What Is the Baja Bronco?Last Updated August 8, 2023 | Meghan Drummond
On January 28, 1971, Ford debuted a limited run “Baja Bronco” to commemorate the Ford Bronco's victories in both the Baja 500 and Baja 1000 off-road events. Bill Stroppe's shop had built and raced the victorious Broncos, and they also completed the final assembly of the commemorative Baja Broncos.
The Baja Bronco is a first-generation Bronco that’s incredibly rare. There’s quite a bit of dispute on how many of these vehicles were manufactured between 1971 and 1975 (the last year the Baja Bronco was produced), but the general consensus is that between 450 and 650 were sold. Its scarcity is only part of the reason why this Ford Bronco has become such a desirable collector’s item though.
Design of Baja Bronco
The Baja Bronco’s unique styling is inspired by the Broncos that the Stroppe team raced. With a Poppy Red and Wimbledon White two-tone body and a bright metallic blue roof, it’s a vehicle that definitely stands out. After being sent to Stroppe’s shop, each Bronco was fitted with a satin black hood to reduce glare, a feature he appreciated during the 500 and 1,000-mile-long desert races he’d completed. Each Baja Bronco received commemorative badging on their front fenders and a Baja Bronco spare tire cover.
The Baja Bronco came equipped with more than just an attractive outside though. Inside, the Bronco was equipped with a rear bench seat, extra cooling package, swing-away tire carrier, heavy-duty suspension, reduced noise exhaust, and an auxiliary fuel tank. It was a Sport Bronco with some extras that were designed to go off-road, and it had all the features Ford could give it to help with that.
Then, Ford shipped off these Broncos to Stroppe’s shop where they had some extras added on. Larger off-road tires were added, shock absorbers were fitted to the corners, and fender flares were attached.
Stroppe also allowed for customization, however, and many of the Broncos left his shop with a variety of extras that could include roll cages, a padded roll bar, or a front push bar that was dubbed “Cactus Smasher.”
There were countless options for customization and combinations of options that were added to these vehicles. Several of these customizations have become particularly highly regarded though. One option was an entirely upgraded suspension that traded out the Bronco’s leaf spring suspension for an airbag suspension. The other fabled option was an automatic transmission, an option that Ford wouldn’t offer until 1973. Stroppe also beat Ford to the punch with power steering.
If you wanted a 1971 Bronco with an automatic transmission, Bill Stroppe was your only hope.
Before he was a racer, Stroppe was a self-taught wrencher. At ten, Stroppe was happily dismantling cars, and, by the seasoned age of fourteen, he was operating his own service station. It’s little wonder then that Ford eventually agreed to Stroppe’s vision of a West Coast racing operation under the Ford umbrella. The man loved cars in a way that certainly spoke to the folks at Ford.
Unfortunately, Ford decided to abandon the West Coast racing operation in 1964, but their relationship with Bill Stroppe was far from over.
In 1965, when Ford released the Bronco as an off-road vehicle, they sent two to Stroppe. Stroppe loved all forms of racing, and off-roading provided a unique challenge that he was excited by. Ford wanted Stroppe to continue to promote the Bronco and what better way than through racing it?
To help promote both the sport and the Bronco, Stroppe told his friend and colleague Parnelli Jones that Jones probably couldn’t handle off-road racing. This challenge created a winning partnership, and the two went on to race together successfully. Parnelli Jones, despite his extensive racing history with many vehicles and victories, became so tied to the Bronco that he makes a cameo in Gone in 60 Seconds featuring the vehicle.
Stroppe was the perfect choice for a man to make a special edition of the Bronco. Not only did he know a great deal about how to build a car, but he also loved both the Bronco and off-road racing.
The Baja 500
The Baja Bronco was designed to commemorate Bill Stroppe’s victory in the Baja 500 and Baja 1000. These off-road races take place in Baja California and are 500 and 1,000 miles long respectively. For the past fifty years, the Baja 500 has been considered one of the world’s most impressive motorsport shows.
The Baja 500 is the second race of SCORE (Southern California Off Road Enthusiasts) four-race series and takes place in the first week of June. The terrain of the Baja 500 makes it extremely challenging, but also incredibly beautiful. Sprawling through a sandy and rocky desert, there are both canyons and coastline to navigate during this legendary race.
This race-inspired many aspects of the Baja Bronco’s design. From the glare-resistant hood to the “cactus smasher” front, this custom design is one of the most meaningful in how its inspiration truly shaped every aspect of its design. As much as we love Ford’s special editions, many of them amount to a custom paint color and a cool fender badge, but this isn’t one of those.
The Baja Bronco’s unique features and thoughtful details have made it one of the most collectible and desirable classic off-road vehicles available.
Sources: 1971 Ford Bronco Baja, Hemmings | Hemmings Find of the Day: Stroppe Baja Bronco, Hemmings | Bill Stroppe, Motor Racing Pioneer, Is Dead at 76, Los Angeles Times | The 1971 Baja Broncos, SCORE International | Bill Stroppe, Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame Image Credit: SCORE