Ford Bronco: A Wild History (1980-1986)

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Generation 3: Comfort Upgrade

1980-1986

Information on this page was sourced from “Ford Bronco: A History of Ford’s Legendary 4x4” by Todd Zuercher

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From the Trail to the Highway

In its third iteration, Bronco set out to blaze further fresh territory. This time, key innovations boosted fuel economy and ensured a smoother ride, both on-road and off. A change from solid front axle to independent front suspension (Twin-Traction Beam) was implemented to improve ride characteristics while not compromising ground clearance in rough terrain. New models also offered more luxury amenities, without sacrificing on the capability front.

Without Compromise

The third generation of Bronco was lighter, more fuel efficient, and had more interior options than ever, yet Bronco never strayed from its unbridled passion for the wild.

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Taming the Wild Ride

To create a more comfortable ride, Bronco engineers switched out the solid front axle for an independent front suspension—a first for a full-size sports utility vehicle. The system featured a Twin-Traction Beam, a simple, durable design that also allowed for a lower ride height than Bronco predecessors. But despite the tamer ride, Bronco remained as wild as ever. Ground clearance stayed the same, so it still could take on rough or rocky terrain.

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A Lighter Fuel Economy Footprint

In an effort to lower fuel economy, engineers sheared off 500 lbs. from the 1980 Bronco model and reintroduced a 6 cylinder engine and a 302 V8. Generation 3 models also got an exterior design overhaul, sporting a new, more aerodynamic bodystyle. The last major fuel economy-lowering update came in 1985, when a 4-speed automatic OD transmission was introduced along with fuel injection for the 302. Ford’s 302 V-8 led the charge into a new era of engine induction with the introduction of electronic fuel injection for the 1985 model year as the age of the carburetor was rapidly drawing to a close.

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Rugged Capability Meets Smart Convenience

3rd Generation Bronco made life on the trail a little easier with a variety of new amenities. An updated instrument cluster offered more gauges and, for the first time, an available tachometer. Other game-changing options included auto-locking front hubs, power windows, a CB radio in 1980, and premium stereos in later years.

The Inside Story: Trim Packages

The third generation offered a wide variety of trim choices and packages.

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Ranger XLT/XLT LARIAT

The luxury version of the 3rd generation XLT took Bronco into high-end territory with a host of premium extras. Highlights included flashy chrome accents, ultra-plush carpeting, colour-keyed upholstery and a simulated leather-wrapped steering wheel.

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Free-Wheeling Package

The Free-Wheeling Package helped outdoor enthusiasts answer the call of the wild—in both style and substance. Outside, sporty design elements like pinstripe and striping kits teased adventure-enhancing features like an anti-sway bar, quad front shocks and heavy-duty rear shocks. Inside, the outward-bound story continued with Sport instrumentation and a simulated leather-wrapped steering wheel.

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XLS Package

The 1983 Bronco Brochure stated: “This youth-oriented Bronco is a real head-turner with eye-catching blackout treatment and special XLS tape striping. Black low-mount Western swing-away mirrors and argent-painted styled steel wheels and finishing touches to the unique exterior.” The XLS package is rare among 1982 and 1983 Broncos and highlighted a vehicle treatment that would become more popular in vehicles 25 to 30 years in the future.

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Eddie Bauer Package

One of the most crowd-pleasing and noteworthy packages of the 1980s, Eddie Bauer came on the scene in Generation 3 and lasted through Generation 5. Highlights included its hallmark two-tone paint treatment, special velour upholstery, unique tire carrier, argent-painted styled steel wheels and even Eddie Bauer-branded luggage.

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Seating Choices

As with its forerunners, Generation 3 Bronco offered a range of different seating configurations: low back buckets, a full-size bench seat with split seat back, a flip/fold rear seat and captain’s chairs, complete with folding armrests and reclining backs.

OLD SCHOOL ENTHUSIASTS

Dig deep into some historical, all-purpose Bronco specifications.