Long Form

Riding right seat in the Bronco R in Baja shows the prototype truck's good and bad side

Legendary off-road racer Sue Mead went to Mexico and brought back this story about what it's like to ride in the Bronco R.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Professional racer Brad Lovell throttled the Bronco R out of the dirt parking lot at El Rancho Taqueria in Valle de la Trinidad, Baja California ahead of the SCORE Baja 1000. The synapses in my brain instantly lit a bank of grey-matter cylinders that were experiencing a rush of adrenaline. As the Bronco's turbo punched air through the Ford motor, an alluring and seductive exhaust note filled the soft desert air. It was the type of a serenade that's worshipped by those who are wired for racing.

This whistle stop village, situated in a broad valley with nearby access to some of the toughest off-road trails used in Baja racing, is home to approximately six dozen inhabitants. It is cherished by off-roaders and dirt racers for its Pemex fuel station and muy delicioso tacos.

Sue Mead Baja 1000 Bronco R 2019 Mead suits up before her ride in the Bronco R.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

A small corps of Ford Performance team members, along with a cadre of engineers from Geiser Brothers off-road racing had descended on the town with the mission of putting some on-and off-road miles on Ford's prototype truck.

Visible to the naked eye was a body designed to tease the looks of the upcoming street-legal Bronco, with cues that harkened to the original icon. It was punctuated by a color scheme and a "2069" badge that reflected Rod Hall's legendary 1969 Baja 1000 win in a Bronco; the number honored Hall and reflected the class the Bronco R would compete in the next day. The shell rode on top of a purpose-built, roll-caged race truck, with a stock motor, transmission, transfer case and front differential; the "race rear end" and other add-ons were not from the Ford stables.

Ford confirmed that the engine and transmission in the Bronco R are the same components that will be in the 2021 Ford Bronco.

Sue Mead Baja 1000 Bronco R 2019 Mead met up with the Bronco R race team in Valle de la Trinidad.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Earlier in the week, the "R" had been experiencing issues with its added-on race bits. Its first high-speed pre-run earlier in "Valle de T" had illuminated the need for more time and testing. All involved knew those were a limited commodity but, as the long, mud-splattered hood was removed, tools were placed at-the-ready and a team of experts filled every available orifice the Bronco R has to fix its teething troubles.

Electrical wiring was replaced in an effort to remediate issues with fuses and the cooling system of the race vehicle that was developed in skunkworks only five months before-- and had only been driven approximately the same number of miles in testing as the grueling race was long.

As the Bronco R roared back to life, I donned a race suit, helmet, HANS device, and gloves, and slipped sideways through the webbed window. Lovell, one of the world's top racers and fabricators with multiple Baja 1000 wins sat in the driver's seat while I took my spot up front.

Tapped to be on Ford's seven-person Dream Team of notable off-road racers for the '19 Baja 1000, Lovell started our ride along Baja California's Rt.3, in the northwestern quadrant of this Mexican state. "The ride is really smooth," I hollered into the mic, as cactus, yucca, and desert scrub blurred along the roadside. Lovell picked up the pace. "It is smooth and handles really well," he responded.

The other seat in the cabin is a single back seat that is bolted in. During races, that seat is generally reserved for engineers and this ride along was no exception. Its occupant was Brian Novak, Ford Performance off-road racing supervisor. The reserved-but-amiable mechanical engineer has an impressive CV as a track racer and heads up Ford's Le Mans, NASCAR, and Virgin Australia Supercars Racing programs.

Sue Mead Baja 1000 Bronco R 2019 Mead hops into the Bronco R for her 100-mile ride.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

During the ride, his job was to monitor telemetry and, like a parent of a child with a cough and running a high fever, Novak was watchful and concerned. It was less than 24 hours before the green flag would wave at the start of the 2019 Baja 1000 in Ensenada and thousands of eyeballs in Mexico and around the world would be on the Bronco R.

I settled in for the ride in my side-hugging Recarco race saddle. Crisp air blew in through the open windshield and buffeted the world around me. Having raced 30,000 off-road miles around the globe over the last few decades, I felt instantly at home, although mesmerized by the Star-Wars-like bank of controls, gauges, digital readouts, and graphics.

As we turned onto a dirt track to run the truck along a section of race course with undulating terrain, snaking turns, and mud troughs, I noted that Lovell's hands stayed steady and quiet on the wheel. "You're right," said Lovell. "The steering is tight and a bit heavy, which works well."

Sue Mead Baja 1000 Bronco R 2019 Mead rides right side in the Bronco R.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Lovell alternated between letting the intelligent transmission up-and down-shift on its own merit and using the paddles to motivate the truck, pointing out that both fulfilled their assigned function. Most impressive, to me was that the Bronco's Fox suspension seemed perfectly calibrated to allow the 'R' to float, when needed, and collect the reins for straight-line, steady and buttoned-up motoring, when required.

By the time we crested the mountain ridge that led into Ensenada, the lights of this seaside city, known as La Cenicienta del Pacifico (Cinderella of the Pacific), filled the night sky with a glistening yellow glow.

