2021 Ford Bronco: This Is It! (As a Baja Race Truck)

The 2021 Bronco R previews the new production Bronco SUV.

Nelson IresonWriterThe ManufacturerPhotographerBrandon LimPhotographer

The Ford Bronco is back! Well, almost, and only kind of, but hey, look at it! It looks very Bronco-like. Meet the Ford Bronco R race truck, built to run the 2019 Baja 1000. Yes, it's a two-door. Yes, it previews the production 2021 Ford Bronco's look and feel, although the designer called it a "hint" at the regular Bronco's design during the unveiling.

Unveiled this morning south of Las Vegas in a dry lakebed in Jean, Nevada, Ford says the 2021 Bronco R race truck prototype uses the same T6 chassis and architecture, as well as powertrain and driveline, of the production truck.

"The Bronco's win at Baja in 1969 was epic, something that even after 50 years has not been repeated," said Ford chief product development and purchasing officer, Hau Thai-Tang. "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 testbed to demonstrate our upcoming Bronco's desert racing capability and durability."

For the formal reveal, Shelby Hall drove up through the desert in her grandfather's 1969 overall race-winning Baja 1000 Bronco. Rod Hall unfortunately passed away this year, but his legend lives on, and not just through his granddaughter. Now it gains yet another chapter, one Ford no doubt hopes to tie up as neatly as it did its return to Le Mans in 2016 with the Ford GT. To complete the 50-year circle, Shelby Hall will drive several stints during this year's Baja 1000 race.

Ford's official line is the new Bronco R was designed in six months from first sketch to working vehicle. But chief designer Paul Wraith says the timeline was even shorter: "It was more like three months. It was a really, really fast process."

There were exciting moments in designing the race truck, according to Wraith. "One day we were concerned we'd made the side window a little bit too small to get in and out of easily," he said. "So, we asked the guys who were putting the cage together how big it should be. They took some measurements, sent them to us, and we went straight back into the studio—this is over a matter of minutes—to one of our clay properties, modified it, and had the designers climbing in and out of it. From the littlest designer to the biggest, because we didn't know if the drivers were all going to be the size of Shelby [Hall] or giants. We clambered in and out until we thought we could make this work. Another hour later, the data's being sent out."

What can we learn about the production 2021 Ford Bronco from the Bronco R prototype? A lot, actually—or at least we can confirm that some expectations are more likely than others. For one, the overall design and shape of the exterior is not likely to vary substantially f for the two-door version. A four-door 2021 Bronco has always been a given, and we've long expected a production two-door, as well—plus we confirmed with sources earlier this year there will be a pickup-style Bronco, too. Here's hoping that one perhaps adopts a bit of the style of Rod Hall's open-back, open-bed 1969 Baja race Bronco.

The Bronco R race truck is also running on a prototype version of the T6 frame, but, more important, it also uses a prototype of the suspension architecture. While the specific components are no doubt substantially beefed up for 100-mph desert bashing, that means we now know the new Bronco will feature an independent front suspension and a solid rear axle. Unfortunately, the Bronco R doesn't confirm any of the other forward-looking details for the 2021 Bronco, like its potential EcoBoost powertrain lineup, removable doors, or retractable cloth roof.

If you're thinking the "2069" number on the side of the new 2021 Bronco R has some significance, you're right, but it's probably not what you're thinking. No, it's not a futuristic reference to winning the race yet again in another 50 years. In fact, it's a combination of the Bronco R's "20' race class and the number "69," the latter chosen as an homage to Rod Hall's overall win.

The actual 2021 Bronco won't be revealed until next spring, but the Bronco R's return to the race field should build plenty of hype. It will also give Ford the opportunity to test, and to show off, the new Bronco's powertrain and structure. The 2019 SCORE International Baja 1000 kicks off November 19, so you won't have to wait long to get your first fix of Ford's new Bronco.

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