Arguably the most famous Ford Bronco on earth. Driven by the legendary Parnelli Jones, and built by Bill Stroppe and Dick Russell in Stroppe’s Long Beach, CA shop now has a second owner after 51 years. Aside from some white Bronco that was involved in some silly police chase in the mid 1990’s, with some old football player whining in the back seat, there isn’t a more iconic Bronco out there. I think we can all agree.
Brief Back Story of Big Oly
Parnelli Jones drove one of Stroppe’s Mercury stock cars for several years in the mid-’60s and the familiar red, white, and blue Stroppe colors became a common sight in victory lane with the fearless, yet talented Jones at the wheel. It has been said that at a Christmas party in the late 1960’s Stroppe joked to Jones that “He isn’t man enough to race off-road.” Not a lot of men with speed and horsepower in their blood would take that lightly. The point of the comment was to entice Jones to try one of his Stroppe built Broncos. The early Ford Broncos were tough vehicles, but when Jones was behind the wheel – they would simply fall apart. Jones would drive the Bronco so hard he would leave parts all over the desert. The heavy parts, and style in which they were made did not mesh well with Jones’ balls to wall driving style. So it was time to give Stroppes’ off-road builds a shot.
Parnelli decided to take Stroppes’ legendary master fabricator Dick Russell to lunch one afternoon and soon found a willing player to build and design the future iconic vehicle. Like many great ideas, the two sketched out the designs for the tube-frame chassis on napkins and soon Jones and Russell came up with ideas they both wanted to incorporate. Russell started working on the truck at his home, away from the eyes and ears of Stroppe but it didn’t take long for Stroppe to catch wind of the build. Stroppe took this as a betrayal from Jones, and after what we can only assume were some very heated conversations, the build was soon brought to Stroppes’ Long Beach, CA shop where Russell continued forward with design and fabrication he and Jones had discussed. Stroppe charged a much higher fabrication rate than Russell was chargining in his garage, so Jones’ checkbook took a much bigger hit than expected.
In 1970, the first “funny car” of off-road racing, the vehicle which would become known as “Big Oly”, because of the Olympia Brewing Company sponsor, was unleashed at the Mexican 1000 off-road race and the field of competition was changed forever. Big Oly is powered by 350-400 hp well-tuned and reliable 351 Windsor V8, and C4 3 speed transmission later switching to a strong C6. The most unique feature of Big Oly is the large aluminum wing mounted atop the passenger compartment. The wing came from Parnelli’s feeling that the rear end of the Bronco was a bit loose and that perhaps a wing would give more “bite” at higher speeds. This is something used more on pavement track racing which Jones came from, so why not incorporate what you know, right? It did indeed give it its iconic look for sure, whether it functioned as planned we don’t, but he did win, so let’s go with YES. The team of Jones at Stroppe only drove together for 4 years, 1970-1974, but amassed quite a collection of number 1 wins, podium trophies, and awards winning the 1971 Baja 1000, 1972 Baja 1000, 1973 Baja 500, and the 1973 Mint 400. From then on the Bronco became a huge attraction at car shows, events, and races as it would be put on display for many years.
Big Oly Specs
- 154-inch length
- 72-inch width
- 2,620-pound dry weight
- Chrome moly tubing space frame
- Fiberglass and aluminum bodywork
- 351/390 HP Ford Windsor V-8 engine
- Modified Ford C6 B&M hydro transmission
- Gold/White/Black exterior with No. 1 livery
- 45-gallon fuel capacity
- Runs on high-octane racing fuel
- Extreme shock absorber and suspension travel
- Custom big wing on top
- Split windshield to reduce dust in the cockpit
- Spool rear end for better traction
- Firestone White-letter off-road tires
- Spare racing tires, fuel can and spare axle included
- Sold on a Bill of Sale
Decision to Go to Auction
In March of 2021 the Jones family announced Parnellis entire lot will be going up for auction. Including several more iconic vehicles, race helmets, race suits, tires, wheels, letters & gifts given to him by many (including several former presidents), model cars, figurines, the list goes on. When we say his whole lot went up for auction, we mean the WHOLE lot.
Even included was a simple rock which was thrown through his window decades ago in the desert during an act of vandalism.
This took the off-road world by storm, and sent many fans and enthusiasts into a frenzy. When the news of the Bronco being sold was released many thought they might be able to own not just a piece of history, but by far one of the single most historical off-road relics in history. Some estimations had the final number at $300-400K while others thought it would reach perhaps $2-3 Million. It was soon realized not just any old working Joe could afford it. This also bothered some, including families involved as they hoped it would stay within the Jones family – which was promised in the past. Unfortunately some things are just out of others control, leaving many to wonder why all these items didn’t stay within the family. We may never know.
We were able to chat with Dick Russell’s daughter Shawna, on her thoughts of the Bronco going up for auction. “As sad as I am to see Big Oly hit the auction block, I just hope the next owner continues to share it with the fans who love and admire it.” She explained, which we agree wholeheartedly. She continued, “Big Oly was my father’s favorite and most famous build. Many times, the fabricators don’t get the credit they deserve. I know he would be beyond proud of how much it sold for, and would be bragging about it too. No amount of money could ever replace what this vehicle means to me. Just like my Dad, it is priceless and irreplaceable. A True Legend.” Agreed…
Mecam Auction – Indianapolis, IN
May 21st 2021 just after 10:30 A.M. a piece of history rolled onto the Mecum Auctions auction block in Indianapolis, IN. Once Big Oly arrived Dana Mecum himself got on the mic to pump the crowd up a bit, explaining this is a SINGLE owner vehicle by Parnelli Jones himself. “Owned by one of the most famous drivers in the world, and you’re buying it from the source!” He said, as he handed the mic off to the auctioneer. It was time! They opened the bidding quite high at $3 Million, no takers. He tried $2 Million, same result. A shot at a $1Million opener resulted in the same once again. We began to think someone is going to get a real bargain, while the Jones family had to be quite worried (for good reason). Then the first bid of $250,000 came in, and soon was doubled to $500,000 and climbing. In only about 10 seconds we reached the $1 Million mark, surpassing our personal estimations of $300K quickly. It climbed still, and once it reached $1.7 Million the auctioneer hesitated in closing. At this point the auctioneer asked the frail 87 year old Parnelli Jones who was in attendance – and the okay was given to take the reserve off! What will it reach now!? The number remained and the gavel dropped. SOLD $1,700,000 as Parnelli Jones’ 1969 Ford Bronco known to the world as “Big Oly” now has a new owner, for the first time since it was built in 1970. At this point the new owner remains a mystery, but we sure hope he/she treats the vehicle with all of the respect it deserves, and the public still gets a view of it now and then. It was certainly an anxious 3:16 seconds watching it all unfold. History was certainly made.
We dedicate this article to Bill Stroppe who passed away in 1995, and Dick Russell who passed away in 2013. There is no doubt they would both be honored that after 50+ years the world is still crazy about this Bronco. Thank you both for your contributions to the world of motorsports!