It is one of the most iconic, infamous cars in American history.
On June 17, 1994, an estimated 95 million people watched O.J. Simpson ride in a white Ford Bronco down the freeways of Los Angeles, chased at slow speed by police cars before he was arrested and charged with the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and her friend, Ron Goldman.
Simpson’s friend and the Bronco’s owner, Al Cowlings, drove while the former football great hunkered in the backseat, holding a handgun.
For years, the Bronco had remained largely out of sight. On Monday night, it goes looking for a new owner on an episode of History’s “Pawn Stars,” just as both Simpson and Ford Broncos are both back in the news.
Simpson was granted parole in July after serving nine years for a 2007 armed robbery in a Las Vegas hotel room. He is scheduled to be released in October.
And, Ford announced earlier this year that it is bringing back the Bronco, last made in 1996. The company said the new Bronco will be a midsize SUV, unlike the larger, hulking version Simpson rode in. The 2020 version is expected to hit the market in 2019.
A Ford Bronco also stars with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in the movie “Rampage,” coming out next year.
“The reality is that the Bronco name is, and forevermore will be, associated with O.J.,” Michael Bernacchi, a marketing professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, told The Associated Press. “Whether it’s going to help or hurt Ford is hard to say.”
Rick Harrison, the owner of the Las Vegas pawn shop featured in “Pawn Stars,” told USA Today that he usually tries to “stay away from stuff (connected to) bad people, but it’s so iconic.
“The O.J. Bronco is really a bizarre part of history. My 14-year-old son doesn’t know anything about the ’90s … but he knows about the Bronco.”
Cowlings owned the Bronco at the time of the chase, but Simpson’s former agent, Mike Gilbert, later bought it so it wouldn’t be used for “distasteful” purposes.
Gilbert says on “Pawn Stars” that he was once offered $500,000 for the Bronco. He’s ready to sell it now to make money for his children. The History Channel hasn’t disclosed whether Harrison bought it.
Simpson owned a Bronco, too, which police found parked outside his estate with blood on it. But that vehicle was destroyed after the trial.
In 2016 when ESPN investigated ownership of the Bronco from the chase, Gilbert was one of its three owners. ESPN reported that from 1995 to 2012, the vehicle sat unnoticed in a nondescript parking garage at a condo complex in Los Angeles. Gilbert reportedly later moved it to the garage of his California home.
Gilbert told ESPN that after the trial Cowlings received an offer from a Minnesota company to buy the Bronco for $75,000.
“But we found out that the company was going to rent the vehicle to a company in L.A. called Grave Line Tours, that visited famous graves,” Gilbert told ESPN.
“They were going to re-enact the chase with the Bronco and then take people to Nicole’s grave. The trial hadn’t taken place yet, and we didn’t want people thinking anyone associated with O.J. did this.”
Cowlings sold the Bronco to Gilbert and his partners, who rarely talked about owning it and allowed it to be publicly displayed only a handful of times over the years, according to ESPN.
According to The Associated Press, the Bronco has most recently been displayed at the Alcatraz East Crime Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., where it has been a popular attraction.
In 2016 fewer than 20 miles had been put on the odometer since the 1994 chase. Gilbert removed the gas that was left in the tank after the chase for safekeeping and also kept the tires that were on it that day, ESPN reported.
“It’s in amazing condition. It’s been in storage ever since then,” Harrison, who took the vehicle for a spin, told USA Today.
“It felt like bad mojo driving in it. It felt a little weird. But it’s a neat piece of history, the whole O.J. trial, the whole fascination with it.
“It’s a super-famous car. But there’s also a really nasty stigma attached to it.”
“Pawn Stars” airs at 9 p.m.