SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal - April 2018

SCORE Journal - The Official Publication of SCORE Off-Road Racing

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Page 78 of 102

Parnelli’s ride The story of the legendary off-road racing vehicle named Big Oly By Dan Sanchez Photos by Boyd Jaynes As SCORE International celebrates the 25th anniversary of the launch of the SCORE Trophy Truck division back in 1994, the idea behind a full-tube chassis truck began much sooner. One of the first was Big Oly, a full-race Bronco built by fabricator Dick Russell and Bill Stroppe, using Parnelli Jones’ ideas that he 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 weren’t a factory produced vehicle “converted” to race off-road in Baja. Birth Of A Race Vehicle The idea for the Big Oly Bronco came after Parnelli Jones raced the Mexican 1000 with Bill Stroppe in 1968 in a race prepared, 4WD Bronco. After tearing off the front end in his first race, there was a realization that Jones drove too hard, and any vehicle driven by him would have to be built much stronger, in order to last an entire race. One solution was a 2WD version of the Bronco designed by then Ford engineer Simon “Bunkie” Knudsen. it featured a twin I-Beam front suspension and an automatic transmission. The project by Knudsen never moved forward within the Ford Motor Company, so the vehicle was sent to Stroppe. Jones saw the vehicle and realized it was a perfect set-up for Baja racing. The following year, Jones and Stroppe modified the 2WD Bronco to race in the 1970 Mexican Baja 500, where they won the race overall. Jones felt the Bronco could be much faster with a purpose-built tube chassis to make it stronger, and utilize the I-Beam suspension system, and asked Stroppe to build a full-race prepared vehicle. Stroppe refused, wanting to keep Ford happy with a race vehicle built off of an original chassis. Stroppe’s fabricator Dick Russell took on the project for Jones and proceeded to design and start building the car at his home. It wasn’t long before Stroppe realized the vehicle was being built and they set their differences aside. Stroppe agreed to continue the build of the race vehicle under his supervision at Stroppe’s Long Beach, California facility. The Crazy Colt Once the race vehicle was completed, several names were tossed around before Olympia Beer became a sponsor, and the vehicle took on the Big Oly name. According to Tom Madigan, author of Boss, The Bill Stroppe Story, the vehicle was first dubbed the “Crazy Colt.” It made its debut at the 1970 Mexican 1000 where it performed better than Jones had expected. Jones made the mistake of chasing after the pre-runner of Drino Miller, who had passed them during a pit stop, Jones realized the true capability a specialized race vehicle could accomplish on the Baja terrain. Jones and Stroppe continued to race the vehicle as it gained the Olympia Beer sponsorship when its name was changed to Big Oly. Together Jones and Stroppe drove Big Oly 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 run 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 win 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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