Affectionately known as “Big Oly,”—the world’s most renowned Ford Bronco is set to cross the Mecum auction block at Mecum’s 2021 Spring Classic this May 14-22 in Indianapolis.
Big Oly is one of the most memorable cars in the history of motorsports. The example was based on a 1969 Bronco and was sponsored by Olympia Brewing Company. The iconic Parnelli Jones drove the example and is notorious for giving pet names to the vehicles he raced. Jones rose to fame competing in his Watson-Offenhauser racer he named “Ol’ Calhoun.” He broke the 150MPH barrier and was victorious at the Indianapolis 500.
The whole journey started with a simple dare. Having experienced his share of tragedies, Jones became more careful with the cars he would race, prematurely ending the 1967 Indianapolis 500 after a transmission bearing failed that left him less than four laps from success in the groundbreaking Andy Granatelli-run STP Turbine.
Jones’ newfound selectivity made him turn down the chance to race with Stroppe at the Baja 1000. Stroppe, however, was not one to immediately admit defeat. At a party in late 1967, Stroppe told some friends that “Jones wasn’t brave enough for off-road racing.” “It was like showing a red cape to a bull,” Jones later admitted.
Stroppe and Jones have had a long and rich history in racing. In 1964, Jones raced for Stroppe, where he won eight races on his way to a USAC Stock Car title. In 1963-1964, he was also able to get back-to-back stock car victories at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb.
In 1968, Jones also attempted to compete at the Baja 1000 using a mostly stock Bronco. It was then that he realized that he needed something more innovative to win. He then brainstormed and came up with the most special Bronco ever produced: Big Oly.
Jones immediately shared his ideas with Stroppe mechanic Dick Russell. Russell concluded that they should bring Big Oly to his garage to create a faster, more powerful, and lightweight Bronco incorporating a tube frame and a body made from fiberglass and aluminum.
At first, Stroppe initially got upset with the two for seemingly going behind his back, with Jones needing to calm Stroppe down. Ultimately, Stroppe appreciated and understood the innovative ideas the two were seeking to accomplish. For these innovations to become a reality, Stroppe realized that the Bronco had to be completed at his race shop.
Big Oly was instrumental in changing the dynamic of construction and design principles for off-road racers. Under its hood is a 351/390 HP Ford Windsor V-8 engine mated to a Ford C6 B&M hydro transmission and two 22-gallon fuel cells.
It featured a chrome-moly space frame, aluminum and fiberglass bodywork with extreme shock absorber and suspension travel. It also displayed a big wing at the top, a spool rear end for improved traction, and a split windshield to lessen dust in the cockpit.
Right from the beginning, Big Oly made an impression. Being 154-inch long and 72-inches wide with a dry weight of only 2,620 pounds, it was lighter than even the small sports cars at the time.
The car was designed to push boundaries. Given a roof was required, they ingeniously made it a giant wing. Jones came up with the idea that was ahead of today’s common practice in the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars.
The implementation of a split windshield was a concept Jones had used when he was racing on dirt tracks, and he felt it would also work in an off-road setting (which he was right.)
The strong and lightweight materials came from Jones’ expertise in Indy Car racing. Big Oly Ford Bronco was even given two incorporated thermos jugs to store water so that Jones and Stroppe were both well-hydrated while behind the wheel.
By 1970 Big Oly was set for the Baja 1000. Although it would break an axle during the event, it would dominate off-road racing in the following years. It was victorious in the Baja 1000 in 1971 and 1972 and won the Baja 500 and Mint 400 in 1973.
Big Oly’s first victory at the Baja 1000 in 1971 resulted in an impressive time of 14 hours and 59 minutes that even left the fastest motorcycles behind on their way from Enseda to La Paz in the Mexican peninsula of Baja California. The overall win that Jones achieved with Big Oly cemented Jones’ reputation of winning any race, in any course, using any vehicle.
They changed the course a year later, and Baja 1000 had a route starting from Mexicali to La Paz. Big Oly again claimed victory, although there was some excitement near the finish line.
To improve efficiency, Stroppe hired local kids to help refuel along the way. At the final checkpoint of the race, just 100 miles from the finish, the youngsters made a mistake and poured gasoline in the thermos jugs. The mistake was easy to understand by looking at the rear of the Big Oly. Almost immediately, Jones realized what happened, though he did think he would still be able to make it to the end of the race. 15 miles from the finish, it stalled, and Jones and Stroppe were stranded.
Luckily, two locals drove by in their Volkswagen, where Jones struck a deal of buying a tequila bottle and some gas in exchange for $20. Jones poured the tequila on the ground, took the windshield wiper hose from the Volkswagen, and siphoned the gas from the tank into the tequila bottle. He repeated the process 15 times. It turned out not only to be enough to get them to the finish line but also enough to secure victory for a second time.
Raced by one of the most legendary racers in motorsport history, Parnelli Jones, Big Oly is undeniably the world’s most important Ford Bronco.
Further information regarding the auction of “Big Oly” Ford Bronco can be found at Mecum Auctions.
[Source: Mecum Auctions. Photo credit: David Newhardt, courtesy of Mecum Auctions]