Before O.J., the most famous Ford Bronco was Parnelli Jones' Baja 1000 winner. The truck was barely a Bronco, completely rebuilt with technology never before been seen on an off-road racer. Nevertheless, it brought Jones and Ford renown for winning the demanding desert race twice consecutively. Now, this piece of motorsports history can be yours, because it's headed to auction this spring.
The 1969 Ford Bronco was nicknamed Big Oly thanks to a sponsorship by Olympia Beer (which, sadly, was just discontinued earlier this year after 125 years) that also gave it iconic gold and white livery. The project reportedly started when co-driver and race truck builder Bill Stroppe, who had been unsuccessful in recruiting six-time Indy 500 winner Jones as his driver, used a bit of psychology on the racing legend. As the story goes, Stroppe declared loudly among a group of friends at a 1967 Christmas party that he thought "Jones wasn’t man enough for off-road racing.”
The following year, the two were behind the wheel of a mostly stock Bronco at what was then called the NORRA Mexican 1000 (later renamed the Baja 1000). Jones literally drove its wheels off, and the duo decided to build a specialized rig to win the race.
Taking a page from the world of open-wheel racers, the pair built Big Oly around a chrome-moly space frame. The body was made of aluminum and fiberglass, and the total weight rang in at a feathery 2,620 pounds. It was powered by a 351 Ford Windsor V8 good for 390 horsepower and boasted a twin-I-beam front suspension with a trailing arm design that allowed for more natural deflection for the front wheels, while the rear used a four-link rear design with transverse Panhard rods and fully floating rear axle. As a clever workaround of race rules, the roof doubled as a giant wing.
After logging a DNF due to a Jones-induced broken axle in 1970, Big Oly went on to win both 1971 and 1972 runnings of the Baja 1000. For the latter, there's a story about running out of fuel 14 miles from the finish line and how a serendipitous encounter with a tequila bottle saved he day. The following year, Jones and Stroppe won the 1973 Baja 500 and Mint 400 with Big Oly as well, cementing the truck in off-road racing history.
The Bronco will cross the auction block during Mecum's Indianapolis auction that takes place May 14-22. It's a rare chance to own one of history's most famous American race trucks. And with the new classic-inspired Ford Bronco just hitting the market, if we ran Ford we'd be making a bid as well.
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