Here’s The Brand New Ford Bronco Months Before You Were Expecting To See It

It's a Baja racer prototype, but Ford says it hints at the production model

The Ford Bronco is back — mostly.

What Ford just revealed during the 2019 SEMA show is not the production Bronco, but rather the Bronco R prototype. It’s a Baja racer that’s competing in the upcoming Baja 1000 later this month. However, while Ford says this is a tribute to Rod Hall and Larry Minor’s winning 1969 Bronco, the company also says it’s a “tribute and a test and a tease.”

Ford Bronco R Baja Racer Prototype
[Photos: Ford]

What the Bronco R says about the production model

Let’s focus on the “test and tease” part. This is the first official opportunity we’ve had to see the Bronco’s styling. The production model naturally won’t be quite aggressive as the racer, but you get the idea of its overall design. “BRONCO” across the grille and an upright, boxy, squared-off presence that harkens back to the original Bronco that came out half a century ago.

The Bronco R racing prototype features 15 Rigid LED lightbars, as well as huge fender flares. The 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels and 37-inch BFGoodrich off-road tires complement the matte graphics kit on the five-piece lightweight composite body. A simple instrument panel, roll cage and lightweight Recaro seats round off the racer’s interior. While the Bronco R is much more spartan on the inside than the production model will be, this at least gives us a clear indicator of how its exterior will look.

A Raptor in all but name

Ford says this race prototype is built on a modified T6 Ranger architecture. We already know that from the test mules we’ve seen running around, but there’s more. Ford’s Bronco chief designer Paul Wraith worked on the Bronco R project since July not just as a racer in its own right, but as a test bed for the production Bronco model. It will take on the 1,000 mile off-road Baja 1000 race to test the production Bronco’s powertrain and architecture.

Shelby Hall, Rod Hall’s granddaughter, carries on his legacy as an off-road racer.

Originally, we thought that powertrain would be a 2.3-liter EcoBoost straight from the Ranger. However, I’ve always wanted Ford to think bigger and introduce a Bronco with the larger, 2.7-liter twin-turbo EcoBoost engine. Praise be, that’s exactly what Ford has done with the Bronco R. Their release says:

“For the endurance needs of the Baja’s 1,000 grueling miles, we built in a limited number of race-focused parts. But even the twin turbos of the EcoBoost engine are representative of what the production Bronco will offer.”

Yep, this pretty much looks like a Bronco Raptor, save the “limited number” of parts unique to the racer. I’d say it’s a Bronco Raptor in all but name, but calling it the “Bronco R” seems a thinly veiled tease of what’s to come.

A bit more on this one-off Racer: While it’s a tribute to the 1969 car, it has “2069” on its rear quarter panel. “20” refers to the class in which it will race, while “69” is an homage to the original Baja 1000 Bronco.

Ford Bronco R Baja Racer Prototype

Let’s talk about suspension

This Bronco R has beefed up suspension, as you’d rightly expect for the grueling race ahead. However, Ford again insists what’s here is representative of the production model. The racer has independent front suspension with 14 inches of suspension travel and custom Fox shocks at each corner. Around back, the Bronco R has a five-link solid axle setup with 18 inches of travel, which is delightfully Raptor-like. If Ford does officially launch a Bronco Raptor, engineers will certainly dial back the production model’s capabilities to make it a suitable daily driver. Even so, just saying this racer is “representative” of a production version is encouraging.

Ford Bronco R Baja Racer Prototype
The 2019 Bronco R prototype Baja 100 racer alongside its 1969 ancestor.

A recent Bronco6G forums post leaked some more new information about the production Bronco’s body. Naturally, the production version won’t be composite. However, it seems Ford will stamp the new Bronco body at its Dearborn plant. The company also stamps the F-150’s aluminum body panels there, indicating the new Bronco will also have an aluminum shell.

The production Bronco is coming next year

All will finally be revealed next Spring, as Ford unveils the production model. However, this Baja version gives a fair amount of insight into the version we’ll be able to drive on the street. Check out more on the Bronco in our videos, and stick around for more 2019 SEMA show coverage from Las Vegas!