The 1960s were a strange time in America. A burgeoning and financially stable middle class coupled with one of the largest generations of people in American history created an economic boom in the U.S. One industry that capitalized on this growing group flush with cash was automakers who introduced innovative and powerful vehicles to a public eager and able to buy them. In 1965, the Ford Bronco was introduced—as a 1966 model—competing with the Jeep CJ5 and the International Harvester Scout 800. General Motors, on the other hand, waited and watched—or so it seemed.
Hagerty has a detailed account of what GM was doing before it released the Chevy K5 Blazer—and it wasn’t just sitting on the sidelines as Ford plowed into a new market. As GM watched Ford join International Harvester, Jeep, Nissan, Toyota, and Land Rover, engineers and designers developed a true Bronco competitor—a compact, two-door SUV. Development went far beyond a few models, too. According to Harry Bentley Bradley, a GM car designer at the time, the Ford Bronco competitor was ready to showrooms in 1969. The automaker tested pre-production prototypes, finished tooling, and printed brochures.
However, low competitor sales gave Chevrolet cold feet. The Bronco competitor GM designed rode on its own unique platform, and such investment required volume sales to make a profit. Ford sold 23,776 Broncos in 1996, according to the Hagerty story. The following year, sales dropped to 14,130. There was no way the market would support another compact SUV. GM scrapped the project. It wasn’t until a year later when Chevrolet released the larger K5 Blazer that remains an icon today.
The K5 Blazer we got was an off-road vehicle that owners could use as a daily driver. Chevy used a shortened version of an existing vehicle to cut down on costs. While the first generation of the Blazer wasn’t an instant success, it quickly doubled its sales over the Ford Bronco by 1972, the last year of the first generation. The success of the second-generation Blazer, which sold 175,000 units in 1973 and 1974 forced Ford to introduce a full-size Bronco.
Oh, how the tables turned.