Big Oly Revisited: Legend Breeds Legend

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Ever since the “Big Oly” Ford Bronco first kicked up the desert dirt during the 1970 Mexican 1000, it’s been treasured in the hearts of enthusiasts. Not only was it one of the first specialty-built, tube-framed trucks in desert off-road racing, but it was piloted by the great Parnelli Jones. By the time Jones was lured into off-road racing by Bill Stroppe, he had already won the Pike’s Peak International Hill Climb, Indy 500, and was an accomplished driver in midget, sprint, and stock car racing. Together with Big Oly, Jones would succeed in setting a new record time at the Mexican 1000 (now the SCORE Baja 1000). The two made an award winning pair, one that is still one of the most recognizable in off-road racing.

So when Marshall Madruga decided to get involved with off-road racing and came across the Camaro trophy truck of Francisco Cervantes while racing his ’73 Ford truck at Baja, he started dreaming of what interesting vehicle he’d build…and just couldn’t get Big Oly out of his mind. Seeing the Ford Bronco in pictures from the time he was a kid, Marshall knew that nothing compared to the accomplishments of Parnelli Jones and Big Oly.

Marshall’s journey in creating the Big Oly Trophy Truck is a story in itself. Trophy trucks, the monstrous playboys of today’s top desert races, are high-dollar, high-tech endeavors. It was 2007 when the project got started. Madruga had compiled initial information on the original Big Oly from the Internet, forming a solid design concept in his mind. Meeting with Parnelli Jones himself enabled Marshall to iron out further details of the build. And since trophy trucks cost a pretty penny to build, sponsors were brought on board to help float the high cost involved.

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Parnelli Jones next to the original Big Oly and builder, Marshall Madruga, next to the Big Oly Trophy Truck. Non-marked photos courtesy of Marshall Madruga.

Although Marshall had never taken on a project of this scope before, friends were excited to help, and he had plenty of experience with forming fiberglass from his surf and paddleboard business. The body, although it has gone through 3 different shells to get to its current iteration, was the least of Marshall’s worries…

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During the course of the build, Marshall worked without some of the more modern technological tools in creating the custom tubed frame. Beginning with a Sandco chassis, all the tubes were hand cut, fit, notched, and welded by hand.

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Marshall was learning entirely new fabrication skills and realizing that friends didn’t always follow through on help offered – the project was becoming all his own. When the economy tanked the following year, he ended up further on his own after initial sponsors pulled out. Already well into the project, Marshall continued building.

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New sponsors were eventually brought on board, one heavily changing the build’s direction. Decorative Metal Finishing, plating and powder coating specialists, brought the assets to take this trophy truck up a notch and create a Big Oly worthy not only of the desert, but also of the show floor. This meant plating everything possible – so the chassis and certain suspension components got the bling treatment, as well as Big Oly’s signature top wing.

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The truck’s fiberglass body, although much larger than the original early ‘70s Bronco, is meant to mimic the lines and feel of the original design and wears Ford and Bronco lettering.

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The body isn’t the only thing bigger than the original – the engine is a 438 cubic inch Ford V8 Windsor block generating 725 hp built by Troy Bowen of Ford Performance Solutions.

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Paired with a full race-ready suspension setup and Big Oly’s classic gold/white paint combo, the Big Oly Trophy Truck is a modern tribute to an iconic star!

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The original Big Oly Trophy Truck was finished in time for 2009’s SEMA show. Having Parnelli Jones see and enjoy this immense project, which he’d influenced so much, was a joy for Marshall to experience. Big Oly Trophy Truck made more appearances, and continued evolving a little more, at following SEMA shows and the SCORE Baja 1000 – exactly where it was originally mean to be.

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Marshall beside SCORE’s Baja 1000 organizer, Sal Fish.

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After enjoying being able to share all he accomplished with this build, Marshall is looking for someone with pockets deep enough to actually afford driving this beauty around… so if you want to be the king of your local car scene, the Big Oly Trophy Truck is up for sale (it’s registered and street legal in California)!

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Just like the original Big Oly, the Big Oly Trophy Truck is a product of passion. Projects such as these change the course of your life – as did the Baja 1000 when Parnelli decided to add it to his long list of accomplishments. If you have the chance, I’d encourage you to check out this tribute to Big Oly, it’s currently on view at the entrance to the Petersen Automotive Museum, in honor of their featured Baja 1000 exhibit.

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Panelli Jones sits inside the Big Oly Trophy Truck at SEMA, chatting and laughing with Marshall Madruga.

Thank you Parnelli Jones, and now also Marshall Madruga, for exhibiting the passion that can help to fuel our own automotive journeys!

-Kristin Cline

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