Ford Bronco race prototype points to design of production vehicle

Company has kept design direction under wraps but Baja 1000 offers hints

Published: November 4, 2019, 9:30 PM
Updated: November 7, 2019, 8:47 PM

Ford Bronco R race prototype

In case you haven’t heard, Ford is reintroducing the Bronco nameplate to its production fleet, and though the company has yet to show what the new sport utility will look like, it did prepare a racing version that gives some strong hints of the production version.

Ford Bronco R race prototype

Completed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Baja 1000 overall victory by the late Rod Hall (a feat by a 4x4 that has never been duplicated), the Bronco R prototype prepared for this year’s competition along the original Rod Hall/Larry Minor racer. It was driven by Shelby Hall, Rod’s granddaughter, who is an accomplished off-road racer herself and will drive portions of the race.

“Bronco’s win at Baja in 1969 was epic, something that even after 50 years has not been repeated,” said Hau Thai-Tang, Ford chief product development and purchasing officer. “Rugged endurance racing is such a big part of Bronco heritage. The Baja 1000 gives us not only the perfect setting to honor Rod Hall’s win, it also provides an authentic test bed to demonstrate our upcoming Bronco’s desert racing capability and durability.”

Ford Bronco R race prototype with Shelby Hall

In addition to calling it a tribute, Ford also points out it’s a test and a tease. The test part will come when it competes in the race to abuse the production powertrain and architecture. And, of course, the tease is that the heritage inspired design and proportions herald what the future Bronco will roughly look like when it debuts in spring 2020.

The design was led by Paul Wraith, Bronco chief designer, who has been working on the vehicle for four months to ensure the racing prototype is unmistakably Bronco at first sight (heralding back to the original Bronco – 1966-1977), though they naturally had to focus on creating a race-ready vehicle (ultra-wide stance, compressed body, long-travel suspension – 355 mm of travel up front; 457 mm in rear), and it’s composite body (bolted to a roll-cage) and clamshell hood and roof will not make it to production. By the time it hits the starting line, just six months will have elapsed since it was first sketched out.

Ford Bronco R race prototype

The race truck features an independent front suspension and production based 5-link rear suspension, custom Fox shocks, 17-inch beadlock aluminum wheels with 37-inch BFGoodrich tires.

The production 2021 Bronco will share architecture with the recently-revived Ranger pickup, and the race prototype uses a modified version of that same Ford T6 architecture.

Ford Bronco R race prototype with original racing Bronco

The front end includes a large grille with Bronco brand lettering (with no hint as to whether that grille bar will make it through to production), with the red R designating the one-of-a-king racing prototype (though we’re not completely unsure it won’t make it onto a possible “R” performance edition on the future road vehicle).

We can’t really comment on the interior, since racing interiors are often stripped for maximum weight reduction. This one features three Recaro racing seats, a simple instrument panel (also a nod to the first-generation Bronco) and a MoTeC data acquisition system to capture performance data in real time and measure the vehicle’s performance.

Ford Bronco R race prototype

The Bronco R race prototype was created in concert with Ford Performance, builder Geiser Bros Design and Development of Phoenix, and Baja 1000 Trophy Truck champion Cameron Steele. The team used cutting-edge tools, virtual reality, polygon modelling and 3D printing to develop parts, aid problem solving and make decisions quickly.

“This wasn’t our usual development process, but it was the right process for this project,” said Wraith. “We found, created or adapted the right tool for the task at hand – a cool and exciting blend of old and new creative techniques. We stretched ourselves, but it was worth it – and great fun.”