The "Firestone" Baja
by Andrew Norton
Early Baja Bronco production history is a tough subject. Bill Stroppe is no longer around to fill us in on details. Stroppe's secretary often answered Baja Bronco inquiries in the 1980s with some photocopys of the brochure and little other information beyond "Unfortuneatly, the records on the vehicles no longer exist." Some of the information we have found is conflicting and lots of times the details are unclear, which is expected from memories nearly 3 decades old. Those are some of the reasons that lead us to spend extra time studying pictures and carefully reading articles and literature pertaining to the Baja Bronco. By studying these we have some insight on these trucks and formulate questions about Baja Bronco production and facts that need documenting.
From what we've seen of all the Baja Bronco road tests and press photos, it appears that there were two Bajas used for such articles and pictures. Both 71 models appear identical with the exception of the wheels, tires, and the presence of rocker panel mouldings on one. The first and most prevailant Baja Bronco fits the description perfectly: Baja Bronco paint job, padded steering wheel, 15x8 Chrome steel wheels, Gates Commando Specials(production models got the nearly identical Commando XTs with white letters), Baja decals, tire cover and hitch. I believe this truck later was registered with the California license plate "476 DQV". This is the truck that ended up in the Popular Science August 1971 road test, Motor Trend February 1972, and on the cover of Four Wheeler in November of 1971. It also appears to be in nearly every photo in the Baja Bronco sales brochure.
The other truck that appears in the brochure, we like to call the "Firestone" Baja because of it's Firestone Tires. Even the early articles and Ford Press and News Release literature states the Baja Bronco will have Gates Commando tires; so what's the deal with the Firestones? That is what originally grabbed our interest in this Baja and clued us on to other subtle differences on the "Firestone" Baja. One fairly obvious difference in this truck is the presense of Rocker Moldings, a rare Bronco option. We always liked this option on the Baja, but only know two Bajas to have them. Another thing also has to do with rolling stock: it appears to have 15x10" wheels. The seem deeper than the wheels on the other Baja in the brochure and the shot of it on the cover of the May/June 1971 Off-Road Vehicles Magazine, it appears to have a very wide stance. Note the all-black hood in the picture; this later got painted so that the leading edge was orange.
There are two more important differnces to note: Most Baja Broncos have the top hinge of the tire carrier painted white, so it matches the area of the body to which it is molded. On the Firestone Baja both hinges are orange. This could have been an early paint oversight or simply a test to see if it looked okay with an orange hinge. Either way, we've never seen another Baja with an orange upper hinge, unless it had been repainted incorrectly. All the orignal paint Bajas we have had and seen have had white upper hinges. The last detail is on the fender. If you look closely, you'll see that the Baja fender decal is blue in the cactus field. Nearly every Baja Bronco decal we've seen has been Orange, White, and Blue, left to right. On the Firestone Baja, the decal is Blue, White, Orange, left to right. We only know of one other Baja with these decals: Jim Creel's April '73 Baja Bronco. Anyone else have the blue-on-the-left decals?
Was the Firestone Baja a prototype? Which came first - the Gates Commandos or the Firestones? What other developmental work was done on Bajas and were these the only two press trucks in the early days? These are just some questions that run through our heads. It's pretty obvious that the Firestone Baja was a unique Baja Bronco with some items and differences that it shared with little or no other Bajas. If you have any comments or strange items on your Baja, don't hesitate to email us! Andrew@BajaBronco.com