For the White Bronco—perhaps the most infamous vehicle of the late 20th century—it’s been a long, strange trip since the freeway chase that riveted the world.
It was midday on Friday, June 17, 1994, and Los Angeles police authorities were waiting for Orenthal James “O.J.” Simpson to give himself up, as promised. But the former football superstar, under suspicion for killing his ex-wife Nicole and her friend Ronald Goldman, was nowhere to be found. Six hours later, law-enforcement officials had a much better idea of where he was—along with the other 90-odd million people watching the world’s slowest, and perhaps most famous, live car chase.
For more than an hour, a white 1993 Ford Bronco made its way across miles and miles of Southern California highways. Behind it, a phalanx of black-and-white police cars trailed the SUV through 50 miles of Orange County; above, helicopters thwapped. In the back of the SUV, Simpson allegedly had a gun pressed to his own head; his longtime friend and former football teammate, Al Cowlings, known as A.C., was at the wheel. The world held its breath.
Finally, at around 8 p.m., the vehicle pulled up outside Simpson’s house. After some wrangling between Cowlings and police, Simpson surrendered, while Cowlings was arrested on a charge of aiding and abetting a fugitive. A long, strange day came to a close: For Simpson, an 11-month legal battle was just beginning.
But what happened to the Bronco, and its owner? At the time of the chase, many people mistakenly believed the Bronco belonged to Simpson, and not Cowlings. (In fact, he had a near-identical vehicle that was later destroyed after being seized as evidence.) But Cowlings was anxious to be rid of the notorious car as soon as possible. After a few hours in the most blinding of limelights, Cowlings and the vehicle vanished from the public eye. The former football player is still retired from public life—but in recent years, for the first time in decades, the getaway vehicle has returned to the stage.
Cowlings’ first offer for the Bronco would have put it to work much earlier. After he returned home from jail, his friend Don Kreiss told USA Today in 2014, he wanted to be rid of the car as quickly as possible. Memorabilia collector Michael Kronick was keen to snap it up—and could stump up $75,000 immediately if Cowlings agreed to throw in 250 autographed pictures of himself driving the vehicle.
But on November 2, when they’d agreed to meet at the Westwood Marquis Hotel, Cowlings didn’t show. Eventually, he called the buyer and told him the deal was off. (In response, Kronick sued. They settled for an undisclosed sum in 1996.)
Cowlings had learned that Kronick’s Minnesota-based company, Startifacts, intended to rent the car to a company in L.A. called Graveline Tours. It would be driven up and down the same stretch of freeway, in a kind of murder-themed tourism that Cowlings found troubling. “They were going to re-enact the chase with the Bronco and then take people to Nicole’s grave,” Simpson’s former agent Mike Gilbert told ESPN. “The trial hadn’t taken place yet, and we didn’t want people thinking anyone associated with O.J. did this.” Instead, Gilbert, Cowlings’ attorney Stanley Stone, and their friend Michael Pulwer, who had made his fortune in adult entertainment, paid $75,000 for the car.
For the next 17 years, the car languished in the nondescript parking garages of a Los Angeles condominium. Every other year, Gilbert would check on it and take it out for a spin; occasionally, the battery was changed. In almost two decades, it drove fewer than 20 miles.
Then, in 2012, a man connected to the Las Vegas Luxor Hotel came across the vehicle in the parking lot, and asked if the hotel could lease it as part of a vast sports-memorabilia exhibition. For a few months, it sat in front of the hotel. They wanted to bring it inside, but Gilbert refused to have it dismantled. It went first to a Las Vegas parking lot, and then into Gilbert’s own garage in California.
In 2017, however, the car came careening back into the public eye in an episode of “Pawn Stars,” where host Rick Harrison struggled to place a figure on such an unusual prize. Gilbert asked for $1.3 million for it, then an almost equally eye-watering $1.25 million. After some deliberation, host Rick Harrison decided to pass—even if, he said, it might well reach more at auction. Gilbert was unfazed: “I’ll never sell the Bronco for under $1 million,” he said, in the episode. “I know it’s worth that and, if it’s not, it will be.”
After the show was filmed, and before it aired, Gilbert struck a deal with the Alcatraz East Crime Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, where the car is presently on show. It’s not clear whether it’s the result of a loan, a gift or a sale, but for the time being, museum officials say, it’s there to stay. “At this time,” they note on their website, “no one is actively pursuing selling the Bronco.”