Last fall, I headed to Buena Vista, Colorado to wander around a big field and look at a lot of used SUVs, crossovers, and 4x4s, plus a few new ones. This was different than your typical Sunday drive through dealership car lots though. None of the vehicles were for sale, and I had to pay $10 to get in. Why would I drive two hours and pay ten bucks just to look at a bunch of not-for-sale vehicles? Because the event was Bronco Super Celebration West, and the new vehicles were Ford’s latest additions to the world of 4x4s, SUVs, and crossovers: the all-new Bronco and Bronco Sport.
Confession: I’m not, nor have I ever been, a “car person.” But Ford’s latest offerings have gotten my attention. It seems like, over the past few years, cars – crossovers and SUVs in particular – have all started to look alike. I’ve seen $30,000 vehicles behind $60,000 ones at stop lights, and if it weren’t for the make or model badge, I couldn’t tell them apart. So when Ford blasted commercials for their latest models in 2020, I had to take another look.
The Sport, which is based on Ford’s unitized body-and-chassis Escape crossover, just looked cooler. It had something called GOAT modes, which apparently stands for “goes over any type of terrain.” And the Sport’s big brother, the sixth-generation, body-on-frame Bronco, modeled after the Ranger pickup truck and available with factory options like front and rear lockers, sway-bar disconnect, HOSS suspension, Bilstein shocks, and 35” tires, was like a breath of fresh air from the past, but with all the tech of the modern age. Here was a vehicle that could stand up against the Jeep, the Defender, the 4Runner, and the FJ Cruiser, without modifications – and without breaking the bank. And more importantly, it did not look like anything else on the road.
Let’s back up a bit and talk about Bronco Super Celebration, or “Super Cel.” Produced by Bronco Driver Magazine, the annual event is a place for Bronco owners to showcase their vintage vehicles, vendors to show off their options, and fans to show up and check it all out. The western version debuted in Buena Vista in 2020, and apparently the magazine liked the location so much, they held it there again in 2021. The rodeo grounds on the south side of town provide plenty of open space to line up row after row of vintage Broncos, with mighty Mount Princeton serving up a dramatic backdrop for the four-day event.
Owners and enthusiasts turned out, and Broncos were judged and awarded prizes in generational categories ranging from 1966 LUBRs (lifted, uncut Bronco rides) to 1978 Bronco Stock vehicles, 1984 Bronco IIs and even the latest model. I admired the many vintage rigs and spent some time speaking with Jerry Phelps, a Ford product specialist, who answered my questions about the 2021 Bronco. A jerrycan line-up displayed the 2021 paint colors and 2022’s Eruption Green (the other 2022 color, Hot Pepper Red, was not on display).
The highlights of the event were the drive-alongs and ride-alongs. After checking in and signing a waiver, I went for a spin in one of the Bronco’s lower trims, a Race Red Big Bend. The ride took place on the twisting, turning backroads of Buena Vista’s Four Mile Area and the driver was none other than Mark Stahl, former NASCAR driver and four-time winner of the Baja 1000 off-road race. Needless to say, it was not the typical Sunday drive through the countryside. Mark demonstrated all the bells and whistles of the vehicle, from high-speed driving on gravel in Baja mode to doing doughnuts with Trail Turn Assist, where one rear wheel is locked and the Bronco pivots in place. He crept down a steep, rocky slope with one-pedal driving, then switched on the lockers and put it in 4 low for crawling over and between boulders. All the while, he regaled me with stories of his driving history, from slot car racing for money when he was ten years old to his latest experiences traveling the country as a Ford Pro Driver.
As if that weren’t enough fun, I test drove a Bronco Sport, the “baby Bronco,” with Ford driving specialist Jessica Morelli as my guide. She led a group of drivers on Buena Vista’s backroads and even over a minor stream crossing, returning through the paved downtown area. It was cool to see all the new Broncos and Bronco Sports driving through town. I felt like I was in a parade.
Super Celebration West will return to Buena Vista from September 7th through the 10th this year. If you’ve got your own rig to show off, be sure to register ahead of time. If you don’t own a rig but you want to check out some cool vintage models, chat with owners and drivers, and see what’s new, put Super Cel on your calendar. And if you can’t wait that long, check out the local car lots for all the latest models, and schedule a test drive if you like. They may not let you crawl over rocks or plow through streams with the borrowed ride, but just getting on the road in a new vehicle can make you feel like you’re driving in a parade.
This blog first appeared as a column in the October 12th, 2021 Gazette North Springs Edition.