One of the most often asked questions when looking at Early Broncos for sale is, “what year should I look for?” As you might expect the answer is… “it depends.” At first glance the Early Bronco doesn’t seem like it changed much over it’s 11 year history from 1966 to 1977. But while the sheet metal may look the same, there were definite changes in options, trim packages, axles, engines and transmissions.

The best year(s) for you will depend  a lot on how you plan on driving your new Bronco. Will it be a daily driver or a restored show queen? Do you want it for scenic camping trails or hardcore rock crawling? The breakdown below should help narrow down your choices based on the changes from year to year.

1966-1968 Broncos

The Ford Bronco debuted in 1966 and the ’66-’68 models tend to be favorites with collectors. If you plan on buying a Bronco for an investment or taking it to shows these early years are good candidates.

  • The Bronco Roadster body style was only available in 1966, 1967 & 1968. These were open air machines built for fun; no top and no doors. Look for a VIN starting with U13 to prove a factory Roadster Bronco.
  • The 289 cid engine was also only available in these early years. In 1969 it was replaced by the 302.
  • Vacuum wipers were unique to 1966-1968 also. As a collector item these are kind of neat, but if you’re looking for a daily driver the vacuum system isn’t nearly as effective or dependable as the electric system that Ford switched to in 1969.
  • 1967 also marked the first appearance package; the Bronco Sport. This was basically a chrome trim package for both interior and exterior.

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1971 and later Broncos

The big news in 1971 was the mid-year swap to the Dana 44 front axle.

  • Mid-way through the 1971 production run Ford dropped the old style Dana 30 front axles and started using the popular Dana 44 (D44). This was a welcome upgrade for a number of reasons, with the primary one being strength. The Dana 44 has larger U-joints, a larger pinion and thicker ring gears. The D44 was also a very popular axle for several makes and models and there is very good aftermarket support today.  If you intend on taking your Bronco on almost any type of trail you’ll want the stronger Dana 44 front axle found on 1971 1/2 and later Broncos. Of course you can always swap out the Dana 30 on earlier models, but weigh the costs when searching for early Broncos for sale.
  • 1972 was the start of another trim package; the Bronco Ranger. This included the chrome of the Sport model, but also featured several color-keyed interior & exterior elements.

1973 and later Broncos

The Bronco showed signs it was becoming more than just a utility vehicle in 1973. New options included an automatic transmission, power steering and an easier shifting transfer case.

  • It’s hard to believe in today’s era of modern vehicles, but for the Bronco’s first 7 years you could only get a stick shift. It wasn’t until 1973 that the C4 automatic transmission was finally offered as an option. An automatic transmission is a definite plus for many buyers looking for a daily driver or mild trail truck. If you’re into hard core wheeling you’ve probably got your sights set on a non-stock transmission anyway, whether it be automatic or manual.
  • 1973 was also the first year for power steering.  This is a great feature no matter how you plan to use your new Bronco. Although, again hard core rock crawlers will likely swap to aftermarket or full hydraulic steering anyway.
  • The transfer case also changed in 1973. It was still a Dana 20, but instead of the older T-shift the 1973 and later Broncos used a J-shift transfer case. The gear ratio was slightly higher (lower numerically): 2.46:1 for the T-shift and 2.34:1 for the T-shift. The J-shift is also easier to convert over to a twin stick if you want to go that route.

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1975 and later Broncos

1975 brought both pros and cons to the Bronco; at least in terms of restoring or modifying them for trail duty.  The pro was electronic ignition. The con was increase smog equipment.

  • The new electronic ignition found in 1975+ Broncos was certainly an improvement at the time as compared to the older style points ignition. And it’s certainly still a valid system today. But don’t let this one item sway your purchasing decision too much. Today’s aftermarket ignition systems are much more advanced and a fairly easy and inexpensive upgrade to any Bronco engine.
  • The smog equipment really started piling on starting in 1975 as catalytic converters and smog pumps became federally mandated. And while these advances were beneficial to the environment, they hindered performance and after decades of use become clogged and problematic. Many owners over the years have tossed out these pieces of equipment as they stopped working, making it very difficult today to piece an original system back together. Be very aware of this when looking at 1975-1977 Broncos for sale and find out what your state emissions laws require. Don’t get stuck spending hundreds of unanticipated dollars trying to get your new Bronco to pass inspection and get out on the road.

1976-1977 Broncos

A few years behind the competition (Chevy Blazer), the tail end of early Bronco production finally included upgrades to the braking system and power steering.

  • It wasn’t until almost the end of the early Bronco 11 year production run that you could get power brakes or disc brakes. Considered basic safety equipment today, these features were just starting to make it into trucks in the 70’s.
  • The steering box was also upgraded in 1976 to quick ratio steering; 3.8 turns lock-to-lock as compared to the 5.3 turns of earlier Broncos.
  • One questionable design decision by Ford was the “inverted Y” steering linkage on the 1976 and 1977 Broncos. This style is typically avoided by those who hit the trail because of it’s inherent weakness. It’s very prone to bending with the added forces of larger tires, hydraulic steering, large rocks or sticky mud.

Summary – What year Bronco is best?

The answer of course depends on what you want to use your Bronco for as well as what’s available in your area.

Keep in mind that the Bronco was made for 11 years. When comparing a 1966 to a 1977 for example, that can make a huge difference in how many miles it has, how many owners it’s had and how much it’s been chopped up or modified over the years. That makes the later years typically more desirable, especially coupled with the better options like power steering and power disc brakes not found in the earliest Broncos.

But if your goal is to restore a peice of history and take it to shows, it’s very hard to beat the early 1966-1967 Roadsters. The simpler design and lack of smog equipment can make for easier and less expensive restorations.

And finally, if you’re going to create a serious rock crawler or trail rig, the year probably won’t matter much to you. With some exceptions in the first 2 years (like door strikers) all the body panels and mechanical parts will swap from one early Bronco to the next. And the variety of aftermarket parts is immense and offered by some great vendors who support the hobby.

So ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what year you get. You’ll love your new Bronco!

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