Both the Ford Bronco and K5 Chevy Blazer were built to compete with the Jeep CJ. But they found their fiercest competition in each other. The Bronco debuted in 1966, giving it a slight lead over the Blazer, which was first sold in 1969. The GMC Jimmy, the Blazer’s sibling, launched right after in 1970.
The first generation of Ford Bronco ran from 1966 to 1977. The Blazer’s first gen was much shorter and ended in 1972. There are many similarities between these two classic off-roaders. What’s more interesting is their continued adaptation to each other.
Ford’s Rugged Off-Roader
The 1966 Ford Bronco was offered in three styles. A shortened pickup, a roadster, and a wagon. By 1972 only one of these body styles, the wagon, remained. The wagon’s practicality made it the most popular choice.
Despite the body style options, there weren’t many other choices Bronco customers could make. All Broncos were 4x4, all had a solid front axle, and until 1973 all were manual transmissions.
Comfort features weren’t readily available on the first Broncos. It wasn’t until 1972 that the Bronco offered the “Ranger” trim. This trim package was loaded with comfort and style options.
Though the production numbers of the first few years of Bronco weren’t noteworthy, they still proved it was possible to compete with Jeep. Not surprisingly, other car makers considered manufacturing their own two-door sporty off-roaders.
Chevy’s Blazer was one of these.
What the Chevy Blazer Got Right
Was Chevy watching Ford Motor Company? Of course. Perhaps being second on the scene allowed Chevy to avoid some of the Bronco’s pitfalls with ease.
By using the K10 and C10 pickup trucks as the base of their SUV, Chevy reduced production costs. Using the pickups as a base also allowed Chevy to use everything they’d already developed for their trucks. Alternative suspensions, drivetrains, and accessories were able to be offered immediately.
As a result, the K5 Blazer debuted with more options than the Bronco had in 1969. One option the Bronco would never receive was a 2wd version. Selecting the 2wd Blazer also changed suspension options for added comfort. Changing the suspension was easy since Chevy used components from their pickups.
Perhaps most importantly, Chevy offered an automatic transmission option early on. Many prefer a manual transmission’s control, but automatics of the day had a higher torque capacity. That made them very desirable to many drivers.
When it came to differences between the Bronco and Blazer, this was only the tip of the iceberg.
Bronco vs Blazer: Dimensions
The Jeep CJ-5, the dominating off-roader, had a wheelbase of 81 inches. The first-generation Ford Bronco increased the wheelbase to a modest 92 inches. People liked the additional space, so the Chevrolet Blazer took it one step further. It debuted with a 104-inch wheelbase.
In its second generation, the Bronco expanded its wheelbase to 104 inches as well. That’s not a coincidence. People responded well to a “full-size” SUV. The CJ-5 was seen as a purely recreational vehicle, but the Blazer was spacious enough to accommodate passengers and gear.
People who couldn’t afford to have a vehicle “just for recreation” saw the advantage of buying one vehicle that could be used on the weekdays as well as the weekends.
The Blazer may have started the trend towards full-size SUV, but the Bronco followed suit in short order.
First Generation Bronco vs Blazer Dimensions
Bronco vs Blazer: Engine Specifications
The Chevy Blazer offered more engine options than the Bronco. Options were never the Bronco’s strength, but in engines it fell spectacularly behind.
The Bronco debuted with a single six-cylinder engine, though a V8 was added in late ‘66. The Bronco ended the first generation with a single eight-cylinder engine. While both of these engines were good, people don’t like being limited to a single choice. The 302 CID small block Ford that the Bronco ended the generation with is still a favorite. But without a six-cylinder, there’s little doubt that the Bronco harmed its sales.
The Blazer debuted with three engine options and quickly added a fourth. Through the entire first generation, you could choose between a straight-six, a small-block V8, or a big-block V8.
These engines weren’t individually better than the Bronco’s. But by offering a wide selection, the Blazer appealed to more people.
What Happened to Engines in 1972?
The Bronco and Blazer engines both appear to have a sudden horsepower decrease in 1972. Emission standards frequently get blamed for this, but they’re innocent. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) provides horsepower ratings for all vehicles. This creates standardization so that you can compare power across brands.
Until 1971-1972, SAE provided gross horsepower ratings. Gross horsepower is how much power an engine can produce. It doesn’t take into account the accessories necessary to keep the engine running. Like the radiator, for example. The SAE gross horsepower ratings also used ideal testing conditions. In short, they weren’t representative of the horsepower people experienced.
It made sense to move to net horsepower, which was a better measure of what people could expect from a vehicle. There were no actual changes to engines between 1971 and 1972. In 1975, catalytic converters were added which did slightly impact horsepower.
There aren’t net horsepower ratings available for engines prior to 1971. This makes comparing across years tricky. There’s no easy formula to account for all of the changes that could occur. Thanks to standardization it is easy to compare within a year though.
