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Big Oly By Dan Sanchez Photos by Boyd Jaynes Big Oly, is a full-race Bronco built by fabricator Dick Russell and Bill Stroppe, using Parnelli Jones’ ideas brought over from his Indy Car racing experiences. Big Oly got its name from the Olympia Beer sponsorship it carried throughout many races, but the Bronco was one of the first, purpose-built off-road vehicles that wasn’t a factory produced vehicle “converted” to race off-road in Baja. Built from a prototype 2WD Bronco that never made it through Ford’s design plans, Big Oly was built custom for Jones, and he went on to win the 1971 and ’72 Baja 1000 races overall, and the 1973 Baja 500 overall race. A True Race Build Big Oly is a full tube-frame chassis made from 4130 chrome-moly. Considering that the frame was built by hand is a testament to Dick Russell’s fabrication skills. The interior body panels were made from aluminum and an original Ford Bronco glove box was used in the dash. The outer panels of Big Oly are fiberglass. The body was sectioned three inches and narrowed three inches. Originally, Big Oly had a chromed grille with Parnelli Jones’ initials in it. In later years, it was replaced with a grille that housed driving lights. The key to Big Oly’s success was its suspension system. The front used Ford Twin I-Beams with radius arms attached to the front of its tube frame chassis, and ran towards the rear axle beams. According to Jones, it allowed for more deflection over obstacles. The front steering utilizes a steering box out of a Ford Thunderbird and a Stroppe steering wheel. At the rear, Big Oly has a four-link with a transverse Panhard rod. At the time rubber bushings were used and the Ford 9-inch rear is a full-floating design, outfitted with 4:11 gears and a Detroit Locker. Gabriel shock absorbers were used along with coil springs, which combined with the suspension, gave Big Oly a total of 10-12-inches of wheel travel in front, and 8-10-inches at the rear. Stopping the vehicle was a set of Hurst/Airheart disc brakes on all four wheels. A set of 9x15-inch diameter Firestone tires were used up front, with a set of 9.5x16-inch diameter Firestone tires at the rear, both mounted on aluminum alloy wheels with knock-off hubs. Inside the cab, Big Oly had one tachometer on the dash, and a Hurst shifter in the custom center console with additional Stewart Warner gauges around it. The two original Bostrom suspension seats offered some additional comfort with three-inches of spring travel. Later they were replaced by Taylor seats designed for off-road racing. Originally, Big Oly’s engine was a 350 to 400 hp 351 Windsor V8. It was equipped with a Holley 650 double-pumper four-barrel carburetor sitting on top of a Ford Cobra high-rise intake manifold. The engine featured an Isky camshaft, a Bellanger header, and exhaust system, and was backed by a Ford C4, three-speed automatic. Later, the transmission was upgraded to a Ford C6 with oil and transmission coolers mounted at the rear of the roll cage. Big Oly used two 22-gallon fuel cells of which one was mounted behind the passenger compartment. The most distinguishing aspect of Big Oly was the use of the large wing on top. According to Jones, the vehicle had to have a top so he decided why not use a wing. Manufactured from aluminum, the wing houses two lights from a door in front of it. Aside from its huge appearance, the wing was actually crafted with a 40-degree range of adjustment in 10-degree increments. Jones felt it did help with the handling at higher speeds. Big Oly raced four years, from 1970 to 1974 and became one of off-road racing’s most legendary vehicles. One can argue that Big Oly’s innovative design and craftsmanship helped pave the way towards the modern Trophy Truck designs that now dominate SCORE off-road racing and that continue to allow racers to reach faster speeds on Baja terrain. SJ

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