By Todd Zuercher
With the introduction of the new 2021 Bronco family on July 13th, 2020, the automotive enthusiast world was once again set afire with excitement when videos and still images were released by Ford showing new stallions galloping across rocky deserts and climbing steep mountain trails with snow-covered peaks in the background.
Considering our changed world in these pandemic times, this introduction was quite different from a traditional new vehicle launch. Although digital technology plays a big part in vehicle introductions today, a typical new vehicle launch event still includes plenty of face-to-face, and steering wheel-to-face time for the news media that attends the event. Sometimes they’re held in exotic, overseas locations if they’re a high-end luxury model. Introductions for pickups and sport-utility vehicles may include some off-road time if the manufacturer is trying to highlight a vehicle’s off-road capabilities.
The original Bronco’s introduction wasn’t a high-brow affair, but Ford did add a little more pizzazz to the party, dubbed ‘The Bronco Stampede’, than they probably did for a typical economy car introduction. Stampede attendees, more than 125 in all, gathered on Tuesday, August 10, 1965, at the swanky Kingsley Inn in the suburb of Bloomfield Hills, MI. Escaping the warm, humid weather of that Tuesday afternoon, tales were told in the appropriately named ‘Saints and Sinners’ lounge at the hotel, in anticipation of the big reveal on the following day.
At 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, August 11th, the press assembled in the Grand Ballroom at the Kingsley and heard opening remarks from T.J. Tierney, Ford’s Public Relations Manager, who then turned over the microphone to Don Frey, Ford’s General Manager and Company Vice President. After giving some background on the development of the Bronco and the reasons for bringing it to market, Frey spoke of the Bronco’s versatility. “It’s neither a conventional car nor a truck, but a vehicle which combines the best of both worlds.” Using the obvious two different horses analogy, he also spoke of the Bronco joining the Mustang in the stable and referred to the Mustang as the Bronco’s “big brother”. Upon the conclusion of Frey’s remarks, the Broncos were unveiled to the assembled press for the first time and a roadster came onstage driven by several Ford employees wearing cowboy hats. A Q&A session followed with an inspection of the vehicles afterward.
With the press now anxious to drive the Broncos, they boarded busses for a 30 minute ride to the Ford Romeo Proving Grounds. The sight in the parking lot would today give any Bronco enthusiast heart palpitations; rows of shiny new roadsters with perfect white soft tops, sprightly half cabs, and spacious wagons were lined up, ready to be tested and critiqued by the motoring scribes.
But first – lunch. And since this was a Bronco-busting event, a Texas-style barbecue was the order of the day, prepared by President Lyndon Johnson’s favorite chef, Walter Jetton. Served in large tents erected for the day, photos reveal a well-dressed crowd wearing ties and suitcoats; relics of a time when proper business attire for such an event still mattered.
After lunch, veteran Ford hot rodder Ak Miller laid out the ground rules for the off road ‘rally’, or ‘Bronco Busting program’ that was to commence. Ford employees, wearing a jaunty mix of ties and suitcoats with bandanas and cowboy hats, helped the entrants into their trucks and onto the course around the proving grounds.
For the next two hours, the media enjoyed themselves thoroughly driving the Broncos through the proving grounds property in a variety of timed exercises. The Romeo proving ground had not only a 5-mile high speed track but natural hills, deeply rutted roads, rock-filled fields, and a hill climb. A drag race was also included in the contest, which must have been a bit underwhelming since all the Broncos would’ve been powerd by the 170 ci six cylinder engines. After everyone had a chance to drive each variation of the Bronco, prizes were awarded to the winners of the various competition categories by Ak Miller and the event drew to a close.
Like most press events, attendees received some complimentary swag to make their trip memorable and perhaps ‘grease the skids’ a bit as they composed their articles for their respective publications in the coming days. Swag or not, the response of the press was universally positive, with most publications raving about the new Bronco’s features when car magazines hit the newsstands a few months later.
Just like 55 years ago, we at Bronco Nation expect a great deal of positive feedback and reactions when the motoring press is finally able to get behind the wheel of the 2021 Broncos and participate in their own modern version of a ‘Bronco Stampede.’
Todd is an author, historian, and Baja racer. Todd is the author of the book, Ford Bronco: A History of Ford’s Legendary 4×4, which was released in 2019.