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 Simpson’s infamous 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.
For better or worse, the brands are inextricably bound. Some 95 million TV viewers — Super Bowl numbers — witnessed the 1994 police chase of Simpson in a white 1993 Bronco.
Originally a competitor to the roughshod Jeep CJ, the Ford Bronco spat mud for three decades from 1966 to 1996, when the infamous Simpson chase hastened its end. “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.”
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 have bona fide body-on-frame bones like the original. The last generation of the Bronco was based on the F-150 pickup truck.
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 brand.
In all likelihood, 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.
“Bronco had a good run,” said Thomas Broberg, editor and publisher of Bronco Driver magazine. “I’m surprised it took this long to bring it back.”