Big Oly Ford Bronco, World’s Most Famous Bronco, Heads to Auction


Arguably the most influential machine to ever hit the off-road racing scene is up for grabs. It is the Bronco of all Broncos, one of the greatest off-road racing Ford Broncos of all time, the original “Big Oly” Ford Bronco (named for its Olympia Brewing Company sponsorship), is headed to auction at Dana Mecum’s 34th Original Spring Classic on May 14-22 in Indianapolis. You probably didn’t save your money (and by that we mean a seven-figure amount) for this moment, but maybe you should have …

Big Oly lived a rather social life after its illustrious stint in off-road racing in the early 70s, retiring to appearances at museum exhibits and events over the years. But it’s never been in the market for a new owner—until now. Whoever buys Big Oly better treat it like the best darn Bronco in the world. Because it just may be. To whit, one of the first things we did after getting our mitts on images of the new-for-2021 Bronco was pay homage to the icon with a Photoshopped orange and white Big Oly Racing Livery.

2021 Ford Bronco with Big Oly Racing Livery

What’s the big deal with the Big Oly Bronco? Hint: Its owner is Parnelli Jones, the guy who was fast in whatever he was racing, whether it be IndyCars, sprint cars, midget cars, stock cars, sports cars, or off-road trucks. He was naturally talented, competitive, and appropriately impatient for anything but the lead when it came to racing. After some prodding at a Christmas party in the mid-1960s by builder and race partner-in-crime Bill Stroppe, Jones took his racing talent to the dirt, spawning the creation of Big Oly a few years later.

The first Stroppe-built Ford Bronco that Jones raced off-road utilized a bunch of factory Bronco parts. However, it turned out Jones was a tad rough on equipment and determined that a custom-built machine clothed in Bronco panels would be more appropriate. Stroppe was hesitant about the project because it veered so greatly from a factory Ford build. Jones went to Stroppe employee Dick Russell about the build, and after some drama was mended with Stroppe (who had been in the dark about the off-site project), and work on what would become Big Oly was moved into Stroppes’ Long Beach shop. The rest is history.

Hence, the Big Oly Bronco is not at all a factory Bronco, just like modern-day race trucks (the Bronco R included) that followed in the path of Big Oly are not factory trucks. They’re all purpose-built, one-off off-road race vehicles that happen to have bolt-on fiberglass body panels that make them look like trucks or SUVs—a Bronco in the case of Big Oly. With his vast knowledge and experience in various forms of racing, Jones brought much to the off-road racing world, growing the sport in ways that hadn’t been seen.

The TIG-welded 4130 chrome-moly tube chassis Big Oly Bronco is three inches shorter and three inches narrower than a factory Bronco. Its suspension geometry was reworked to better handle off-road conditions. A 350-400-hp, 351-ci Windsor 5.8-liter small-block V-8 resides under the hood, backed by a C6 three-speed. The iconic adjustable “funny car” aluminum wing was created by Jones to apply proper downforce and doubles as a roof.

Parnelli Jones and Bill Stroppe raced and won in Big Oly from 1970 to 1974. The pair won back-to-back overalls at the Baja 1000, perhaps the most notable achievement. They also won the Mint 400 and Baja 500.

Parnelli Jones, now 87 years old, is a Hall of Fame inductee in many, many genres of racing. Whoever lands the Big Oly Bronco, which is still owned by Jones, will own a piece of off-road racing history that influenced the next 50 year of desert racing.

There’s a reason cops joke, “Who do you think you are, Parnelli Jones?” The guy achieved a legendary on- and off-road career. Can you imagine answering, “Only when I’m driving Big Oly.”



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