Ford’s Bronco 4×4 looks set to make a long-awaited comeback with the debut of a R race prototype.

The race prototype is built on a modified Ford T6 architecture that will provide the base for the production model.

Beefed up for Baja, Bronco R features an independent front suspension with 14 inches of travel and a production-based five-link rear chassis design with up to 18 inches of travel, plus custom Fox shocks, 17-inch beadlock-capable aluminium wheels and 37-inch BFGoodrich tyres.

More than a tribute to Rod Hall’s famous win in the 1969 win Baja 1000, the Bronco R race prototype is designed with the production model’s body-on-frame architecture to test its capability and durability, while also energising off-road enthusiasts who eagerly await the return of America’s original sport utility vehicle.

Featuring a race livery inspired by Hall’s winning vehicle, Bronco R passes the torch to off-road racer Shelby Hall, Rod’s granddaughter, who will drive it for portions of this year’s prestigious race in honour of her late grandfather.

As a test, the Bronco R will head back to the Baja Peninsula later this month to take on the near 1000-mile grueling off-road course and challenge the production Bronco’s powertrain and architecture.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Bronco’s Baja 1000 win, Paul Wraith and team worked in concert with Ford Performance, builder Geiser Bros Design and Development of Phoenix, Arizona, and Baja 1000 Trophy Truck champion Cameron Steele to make the November 22 race start.

They used cutting-edge tools such as high-tech virtual reality, polygon modelling and 3D printing to develop parts, but also incorporated low-fidelity prototyping and role-playing to aid problem-solving and swift decision-making.

“This wasn’t our usual development process, but it was the right process for this project,” Wraith said.

“We found, created or adapted the right tool for the task at hand – a cool and exciting blend of old and new creative techniques. We stretched ourselves, but it was worth it – and great fun.”

“Like the original Bronco, we kept Bronco R’s design authentic and simple, with a roll cage on a production-style frame, and a five-piece lightweight body on top,” said Brian Novak, Ford Performance off-road racing supervisor.

“For the endurance needs of Baja’s 1000 grueling miles, we built in a limited number of race-focused parts. But even the twin turbos of the EcoBoost engine are representative of what the production Bronco will offer.”

The team focused on creating a race-ready look with an overall heritage-inspired design language.

With its compressed body height and long-travel suspension, Bronco R features an ultra-wide stance, while a variety of aero components reinforce its performance intent.

The prototype’s lightweight composite body includes a clamshell hood and roof, as well as clean body panels that hark back to the first-generation Bronco models (1966-1977).

A cut-roof design allows rear seat passengers to use a second-row hatch for access.

The exterior incorporates 15 LED light bars from Rigid, including a grille sequence framing the new Bronco brand lettering boldly.

To underscore that this is a one-of-a-kind racing prototype, the “R” is given a sharp graphic treatment. Washers inscribed with the Bronco name are visible at various points around the exterior and secure the composite skin to the roll cage beneath it.

A unique race-focused interior features lightweight off-road racing shells from Recaro for all three seating positions.

Simple surfaces of the instrument panel nod to the first-generation Bronco, and the integration of a MoTeC data acquisition system enables real-time monitoring and measurement of the prototype’s performance attributes.

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Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for almost 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.