Nearly one hundred miles in, I was impressed with the Bronco R, but noted that the team spent the last 40 minutes of the drive frequently instructing me to push an override switch control, as an ominous red warning light illuminated the dark.

Sue Mead Baja 1000 Bronco R 2019 Mead's ride revealed the good and bad of the Bronco R's engineering and design.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

As we pulled it into the make-shift workshop behind the La Pinta hotel, where a team was waiting to apply fixes and address the overheating issues, I knew the next Bronco chapter is still in outline form, awaiting its instructions to become a true work of art.

This new race horse in the Ford stable had an extraordinarily qualified team of trainers, racers, and support staff. After that initial ride, I thought that the Bronco R had a good chance to complete the world's most arduous challenge over the dirt, sand, mud, mountains, dry lake beds, washes and boulders that make up the Baja 1000. I also thought: this is a colt that might need more time.

Baja 1000 Race Results

Following a 24-hour weather delay, 264 vehicles left the start line early Saturday morning with racers from 39 U.S. states and 22 countries.

After issues with a broken skid plate that wreaked havoc with some underbelly parts, a damaged front suspension, and overheating issues, the Ford pulled the plug at Race Mile 580, as the truck was on track to enter a remote and rigorous stage of the race, where it would have been nearly impossible to get support to the onboard crew.

From there, the Bronco R was able to be driven on paved roads to the finish line in Ensenada, where the team celebrated its efforts and Ford formally announced its sponsorship of SCORE racing for the next three years.

"The Ford production parts performed flawlessly; where we have an opportunity to improve is in the fabricated parts that allowed us to race in an event like the '1000 –to show the rugged capability of our trucks," said Novak. "We will be back."

When the course closed at 11:27:28 p.m. PT on Sunday, there were 145 official finishers for a 54.92 finishing percentage, especially good considering the difficulty of the race course.

The automaker is using new 3D printing technology to create face shields.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford has announced that it has reached an agreement to partner with 3M and GE Healthcare to aid in the production of medical equipment needed in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, colloquially known as coronavirus. Additionally, Ford will leverage its in-house 3D printing ability to produce 100,000 face shields per week. The move has the full support of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.

"This is such a critical time for America and the world. It is a time for action and cooperation. By coming together across multiple industries, we can make a real difference for people in need and for those on the front lines of this crisis," said Bill Ford, Ford's executive chairman. "At Ford, we feel a deep obligation to step up and contribute in times of need, just as we always have through the 117-year history of our company."

Ford 3M GE Healthcare The automaker is leveraging its manufacturing facilities to help with the crisis.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford, 3M partner on respirators

Ford and 3M will increase the manufacturing capacity of the St. Paul, Minnesota-based company's powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) utilizing a new design that could be procured in a Ford facility in Michigan by UAW workers.

According to Ford, the teams have been locating "off-the-shelf parts like fans from the Ford F-150's cooled seats for airflow, 3M HEPA air filters to filter airborne contaminants such as droplets that carry virus particles and portable tool battery packs to power these respirators for up to eight hours."

"Working with 3M and GE, we have empowered our teams of engineers and designers to be scrappy and creative to quickly help scale up production of this vital equipment," said Jim Hackett, Ford's president and CEO. "We've been in regular dialogue with federal, state and local officials to understand the areas of greatest needs. We are focusing our efforts to help increase the supply of respirators, face shields and ventilators that can help assist health care workers, first responders, critical workers as well as those who have been infected by the virus."

"We're exploring all available opportunities to further expand 3M's capacity and get healthcare supplies as quickly as possible to where they're needed most – which includes partnering with other great companies like Ford," said Mike Roman, 3M chairman of the board and chief executive officer. "It's crucial that we mobilize all resources to protect lives and defeat this disease, and I'm incredibly grateful to Ford and their employees for this partnership."

Ford 3M GE Healthcare Ford's team is already at work on perfecting techniques.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Ford, GE Healthcare team up to produce ventilators

In addition to the 3M partnership, Ford and GE Healthcare are working together to expand production of a simplified version of GE Healthcare's existing ventilator. These ventilators could be produced at a Ford manufacturing site in addition to a GE location.

"We are encouraged by how quickly companies from across industries have mobilized to address the growing challenge we collectively face from COVID-19," said GE Healthcare President & CEO Kieran Murphy. "We are proud to bring our clinical and technical expertise to this collaboration with Ford, working together to serve unprecedented demand for this life-saving technology and urgently support customers as they meet patient needs."

Work on this initiative ties to a request for help from U.S. government officials.

Ford 3M GE Healthcare Ford's engineering team has come up with a design for a filtration system.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

3D printing respirators and face shields

Ford's design team is working to create and test transparent full-face shield for medical workers and first responders. The face shields fully block the face and eyes from accidental contact with liquids and when paired with N95 respirators can be a more effective way to limit potential exposure to coronavirus than N95 respirators alone.

