Probably the most famous Ford Bronco sold at auction this week for $1.7 million. You know that there must be something more to it than being just an old Baja 1000 race car to go for that kind of money. And you would be right. The Parnelli Jones off-road racer called “Big Oly” has a cool backstory, as well as being one of Jones’ favorite cars.
Big Oly Bronco had no auction estimate because how do you place value on an icon?
Jones’ Big Oly, as it is known, came from his personal car collection. Auctioned through Mecum, there was never an estimate of value because how do you place value on an icon? It was called “Big Oly” from its Olympia Beer sponsorship.
Jones at this stage of his career was beginning to get selective about what he raced. Though having successes in the past with Bill Stroppe, he refused to race with him at the 1967 Baja 1000. At one point Stroppe said Jones “wasn’t man enough to race off-road.” That dare became the basis for Big Oly.
Jones constructed the Bronco with help from a Bill Stroppe fabricator
Jones was unsuccessful with his mostly stock Bronco at the 1967 1000. He decided to build something wilder and completely custom-made for the 1968 event. Using one of Bill Stroppe’s fabricators, Jones began constructing Big Oly in his garage.
When Stroppe found out he was livid. But eventually decided that the project should be finished at his shop for it to have the best outcome. With its tube frame and lightweight aluminum and fiberglass body, it was like nothing that had raced off-road before.
The Big Oly Bronco was a stout, unique race car to tackle off-road obstacles
Built with extreme suspension travel to absorb the rough terrain. It also featured other firsts like the top built as an airfoil for added downforce. He got that idea from racing outlaw sprint cars. The reduced windshield height cut down on dust in the cockpit. Big Oly’s total weight was a light 2,600 lbs. All of this made for a stout, completely unique race car to tackle off-road obstacles.
Entered in the 1970 Baja 1000, it broke an axle early in the race. But Jones was back in 1971 to win the race, something he repeated in 1972. Also in 1972 and again in 1973, it won the Baja 500 and Mint 400 off-road races. It is considered one of the staples of off-road design and construction.
Since its racing days, Big Oly has been housed in Jones’ private car collection. It occasionally sees the light of day for special events or Concours. There may not be another Ford Bronco with as much history as Big Oly. And there sure hasn’t been one to bring this kind of money.