Fifteen years ago today, former football star O.J. Simpson fled his home with friend Al Cowlings in a white Ford Bronco, beginning the most famous police chase in history. Two years later, the Ford Bronco was dead. Coincidence? No.
The day before the great chase, Ford had one of the oldest names in sport-utility vehicles just as the form factor was coming into its own. What changed? How was O.J. Simpson able to kill an entire legacy? The main factor was probably that the whole event occurred during prime-time. Every news network went up with national coverage. People crowded overpasses and streets to wave at O.J. as he passed. They interrupted an important and exciting Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Houston Rockets and New York Knicks. Network news magazines set all-time ratings highs that week.
A fleet of black-and-white CHP cars pursued O.J. and Al slowly as they made their way towards Simpson's house. All the while he carried a gun in the backseat while commentators assumed he was going to kill himself. It was a start of a media obsession that would last for years. Almost instantly the white Ford Bronco became the butt of numerous jokes. Late-night comedians made references to the "O.J. Edition Bronco" with its own knife storage and blood-proof floors.
The day after the chase, the Ford Bronco was the most infamous nameplate since the Corvair and Pinto. Less than two years later Ford would discontinue the Bronco and replace it with another F-series based SUV called the Ford Expedition. If only they'd taken O.J.'s car...
Photo Credit: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times