big-oly-bronco-01Big Oly and Parnelli Jones

The early Bronco was certainly no stranger to the rigors and excitement of off road desert racing in the 60’s and 70’s. And one of the most famous race trucks (Bronco or otherwise) to come from that era was “Big Oly”. An Indy racing legend already, Parnelli Jones worked with Bill Stroppe and Dick Russell to create the purpose built desert racer. Nick named “Big Oly” because of it’s Olympia Beer sponsorship, it’s immediately recognizable by the huge aluminum wing and distinct gold and white paint job. This famous Bronco still makes the show circuit and attracts a crowd every time it’s showed.[ad name=”Adsense 300×250 in articles right”]

Parnelli originally tried racing a heavily modified Bronco, but felt the components were too heavy and weak to withstand the abuse that the brutal desert races like the Baja 1000 would dish out. Not to mention it just wasn’t in Jones’ nature to go easy on any machine he got behind the wheel of.

Jones’ first desert race in a Bronco was the 1968 Star Dust 7/11 in Nevada. With a Bill Stroppe prepped Bronco he proceeded to drive it right into the ground, ending the race in an accident that blew tires and bent wheels. Later that year he did the same thing at the Mexican 1000. Stroppe was co-driver, but just couldn’t convince the confident Jones to take it easier on the Bronco if he expected to finish the grueling 1000 mile race. Jones kept his foot in the gas, leading the race until he finally reached the mechanical limits of the stock framed Bronco. Once again the race ended there, but Jones wasn’t dissuaded from Broncos or desert racing.

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So Parnelli talked to his friend and fellow racer Bill Stroppe about building a pure race truck with a Bronco body on it. But Stroppe was no stranger to Ford and their corporate thinking. He didn’t think Ford would go for the idea since really it wouldn’t be a Bronco at heart, but just the skin on an entirely custom frame. So the idea was dropped, or so Stroppe thought. Jones wasn’t one to give up and pursued the project with one of Stroppe’s own builders, Dick Russell. Eventually the project ended up back in Stroppe’s shop and was finished there.

What Russell and Stroppe built was fully custom tube frame chassis skinned with fiberglass body panels. It was stronger and lighter then a Bronco and fitted with heavy duty race ready components. A twin I-beam suspension system was utilized up front, while a custom four link kept control of the Ford 9″ rear. Whereas the Bronco used rear leaf springs, Big Oly had coil springs all around and disc brakes at all four wheels. The huge unmistakable wing sitting on top of the driver’s compartment was designed to force the truck down in high speed racing since traction is always a concern in the desert.

One of the most commented on curiosities of the interior is the large round air cleaner mounted vertically smack in the middle of the dash. The design team wasn’t after style points and this odd looking feature was strictly function, not form. Allowing the engine to pull intake air from the cockpit rather then under hood resulted in much cleaner air and easy filter replacement in the choking severe dust conditions of desert racing. This air cleaner fed a built 351 Windsor motor topped by a Holley 650 cfm double pumper carburetor.

Once Parnelli Jones had his purpose built desert race Bronco that he could flog with confidence, the wins started to pile up. Big Oly most famous victories were back to back Baja 1000’s in 1971 and 1972. Jones also won the Mexican 1000 overall those same two years, as well as the 1973 Baja 500 and Sprint 500. After racing Big Oly for four years Parnelli Jones and Bill Stroppe went on to build and race serveral other successfull vehicles, but none were as captivating or icon as Big Oly.