Ford Bronco DR Is Ready for Off-Road Racing


A pair of hands stuffs my helmet into a filtered air supply, another clips the window net in place. In the seat next to me, off-road motorsports hall of famer Curt LeDuc turns on the intercom. “We’re going to take it easy until the shock oil heats up.” Oh, God. I peer past the reassuring lattice crash structure, into the endless lunar topography of the southern California desert outside, and wonder at what point my spinal cord will emerge through the top of my skull.

Starting at $295,000, the new ultra-tough core DR—for Desert Racer—is Ford’s ultimate off-road mission statement in its Bronco lineup. The DR channels a decade-long legacy of desert racing that began with a stock first-gen Bronco’s class win of the legendary 1967 Baja 1000, an outright race win in 1969, further class wins in 1971 and 1972, and 15 Baja 1000 Class 3 win for the ’78 to ’95 model between 2002 and 2019.

Keen to maintain the DR’s lineage from the dealer-lot variety Bronco, Ford deliberately eschewed the traditional tubular frame architecture of top-level off-road Trophy Trucks, instead building it from a production Bronco four-door frame with as many stock suspension and drivetrain components as possible. A standard-issue 10R80 automatic transmission delivers power to the independent electronically locking front and rear 4.70:1 differentials via a stock Ford electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case. The upper front suspension A-arms are production Bronco, and a front section of chassis bracing, cut from the rear rollover frame of the production Bronco, is visible in the front wheel wells. The rear axle is stock F-150, giving the DR a wider track of 73.3 inches, and the brakes are stock Bronco, or in this case, optional Alcon units. The DR’s power comes from a largely stock 5.0-liter Coyote V-8 equipped with thunderous exhaust headers that immediately dispel any notion of street legality (the DR is not street legal).

As we gently traverse the landscape, worries about my intervertebral discs being beaten to a foamy pulp are vanquished. The 80mm remote reservoir Multimatic coil-valve shocks give the racer more than 50 percent more travel than the production Bronco Badlands—15.7 inches in the front and 17.4 inches in the rear—with hydraulic bump stops that cushion the last few inches of travel. from the 37-inch BFGoodrich tires. The DR’s structure is enormously strong, and the electric power-assisted steering – completely without kickback – is full of feel, wildly direct and confidence-inspiring. From the right seat, LeDuc imparts 25 years of Dakar and Baja desert racing wisdom, his casual wit as dry as the deserts from which it was born, and I begin to relax. Besides being a tool built for a job, the DR, at this speed, is unexpectedly comfortable and great fun.

2023 ford bronco dr


The big spool dampers were clearly warming up, and LeDuc motioned forward. “Okay, we can go on.” By now I have no idea how fast we’re going, and at this rate I can’t really take my eyes off the trail to check. I listen to the mechanical chaos below us and wonder how much the DR can take. “You can’t break it,” LeDuc reassured me. “Just don’t spin during a jump.” (It’s not the truck he’s worried about.) Faster still, and the roughly 6,200-pound DR starts floating atop the terrain like a speedboat on the plane. After years of driving the same desert trails in my own low road focused garbage, the stress of not even considering mechanical failure is a revelation.

We break out onto a wide, smooth dry lake bed. “Full throttle, let’s go.” I press the pedal to the floor, and the DR, now pushing out more than 400 horsepower, thunders like industrial machinery. With nothing for miles to give a visual clue as to our speed, I glance at the center-mounted display. We’re at 100 mph, but the ride is so completely fluid and stable that I’d happily sit here for hours, in this Zen-like state, gradually being deafened by five liters of screaming V-8 as the desert gently rolls by. What a fantastic place to be.

2023 ford bronco dr


The press release describes the DR as “a turnkey racing solution for serious off-road competitors,” but I suspect many of the 50 cars Ford plans to build will end up in the hands of collectors or wealthy off-road enthusiasts who just want to rip through the desert in the baddest Bronco around.

We are now back at base. I’m back on my feet but still reeling from the experience. I look at LeDuc, happy to see that he is still smiling.

“You were at about 40 percent of its capacity,” he said, smiling. “This thing is serious. With a bigger fuel tank it will do Dakar.”

I look for any sign of a wink or a nod, but he’s just too dry to read.