related stuff and possibly some double-murder-related activities, has died. I’m sure there’s a lot to be said about this, but I’m not the one to say it. What I am going to say is that there’s not many people who have had their actions, noble or terrible or in some gray area in between, so associated with a particular car that the whole identity of that car changed as a result. OJ Simpson was one of those people, and that car was the fifth-generation Ford Bronco.

With an all-new Bronco out since 2021 – after a gap of 25 years since the Bronco that OJ made famous – one could argue that the Bronco name is finally free of immediate associations with OJ, the infamous “trial of the century“, and the now-iconic low-speed police chase that lasted an hour and a half and put America’s undivided attention on a white 1993 Bronco, slowly leading a whole pack of LAPD police cars all over Los Angeles’ freeways.

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I’m not sure there’s another example of an infamous person becoming so associated with a car, in such a lasting way. Adolf Hitler, for an extreme example, was driven around very visibly in Mercedes-Benz cars, but Mercedes never really got defined as “Hitler’s Choice” or anything like that in the public collective consciousness, at least nowhere near to the degree that a Ford Bronco, especially a white one, became associated with OJ.

OJ’s association with the Bronco was definitely a strange one, too. He wasn’t driving; he was freaking out in the back seat as his former Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers teammate and friend Al Cowlings drove, slowly and carefully, as a whole phalanx of police cars pursued. The Bronco wasn’t driving in any particular way that showed off its off-road prowess or especially fast or anything like that. Pretty much any car on the road, from a Trabant to a Chevette to a Lamborghini with six spark plugs removed could have replicated this sort of driving.

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And yet, despite that, it seems that the spectacle of the slow chase actually helped Bronco sales, which had been in steady decline. In 1994, when the chase took place, the automotive world was in transition, with the modern automotive market writhing around in its cocoon, just waiting to emerge. And one of the changes that was happening was that two-door cars, in general, were falling out of favor, especially the very niche segment of two-door SUVs, even though we only really just started using that term.

Bronco sales were falling, as people were moving towards four-door SUVs like Explorers and Suburbans. And yet, despite the downward trend, this strange, wildly visible car chase starring that alabaster Bronco managed to inject just enough Vitamin Notoriety into the Bronco’s veins to increase 1994 sales to 37,000 sold, up 7,000 from the previous year. I see some different numbers from production number-charting sites, which show about 33,000 Broncos made in 1994 and going up to nearly 37,700 in 1995, before dropping back down to 34,000 the next year.

That 1993 Bronco was really the last of a breed, as proven by the fact that a few years later, the Bronco was dead, and would stay dead for 25 years.

They were interesting machines, that era of Bronco, known as the “Original Body Style” (OBS) Bronco. They were very closely tied to F-150s of the era, and from the B-pillar forward they were just about identical. But they were a short-wheelbase F-150, and that changed everything. If you think about a Bronco without its added-on rear cap, the proportions are kind of strange:

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That cab is almost in the very middle of the vehicle, with the hood and “bed” being almost the same length. Unlike the F-150, there’s no body break between “cab” and “bed,” because it’s really all cab there, with no bulkhead or anything behind the front seats. In fact, this era of Bronco was pretty plush inside:

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I mean, that back seat looks like a comfortable place to be sitting, head in hands, with your passport and some cash and a disguise as you fret, um hypothetically, let’s say, about some murders you may or may not have committed.

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It’s kind of remarkable how much the Bronco managed to feel different than the F-150s it was based on. It was clearly part of the family, but these really didn’t seem like the ubiquitous trucks, and I think a lot of that is because the 1990s were still an era before truck luxury grew in boundless ways, so a truck-based vehicle with a more sumptuously appointed interior still felt like a different beast.

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These OBS Broncos had come a long way from their more Jeep-fighter origins, and, while capable, weren’t really all that commonly used for hardcore off-roading. In that way, they were a real harbinger of the world to come, where we’re now surrounded by luxurious, off-road capable vehicles in about as little danger of having to climb a rocky, off-road embankment as your average seahorse.

OJ actually has a longer association with Ford than you may realize; long before the Bronco, long before the Trial of the Century, long before all of that, a young and very well-liked OJ was the spokesperson for Hertz, who, at the time, dealt exclusively in Ford Cars:

Oh, and Ford trucks, even some really big ones:

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So many late-Malaise-era Fords to pick from! Which would you choose?

Hertzad

I’m going with the Fiesta. I loved those.

Bronco-nostalgia aside, the whole OJ saga is really pretty depressing, seeing someone talented and charming make what seemed to be such awful choices, and as a result, fall so precipitously and dramatically. It’s grim.

Oh well. At least we still have Bill Cosby, right?

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Wait, what?

 

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JaredTheGeek
JaredTheGeek
2 months ago

I had a 1990 Ford Bronco Eddie Bauer Edition that was brown on brown. It was the last year with no shoulder belts in the back, so I had the top off the thing all the time. The rear seat tumbled forward which made the space almost exactly a queen mattress. I slept in it during camping trips and took it to the drive in and backed in with an inflatable couch in the back for the seating.

ClutchAbuse
ClutchAbuse
2 months ago

One of our cars growing up was a Fairmont like the one in that brochure. I remember it being completely unremarkable in every way.

It did manage to get us up to Yosemite though, so good enough I guess?

Taargus Taargus
Taargus Taargus
2 months ago
Reply to  ClutchAbuse

My mom’s first car was a Fairmont. It reportedly lasted 3 whole years despite being babied.

She still complains about that car to this day.

KevFC
KevFC
2 months ago

OK – I know this is in poor taste, but – well – this is Autopian:

I assume the hearse will be in the form of a stretch Bronco.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
2 months ago
Reply to  KevFC

“I assume the hearse will be in the form of a stretch Bronco”

So a F-150?

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
2 months ago
Josh Turner
Josh Turner
2 months ago

I’ve always sort of assumed that Ford killed the Bronco name in favor of Expedition because of the OJ association, but a few weeks ago I came across some pics on the Ford heritage site of a couple of near-production Explorers wearing Bronco II badges. The Bronco II had its own unfortunate press, but that makes me think that the pivot away from Bronco identity predated and was bigger than OJ.

Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
2 months ago
Reply to  Josh Turner

I figured it was because they wanted to show that these new SUVs were more than just boxed off trucks like the Broncos were. Trying to create a new segment which is incidentally what they did.

AceRimmer
AceRimmer
2 months ago
Reply to  Josh Turner

Yeah, it was just stupid marketing. Ford wanted all their SUVs to start Ex: Explorer, Expedition, Excursion. Amazed they didn’t call it Excape!

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
2 months ago

Im amazed nobody has commented this yet;

OJ was not a 5th gen Bronco owner! The one in the chase wasn’t his bronco, and he owned a 4th gen Bricknose bronco.

Also, OBS is a really bad way of distinguishing anything, and Aeronose is a better way of describing this bodystyle of Fords, which is questionably a different generation anyways.

Last edited 2 months ago by Rust Buckets
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