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The Ford Bronco is Back!

As the Blue Oval ramps up its SUV plans, a new smaller Bronco is in the works.

The Ford Bronco started life in 1966 as an innocuous, stripped-down convertible truck to challenge the International Harvester Scout and the Jeep CJ. That first-generation Bronco, a go-to off-roader that shined in Baja as a race machine for the likes of Parnelli Jones, was built until 1977. Next came the bantam Bronco II, which endured ridicule as a rollover machine but did spawn the super popular Explorer. And then there’s the big Bronco, built from 1978 onward, a model best remembered for the OJ Simpson LA Freeway chase seen on live television in 1994. Ford stopped punching out this large Bronco in 1996 [and moved on to building Expeditions and Excursions], but based on clues laid out over the last six months, it’s a pretty good guess that the body-on-frame Bronco SUV will reappear.

Last August, Bloomberg quoted an inside source declaringthe return of the Bronco and the mid-size Ranger pickup truck, which had gone out of production in 2011. In November, during negotiationsbetween Ford and the United Auto Workers, the Detroit Free Press discovered contract language about two new products for a Michigan factory: one to arrive in 2018,said to be the Ranger, and one to come before 2020, expected to be the Bronco.

Then, during last week’s Chicago Auto Show, Fordmarketing guru Mark LaNeve said the brand would introduce four new SUVs in the next four years, all of them in segments where Ford doesn’t currently have an offering, and all of them with names that aren’t currently in use in Ford’s global fleet. The professional prognosticators figure that means a Ranger (with a different name since Ford sells a Ranger pickup overseas), a Bronco, a US version of the Fiesta-based EcoSport, and something for Lincoln.

The Ranger connection is important because it would provide the ladder-frame chassis the new Bronco would use—but that also means we’re looking at a Ford Explorer-sized SUV more akin to the Bronco II than the Big Bronco made heinously famous by OJ. Ford Australia sells this exact setup right now; it’s called the Everest.

In a segment depleted by the loss of the Toyota FJ Cruiser and Nissan Xterra, pickup truck internals would confer the rugged chops needed to make this new Ford Bronco a competitor to either the Jeep Grand Cherokee or the immensely successful Jeep Wrangler, and perhaps bring us full circle: the Wrangler was the successor to the Jeep CJ that inspired the original Bronco. If Ford wants to pick up where it left off with the 2004 Bronco Concept, that’s perfectly fine with us.