One pair of hands inserted my helmet into the filtered air intake, the other clamped the window net in place. In the seat next to me, Curt LeDuc, the Offroad Motorsports Hall of Famer, pressed the intercom. “We’ll take it easy until the shock oil gets hot.” Oh God. I peered past the convincing lattice crash structure, into the endless lunar topography of the Southern California desert beyond, and wondered at what point my spinal cord would exit through the top of my skull.
Starting at $295,000, the new ultra-rugged DR— for Desert Racer—is Ford’s flagship off-road mission statement in its Bronco lineup. DR carries on a decades-long desert racing legacy that began with the first-generation Bronco stock class win in the legendary 1967 Baja 1000, a live race win in 1969, further class wins in 1971 and 1972, and 15 Baja 1000 Class 3 wins for the ’78-to model -’95 between 2002 and 2019.
Eager to maintain the DR’s lineage to the various dealer-lot Broncos, Ford deliberately eschewed the traditional tube-frame architecture of the top-level off-road racing Trophy, opting instead to build it from a production Bronco four-door frame with as many stock suspension and drivetrain components as possible. A standard-issue 10R80 automatic transmission powers a 4.70:1 differential that locks independent electronics front and rear via a stock Ford electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case. The upper front suspension A-arms are production-Bronco, and the stiffened chassis front, 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 widened 73.3 inches of track, and the brakes are stock Bronco, or in this case, optional Alcon units. Power for the DR is from a stock 5.0-liter Coyote V-8 that’s largely equipped with a rumbling exhaust header that immediately confounds any notion of street legality (the DR is not street legal).
As we walked slowly across the landscape, the worry of my intervertebral disc being crushed into a frothy pulp faded away. 80 mm remote reservoir Multimatic coil-valve dampers give riders more than 50 percent more suspension travel than the production Bronco Badlands—15.7 inches in the front and 17.4 inches in the rear—with hydraulic bump stops absorbing the last few inches of travel from the 37-inch BFGoodrich tires. The DR’s structure is stout, and the electric power-assisted steering—completely without kickback—is full of feel, wildly direct, and reassuring. From the right seat, LeDuc imparted 25 years of Dakar and Baja desert racing wisdom, his casual wit as dry as the desert where he was born, and I began to relax. As well as being a tool built for the job, the DR is, at this speed, unexpectedly comfortable and fun.
The big spool valve mufflers had obviously warmed up, and LeDuc beckoned forward. “Alright, we can get on with it.” Right now I don’t know how fast we’re going, and at this rate, I can’t take my eyes off the trail to check. I heard the mechanical chaos below us and wondered how much the DR could take. “You can’t break it,” LeDuc assured me. “Don’t turn around while jumping.” (It wasn’t the truck he was worried about.) Any faster, and the roughly 6200-pound DR began to float over the terrain like a speedboat on an airplane. After years of struggling across these same desert trails in my own road-focused junk, the stress of not having to consider mechanical failure was a revelation.
We came out onto a wide, smooth dry lake bed. “Full gas, let’s go.” I pressed the pedal to the floor, and the DR, now pushing out over 400 horsepower, rumbled like industrial machinery. With nothing to give a visual indication of our speed, I glanced at the center-mounted screen. We’re at 100 mph, but the ride is so fluid and stable that I’d happily sit here for hours, in this Zen-like state, gradually deafened by the five-liter V-8’s scream as the desert slows -land passed. Great place to be.
The press release describes the DR as a “turnkey racing solution for serious off-road competitors,” but I suspect that 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 cruise across the desert in the most Bronco. worst there is.
We’re back to base now. I got back on my feet but still floating from the experience. I looked at LeDuc, glad to see he was still smiling.
“You’re at about 40 percent of its capacity,” he said with a smile. “This is serious. With a bigger fuel tank, it would be a Dakar.”
I looked for any sign of a wink or a nod, but he was too dry to read.