Chevy Blazer Engine Specifications
|250 CID Inline-Six
||110 hp @ 4,000 RPM
||175 lb-ft @ 1,600 RPM
|292 CID Inline Six
||125 hp @ 3,600 RPM
||225 lb-ft @ 4,400 RPM
|307 CID V8
||135 hp @ 4,000 RPM
115 hp @ 3,600 RPM
|206 lb-ft @ 2,000 RPM
|350 CID V8
||170 hp @ 3,600 RPM
145 hp @ 3,800 RPM
|250 lb-ft @ 2,200 RPM
Ford Bronco Engine Specifications
|170 CID Inline-Six
||105 hp @ 4,400 RPM
||156 lb-ft @ 2,400 RPM
|200 CID Inline-Six
||120 hp @ 4,400 RPM
||190 lb-ft @ 2,400 RPM
|289 CID V8
||200 hp @ 4,400 RPM
||282 lb-ft @ 2,200 RPM
|302 CID V8
||210 hp @ 4,400 RPM
||395 lb-ft @ 2,600 RPM
|302 CID V8
||135 hp @ 3,400 RPM
||243 lb-ft @ 2,000 RPM
Bronco vs Blazer: Transmission
The first-generation Bronco’s true weak point was its lack of transmission options. In 1966, most vehicles offered automatic transmissions. The Mustang, supposedly the Bronco’s stablemate, offered an automatic transmission from its first day of sale.
The Ford Bronco didn’t have an automatic transmission option until 1973. In 1969, when the Chevy Blazer launched, the Bronco only had one three-speed manual transmission.
Thankfully, competition brings out the best in everyone.
The Blazer offered three transmission options. A standard three-speed manual, a three-speed automatic, and a four-speed manual. The four-speed manual offered a granny gear, making it an ideal choice for off-roaders.
The Bronco’s later generations would embrace optional transmissions.
Bronco and Blazer Transmissions
|Transmission||Years Available||First Gear||Second Gear||Third Gear||Fourth Gear
|TH350 (Blazer Automatic)
|SM465 (Blazer 4-Speed)
|Chevy 3-Speed (Blazer)
|C4 (Bronco Automatic)
Bronco vs Blazer: Off-Roading and Suspension
The four-wheel drive Bronco and Blazer pitched themselves as off-roaders. Their off-roading angles fail to compete with modern off-roaders, like the JL Wrangler. But for the time, they offered a lot of off-roading features. The Bronco even competed in the Baja races. Its victories are commemorated with the special edition Baja Bronco.
Blazers and Broncos used a leaf spring rear suspension. Leaf springs are a firm suspension. Though they’re not very comfortable, leaf springs excel at durability and simplicity. These strengths make them a good choice for off-road suspension. Chevy liked leaf springs so much, the Blazer also used a front leaf spring suspension.
The front suspension was one of the bigger differences between the Bronco and Blazer. The Bronco’s used a coil spring front suspension. Both suspensions can work for off-roading, but there are many differences between coil spring and leaf spring suspensions.
A solid front axle was used by both Broncos and Blazers. Despite independent front suspension’s added comfort, solid axles are well-regarded in off-road communities. A solid front axle makes it easier to navigate bumpy terrain. Torque is easier to preserve with a front axle as well since there are fewer pieces that can leech power from the differential.
Another major advantage of solid front axles and leaf springs is that they’re relatively easy to replace if damaged. For off-roaders who drove hard, this was a major benefit.
Either Bronco or Blazer could come with a Dana 20 transfer case. The Blazer also came with a New Process 205 case, or NP-205. These are both well-regarded transfer cases praised for their durability.
Bronco and Blazer Off-Roading Specifications
Post-’71 Dana 44
First-generation Ford Broncos are equipped with four-wheel-drive systems without exception. The first-generation Chevy Blazer offered both a two-wheel drive and four-wheel-drive version. What made this especially unique was the total change in suspension for the RWD Blazer.
The rear-wheel drive Blazer used an independent front suspension. This offered a more comfortable driving experience. It was especially appealing for Blazer drivers who drove on the highway. To further emphasize comfort, the two-wheel drive Blazer also featured rear trailing arms. While leaf springs are pretty standard for rear suspensions, trailing arms offer a more comfortable ride.
The two-wheel drive Blazer was comfortable and practical. It offered something a little rugged for people who liked to hit the highway to drive to a National Park, but who planned to hike once there. Instead of associating rear-wheel-drive with affordability, Chevy pitched their Blazer on comfort. Successfully.
First Generation Broncos and Blazers
The Chevy Blazer outsold the Bronco at a 5:1 ratio, and in hindsight, it’s easy to see why. The Blazer wanted to be everyone’s off-roader. To achieve that goal, Chevy offered options that made the Blazer appealing to a wider range of people. An automatic transmission, two-wheel drive version, and interior comforts were all part of that.
Ford’s Bronco succeeded at being a small off-roader. They also learned from Chevy and adapted the Bronco accordingly. By the third and fourth generation, the Bronco had adapted all of the traits that made the Blazer successful.
That meant that people could choose based on which vehicle appealed to them rather than which ones had the options they needed. It’s hard to see this expansion of options as being anything other than a win-win for everyone.
Classic Broncos and Blazers are both highly prized by collectors today.