I WAS DOING my O.J. thing, running 40 mph down the middle of an expressway in a Ford Bronco. But, unlike the Juice, I got no respect.All I got was honking horns and bumper riders, and frowning people swerving left and right. Some shouted insults as they sped past me: "You stoopid or somethin'? You don't know how to drive?" Others gave the Ignoble Salute. They just didn't get it. Here I was in a middle lane of I-95 North going the legal minimum speed limit, 40 mph. I had this big, pretty 1994 Bronco, a fully loaded, green-and-tan Eddie Bauer version. I tried to find a white one like the Bronco O.J. used in his great escape, but they were all out, or sold or something. Anyway, I figured the spiffed-up Bronco would do for the day's entertainment, which was this: Black man in a Ford Bronco going 40 mph down the middle of an expressway. I even put a little sign in the back window, "O.J. Bronco." Figured I'd get a few laughs, maybe even a state trooper escort -- hey, maybe even a few TV helicopters following me with cameras and stuff. Might even get a little insight into O.J.'s little escapade. But I bombed miserably. Background: Since O.J. Simpson took his well-televised trip down the San Diego Expressway last June, Ford Bronco sales have risen 25 percent. But neither Ford's corporate types, nor its dealers credit O.J.'s journey for that sales increase. Sport-utility sales were up anyway, Ford's pin-stripers said. "Please don't link people's interest in the Bronco to the O.J. thing," a Virginia dealer pleaded. "We think Bronco sales are rising because it's just a good truck." Hey, the dude's half right. The Bronco is a good truck, one of the biggest and best full-size sport-utility vehicles available. Maybe that's why the Ford people aren't tinkering with it much for 1995. The tested 1994 version came equipped with a driver's air bag, side-door guard beams, and environmentally friendly air conditioner refrigerant -- pretty much the same "new" stuff you'll get in the 1995 model. A five-speed manual overdrive transmission is standard in all states except California (because of the state's stringent clean-air laws), which meant that O.J. was in a Bronco equipped with an electronically controlled four-speed automatic. That automatic transmission, the E40D, has been improved for 1995: smoother shifts, better durability. The Bronco's standard engine, for 1994 and 1995, is a 5-liter V-8 rated 195 horsepower at 4,000 rpm when linked to a four-speed automatic transmission, as was the case in the test truck. Maximum engine torque in that arrangement is set at 270 pound-feet at 3,000 rpm. With the five-speed manual transmission, the engine gets 205 horsepower and max torque rises to 275 pound-feet. A 5.8-liter, 210-horsepower V-8 is sold as an optional Bronco engine. Standard brakes include power-assisted front discs and rear drums with four-wheel anti-lock backup . All Broncos are four-wheel-drive. All come with a single body style -- three-door hatchback sport utility with standard seating for five passengers. The trucks can be equipped to carry six passengers and up to 1,200 pounds of cargo. Maximum towing capacity is 5,000 pounds. Broncos are available in three trim levels -- base XL, upgraded XLT and fancy-dancy Eddie Bauer. Complaints: Very trucky ride. You bounce. And the engine is anything but quiet. But, after all, the Bronco IS a truck. Praise: Just an overall fine, big ol' truck designed to carry the world. Head-turning quotient: For regular folks, it's attractive at highway speeds substantially in excess of 40 mph. For stars, possibly on the lam, the Bronco shines in the slow lane. Ride, acceleration and handling: This is why I figure O.J. really wasn't trying to run: You can't go fast around curves in a Bronco. The thing's too big and clumsy. Does okay on straightaways, though. V ry good acceleration. Braking is good. Sound system: Electronically controlled AM/FM stereo radio with a digital clock. Good enough to follow the news. Mileage: Ha! Another reason why I don't think O.J. was running: The darned Bronco barely gets 15 to the gallon (32-gallon tank, estimated 460-mile range on usable volume of regular unleaded), driver-only and no cargo. Hmm. Maybe I should've gotten Al Cowlings to drive. Maybe I would've gotten some attention. Price: Base price on the tested 1994 Eddie Bauer edition with four-speed automatic is $26,800. Dealer's invoice is $22,900. Price as tested is $28,640, including $1,240 in options and a $600 destination charge. Purse-strings note: Compare with Chevrolet Blazer/GMC Yukon and Toyota Land Cruiser. Does not come with passport or $10,000 for travel money (the O.J. option).
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