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Backward Glances: The Deuce: A Rare 1990 Last-Year Bronco II

Posted in Features on January 11, 2019
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When the small Ford truck that became known as the Ranger was being worked up in the late ’70s and early ’80s, an SUV variant was planned. It ran on a slightly slower development track than the Ranger did, but because the mechanical platforms were nearly identical, most of the unique work was in the body and interior. Close to fully developed prototypes were being tested in 1981 and 1982. The initial press reveal came in August of 1982 at the Dearborn Test Facility, where the new rig was presented as the ’84 Bronco II.

Freelancer Tom Bonner was there and wrote about the new Bronco II for the January 1983 issue of Four Wheeler. He called it “frisky.” They drove some preproduction units that had a number of differences from what would come in regular production, but it’s clear Bonner and most of his contemporaries liked the new rig.

Unlike the Ranger, the ’84 Bronco II 4x4 came only with the 2.8L Cologne V-6 with no other engine options (until ’85 and ’86), and you had the choice of a Toyo-Kogo (Mazda) four-speed manual, five-speed manual, or the C-5 three-speed automatic. Ford called the ’84 Bronco II introduction a success because after the extended 1984-model-year production had ended, more than 160,000 had been sold. Bronco sales were over 100,000 annually through the ’89 model year. For the ’90 model year, the production run was short in preparation for the new Explorer, which debuted in 1990. But nearly 800,000 Bronco IIs were built in two generations.

We know it’s a 4x2. Thing is, we simply couldn’t not shoot this pristine, bone-stock, one-family ’90 Bronco II when we saw it at the 2016 50th Anniversary Bronco celebration. It’s just like a 4x4 in every way but the axle and transfer case. It’s an XLT, which was the third tier of a five-tier package lineup. It was bought new by Bill Graham, Stephanie Shannon’s father, who then gave it to Stephanie as her first car in 1997. It’s been a beloved family member ever since. The paint is the optional Deluxe Two-Tone in Medium Regatta Blue over Light Regatta Blue, with a Chrystal Blue Interior. Only 57,500 Bronco IIs were produced for 1990, 18,595 being 4x2s.

The front axle was a pint-sized version of Ford’s Twin-Traction Beam (TTB) setup with a Dana 28 IFS diff, and the rear was a 28-spline Ford unit with a 7.5-inch ring gear and an optional Traction-Lock limited slip, same as the Ranger. Ratios were 3.45 or 3.73:1, with the lower cogs standard with the five-speed on 4x4s. Front and rear limited slips (each a $238 option in ’84) were available through ’85, and rear-only after that. The initial model lineup included the Base, XLT, XLS, and top-dog Eddie Bauer.

Significant changes came in ’85, with the intro of the A4LD four-speed automatic overdrive transmission and optional 4.10:1 axle ratios. The four-speed manual was dropped, and the five-speed became standard. The original Toyo-Kogo five-speed manual transmission was gradually replaced by the better Mazda M50D. A now-forgotten 2.3L turbodiesel (Mitsubishi) option also appeared in ’85 and stayed on the Bronco II option list (Ranger too) through ’86 and then quietly disappeared. The turbodiesel was EPA-rated in ’85 for 30 mpg city, 38 highway, and 33 combined. Bronco II fans are still searching for a surviving example of these, some doubting they were ever actually produced. Service manuals were printed, and the option appears in Ford data books for ’85 and ’86. The Bronco II diesel is also listed in the EPA database.

The steps are aftermarket, installed by Bill not long after the original purchase. This one was built in October of 1989, not long after ’90-model-year sales began. The wheels are the Deluxe style, which came in the XLT and XLT Plus packages. The swing-away tire carrier was optional on all Bronco II trim levels and it came with the matching fullsize wheel spare and tire cover. The large rear side windows were very well-liked generally, but down the road they’ve become hard to source. The luggage rack was another optional feature.

The 140hp 2.9L EFI V-6, also from the Cologne factory, appeared for ’86 to rave reviews. The XLS disappeared for ’86. In ’87 the base model became the XL and rear antilock brakes were added. A 4x2 model was added to the lineup that year as well, with the odd feature of having a gutted transfer case with no front output but the same twin I-Beam frontend as used on the 4x2 Ranger. For ’88, the XL Sport and XLT Plus packages were added.

