What Happens to the Vintage Bronco Market Now?
Whether you should buy or sell, and other collector SUVs to consider
The response to the new Ford Bronco, from where we’re standing, can be summed up in one questionably capitalized Facebook comment we received: “I’m a hardcore ford hater, but i like this.”
It’s been 24 long years since the Bronco was discontinued, and by offering a retro-styled family of vehicles that compete with the Jeep Wrangler in performance, price and customizability, Ford seems to have made up for lost time. But if there’s one thing we can count on in this crazy world, it’s that when an American automaker releases a new car, someone will complain that they don’t make ‘em like they used to.
If you count yourself in that camp, should you consider buying an older generation? And if so, should you buy now, or wait until everyone comes down from a collective Bronco high? Or, conversely, if you or your dad are sitting on a first-gen already, should you cash it in while it’s hot and stick that money into Tesla stock?
To answer those questions, we reached out to Brian Rabold, VP of Valuation Services at Hagerty, who schooled us on the Bronco market and the larger collector SUV category. The first lesson: if Ford’s new launch is the first time you’ve thought about the Bronco since the ‘90s, you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
“As a category, vintage SUVs has been one of the strongest segments of the enthusiast or collector market for the last five or six years,” Rabold tells InsideHook.
However, years before the category as a whole started to catch the eye of seasoned collectors and diversifying investors alike, the Bronco was already gaining a loyal following.
“In the early 2000s, this is when we start to see values increase, first with the oldest Broncos. That first-generation look, I think a lot of people started to realize that they were cool and they were cheap,” Rabold says. “For example, a 1970 Bronco would go from maybe about $8,000 in 2006 to $16,000 in 2014, and they’re now priced up there around $37.5K — that’s a really nice example.”
For reference, those originally cost about $2,300, which converts to about $15,300 in 2020. Even some of the restomod companies that have been turning barn finds into luxe weekend cruisers have increased their prices since setting up shop: industry leaders Gateway Bronco charged $80K minimum back in 2016, but they now start the ticker at $150K.
Part of this craze is based in reality — that is, the nuts and bolts of the vehicle itself. As Rabold says, the first generation is “distinct, it looks vintage, but it doesn’t look dated, and it’s very utilitarian, it’s very basic, but it’s also purposeful.” But the more consequential reason behind the out-of-control Bronco prices that would give 1960s dads a heart attack is that, for one reason or another, the vehicles seem to appeal to everyone.
After combing through its Bronco valuation data in anticipation of the new release, Hagerty found some intriguing numbers. First off, they found that the average age of a Bronco owner is 54, which is seven years younger than their average car-collector client. Additionally, because the company offers classic car insurance, it found that millennials quote Broncos across the five original generations almost as often as baby boomers, which partly has to do with the younger group being priced out of the 1966 to 1977 first-gen models.
“As that older Bronco goes up in value, the next generations follow on, because as people get priced out, they say, ‘Oh, I can’t afford that Bronco, but I still want one.’ So they look around and say, ‘OK, well I’ll get a second generation. It’s not quite the same, but it’s still cool, it’s a little bit more affordable, I’ll do that,’” Rabold explains. “So that’s helped lift values across the board.”
All this was before Ford dropped the bombshell that is the new Bronco family, the lead-up to which included widespread nostalgia-inducing press coverage that had exposed the niche collector market to a much wider audience. While it remains to be seen if another value jump plays out with this car, a precedent was set with an even more historic SUV.
“The [Land Rover] Defender’s a good example. I think we have seen an uptick in prices over the last three months for the Defender, in particular for vintage models,” Rabold says, citing the refreshed Defender that was unveiled in 2019. But this type of value increase “tends to be more of a sugar rush,” in his opinion. “You see the values go up, but it’s not necessarily enduring.”
Does that mean buyers interested in a classic Bronco should wait a couple months or even years while the hype dies down? Not necessarily.
“I think [Broncos have] seen their big surge, especially for that first generation, but I think they’re not going to get much cheaper,” Rabold says. “I think the experience they deliver is so great and valued by such a wide audience right now.”
Unfortunately, that intrinsic value may put them out of reach, especially if you’re a ‘60s-or-bust Bronco-head. If you count yourself in that category, you’ve got good company, as other SUV aficionados have been or are in the process of being priced out of their dream machines as well, with the aforementioned Land Rover Defender, the original K5 Chevy Blazer, FJ40 Land Cruisers and even first-generation Toyota 4Runners picking up steam in the collector market. (If you come across one of those that still turns over, you might want to snap it up before someone else does.)
But it’s easy to buy a hot car, restore it and flip it for a profit. The real trick is to be like the people who bought early Broncos in the late ‘90s, before their prices skyrocketed.
So what does Rabold think is the next first-gen Bronco?
“Maybe I’m crazy, but I personally have my eye on a lot of 1980s Japanese SUVs. So a first-generation Mitsubishi Montero, for example, has that boxy, distinctive look, it looks kind of cool. They’re still dirt cheap,” Rabold suggests. “It’s hard to find any that aren’t rusted out, but I think that’s a great segment. More and more buyers who are coming online are interested in Japanese vehicles, and that 1980s Japanese SUV segment is, I think, underappreciated for the most part.”
Anyone want to take that bet? There’s a Montero that fits the bill on Bring a Trailer right now.