The $1.8 million “Big Oly” Bronco crashed twice during the recent 2022 NORRA Mexican 1000 Baja race event. The celebrated 1969 Ford Bronco-based off-road race truck had recently been acquired by its new owner for nearly two million dollars in May 2021 at the Mecum’s Original Spring Classic.
Its new owner and his team were running the legendary 1969 “Big Oly” Ford Bronco truck in the Safari Class at the 2022 NORRA Mexican 1000. “Big Oly” crashed twice, taking two hard spills that sent the race truck onto its lid. To be fair, it was also rolled back over and fixed twice well enough to continue its run down the entire length of the Baja California peninsula and cross the finish line.
Social media and editorial commentary have been on fire ever since. Hotly debated is whether one of the most important examples of cutting-edge race truck design from the formative years of off-road racing should have been running hard in the desert ever again.
Big Oly: The First Trophy Truck
The “Big Oly” Ford Bronco was the brainchild of the famous (some might say infamous) driver Parnelli Jones and top-notch race car fabricator Dick Russel. Built at Bill Stroppe’s race shop, the Ford Bronco-inspired race truck featured a fully welded steel tube chassis from nose to tail. Considered to be the first trophy truck, “Big Oly” was two-wheel-drive, powered by 351 cubic-inch Windsor V8 engine that produced around 400-horsepower, and was topped with a “wing” that gave the Ford Bronco look like it was about to take flight.
Not only was “Big Oly” way ahead of its time, but it was a winning combination. The off-road “funny car” was successfully driven by Parnelli Jones (with co-driver Bill Stroppe) to Baja 1000 wins in 1971 and 1972. The 1969 Ford Bronco went on to victory in many more off-road races, including the Baja 500 and the Mint 400. For a deep dive into the construction and design of the famous 1969 Ford Bronco “Big Oly” and its legendary race-winning driver, take a peek at this interview with the Parnelli Jones.
Big Oly Bronco Crash Report
So how did “Big Oly” crash? Here’s what we know. One of those driving the “Big Oly” Ford Bronco was its new owner, Phillip Sarofim. He’s the guy who also just bought another legend of off-road racing, the Meyers Manx company. The other driver was Mark Porsche. If that surname sounds famously familiar, it is. Mark is the son of Ferdinand “Butzi” Porsche, grandson of Ferdinand “Ferry” Porsche, and great-grandson of the original Ferdinand Porsche.
We have no idea yet what happened in the second crash, but we have pretty good details on the first roll. Our source said that at a section where the course met a paved road, spectators crowded close to the course were waving, and the driver (we’re told it was Porsche at that time) got distracted and hit the brakes. The rear wheels locked up and sent “Big Oly” sideways and then over onto its wing-roof.
In their defense, it’s not the first time “Big Oly” has taken a beating. Parnelli Jones brought it across the finish line at the 1973 Baja 500 with a bashed and crumpled body after a flip. “Big Oly” has a short wheelbase, narrow track, and a high center of gravity; any of which can make it easy to get the famous Ford Bronco out of shape when at speed.
However, what sticks in a lot of people’s craws is that the “Big Oly” Ford Bronco wasn’t registered in the competitive classes of vehicles at the 2022 NORRA Mexican 1000. It was running in the non-competitive Slow Baja Safari Class. In this case, there was no need for speed.
What would you have done if you owned “Big Oly?” Would you take the classic Ford Bronco out in the dirt and drive it hard? Or would you keep it in a museum?