The 2.9L Cologne V-6 was the best engine of those offered in the Bronco II over its lifetime. Well, if you like diesels, you might be attracted to the peppy-but-not-awesome mythical ’85 and ’86 2.3L Mitsubishi four. Basically, there was a 115hp 2.8L carbureted V-6 through ’85 and the 140-horse EFI 2.9L. The 4.0L came to the Ranger later in the ’90 model year but not for the Bronco II. It’s a popular swap that delivers 20 hp and a whopping 55 lb-ft of torque improvement.

In ’89, big styling changes came in the form of a new aerodynamic front-end treatment and dash upgrade. The ’89-90 Bronco IIs are often called the “Second Generation,” but there were few generational changes under the skin. The ’90-model-year Bronco II was identical to the ’89, but production stopped early to make room for the new Ford SUV. One of the more interesting changes to come at the end of Bronco II production was the addition of the significantly stronger Dana 35 TTB front axle in November of ’89. Also, the 4x2 units now used a 4x2 transmission rather than the gutted transfer case setup of the previous couple of years.

When a replacement SUV was envisioned for the Bronco II in 1986, a four-door was high on the desirability list. There are photos of what look like four-door Bronco IIs being tested. Codenamed UN-46, they were also commonly known as the Bronco III, but they debuted as Explorer. There was a lot of Bronco II mechanical DNA in the new Explorer, especially the two-door version. After a lot of bad press due to the Bronco II allegedly being a rollover risk, the name change was probably good PR, as it had been for the Jeep CJ to become the Wrangler.

On the inside, the Shannon Bronco II has most of the options including air conditioning, the Power Window/Lock Group, cruise control, and the AM/FM Cassette. At the time it was photographed, this Bronco II was showing 137,521 miles, and while that’s low for a 28-year-old rig, it’s not a hangar queen amount either.
It’s not exactly spacious but not a torture chamber either. The awesome glass area might tend to distract passengers from the legroom issues. The rear seat folds and tilts to increase storage space.
The swing-away tire carrier eliminated the space-saver spare and helps to free up space in the cargo area. With the seat up, there’s 23.8 cubic feet, and with the seat down there’s 56.9 cubic feet.

The ’90 Bronco II 4x2 shown is owned by the Shannon family of Tennessee, and it represents an interesting changeover. When you look in the 1990 Light Truck Facts Book, it states that the Bronco II intro would take place during the normal October 1989 timeframe, but also that the last unit off the line would be in January of 1990 to make room for the new UN-46 rig, the Ford Explorer, which debuted in March of 1990. There were almost no changes in the Bronco II from 1989 to 1990.

Though the Bronco II was a sales success in its day, it has not been shown the love by collectors down the road. That shows signs of changing, but it will probably never rise to the status of the original ’66-’77 classic Bronco, or even the subsequent fullsize units. It was a good SUV in its era, but it has been eclipsed in history by the four-door compact SUVs like the trendsetting Jeep Cherokee that debuted at the same time. Ford more than made up for that with the Explorer, which became a sales phenomenon.

This was actually pretty rare in the Bronco II. Most of the 97,000 Bronco II 4x2s built featured a 4x4 transmission with a gutted BorgWarner transfer case behind it. The bean counters must have decided this was cheaper than using a 4x2 trans and related parts. For the ’90 model year, this setup appeared in the approximately 19,000 4x2s built.
We’ll gag you again by showing the twin I-Beam frontend, virtually identical to what was used on the Ranger 4x2. Reportedly, it’s a breeze to convert a 4x2 Ranger/Bronco II to four-wheel drive, and the better/stronger Explorer Dana 35 front axle is more or less a bolt-on.

At a Glance

Vehicle: ’90 Bronco II XLT
Owner: Stephanie Shannon
Estimated value: $7,400
Engine: 2.9L V-6
Power (hp): 140 @ 4,600 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 170 @ 2,600 rpm
Bore & stroke (in): 3.66 x 2.83
Comp. ratio: 9.0:1
Transmission: Mazda M50 5-spd
Rear axle: 28-spline Ford 7.5-in
Axle ratio: 3.45:1
Tires: 205/75R15
Wheelbase (in): 94
GVW (lb): 4,180
Curb weight (lb): 3,287
Fuel capacity (gal): 23
Min. grd. clearance (in): 6.8
Approach angle (deg): 30.1
Departure angle (deg): 22.1

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