The idea behind the Bronco began with Ford product manager Donald N. Frey in the early 1960s (who also conceived the Ford Mustang) and engineered by Ford engineer Paul G. Axelrad, with Lee Iacocca approving the final model for production in February 1964, after the first clay models were built in mid-1963. Developed as an off-road vehicle (ORV), the Ford Bronco was intended as a competitor for the Jeep CJ-5 and International Harvester Scout. Today a compact SUV in terms of size, Ford marketing shows a very early example of promoting a civilian off-roader as a "Sports Utility" (the two-door pickup version).
Initially selling well, following the introduction of the Chevrolet Blazer, Jeep Cherokee, and International Scout II (from 1969 to 1974), demand shifted towards SUVs with better on-road capability, leading to a decline in demand for the Ford Bronco.
The first-generation Ford Bronco is built upon a chassis developed specifically for the model range, shared with no other Ford or Lincoln-Mercury vehicle. Built on a 92-inch wheelbase (sized between the CJ-5 and Scout; only an inch shorter than the later CJ-7), the Ford Bronco used box-section body-on-frame construction.
To simplify production, all examples were sold with four-wheel drive; a shift-on the-fly Dana 20 transfer case and locking hubs were standard. The rear axle was a Ford 9-inch axle, with Hotchkiss drive and leaf springs; the front axle was a Dana 30, replaced by a Dana 44 in 1971. In contrast to the Twin I-Beams of larger Ford trucks, the Bronco used radius arms to locate the coil-sprung front axle, along with a lateral track bar, allowing for a 34-foot turning circle, long wheel travel, and antidive geometry (useful for snowplowing). A heavier-duty suspension system was an option, along with air front springs.