The first 1,000 face shields will be tested this week at Detroit Mercy, Henry Ford Health Systems, and Detroit Medical Center Sinai-Grace Hospitals. Roughly 75,000 of these shields are expected to be finished this week and more than 100,000 face shields per week will be produced at Ford subsidiary Troy Design and Manufacturing's facilities in Plymouth, Mich.

Ford 3M GE Healthcare Ford's engineering team has shown off a sketch of a disposable hood design.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

According to a release, Ford is leveraging its Advanced Manufacturing Center in Redford, Michigan, and in-house 3D printing capabilities to manufacture disposable respirators, which are needed to help filter the air healthcare workers and first responders breathe. Once approved by the proper health agency, Ford will initially start at a pace equal to 1,000 per month but that production can grow quickly.

BroncoSportForum.com has posted what appears to be leaked information about the forthcoming Bronco Sport.

Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

There's good reason to believe that the cat is out of the bag when it comes to the grades, packages, paint jobs, features, and powertrain options of the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport. On Thursday, BroncoSportForum.com had a user post images from Ford's dealer ordering portal.

The information below is what the images show. AutomotiveMap has not been able to independently verify the information.

There are five trim levels

The portal lists the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport model in Base, Big Bend, Outer Banks, Badlands, and First Edition trim levels. Ford recently trademarked the Big Bed, Badlands, and Out Banks names in correlation with the name Bronco.

Ford frequently sells First Edition models. It's likely the Bronco Sport First Edition is a limited run of the first models that are slated to come off the line. Frequently these models feature special badging, a unique paint color, "First Edition" logos on the interior on floor mats and headrests.

All models are 4x4s.

That's not a surprise. The so-called Baby Bronco is expected to be similar in nature to a Jeep Renegade, which is quite capable in its own right. It rides on the same platform as and is manufactured in the same facility as the Ford Escape, which comes standard with front-wheel drive and is available with all-wheel drive.

The Bronco Sport will have a 105.1-inch wheelbase.

That's not the same as the Ford Escape. Despite the fact that they share a platform, the Escape has a wheelbase that's about 1.5 inches longer.

It will come in the buyer's choice of 10 paint jobs.

The colors listed in the leaked photos show Shadow Black, Rapid Red Metallic TC, Oxford White, Kodiak Brown, Iconic Silver, Cyber Orange Metallic TC, Carbonized Gray, Cactus Gray, Area 51, and Alto Blue Metallic TC.

Here are the other vehicles the paints are available on:

  • Shadow Black - Mustang Mach-E
  • Rapid Red Metallic TC - Explorer and Escape for a $395 surcharge
  • Oxford White - F-150 and Ranger
  • Iconic Silver - Mustang Mach-E, F-150, Transit, Ranger, Edge, Super Duty, Fiesta, and Mustang
  • Cyber Orange Metallic TC
  • Carbonized Gray - Mustang Mach-E

Some of the colors have been leaked previously in relation to the Bronco when AutomotiveTouchUp.com listed 2021 Ford Bronco paint touch up colors.

There are two roof colors.

Buyers can only choose from a black or gray roof. There is no indication that the model will be available with a body color roof.

The Badlands Package adds a touch of class.

If you won't want to opt for the full Badlands model, which is likely to be the top-tier model, buyers can opt for the Badlands Package. The images show that the package includes:

  • Dual-zone automatic climate control
  • Automatic dimming rearview mirror
  • Body-color door handles
  • Heated front passenger seat
  • and two other components coded as "F6-A-L-SVT MINI PERF TWOTONE" and "FRONT 4-WAY HD RESTNT ST 1"

There's other stand alone package options.

The long list of addition options includes:

  • Leather-wrapped steering wheel
  • MyFord technology/6 speakers/SiriusXM
  • Power six-way passenger seat
  • Remote start
  • Reverse sensing system
  • Roof conversion - low opening (likely a removable roof; low opening may refer to a lesser amount of headroom, a common feature of sunroofs)
  • Body-color bumpers
  • Wireless charging
  • Cargo mat
  • Cargo management system
  • Engine block heater
  • Front license plate bracket

The Bronco Sport can tow up to 3,500 pounds.

A Class II Trailer Tow Package is listed as available. Class II hitches are rated to carry up to 3,500 pounds of gross trailer weight. This is the same capacity as the 2020 Ford Escape.

One size wheel and two types of tires are available.

Ford lists the tires as 225/65R17 A/T and 235/65R17 A/T. The 225/65R17 tires are the standard tires on the 2020 Ford Escape S, SE, and SE Sport. The others come on the Limited and XLT grades.

The form shows that the Bronco Sport rides on 17-inch wheels.

There are two engine choices.

It looks like the Bronco Sport will come standard with a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. A 2.0-liter turbo-four is also available. Both engines are likely paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Automatic start-stop engine tech is standard.

This may be the most disappointing Bronco Sport news. However, it's not unexpected.

Cloth seats are standard. Leather-trimmed seats are available.

It looks like the cloth seats will be available in the Active Orange or Area 51 colors while there are also Ebony leather-trimmed seats. The good news is that these likely aren't the only options, just the options shown with the particular paint color the Ford spy chose.

The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is likely going on sale later this year.