If you screened the original car-crash epic Gone in 60 Seconds from 1974, you’ll recall that one of the vehicles that the lead character steals is the 1969 Ford Bronco off-road racer campaigned by American racing immortal Parnelli Jones, right off the floor of his race shop in Torrance, California. In the movie, the Bronco, known everywhere as Big Oly after Jones’ Olympia beer sponsorship, is never recovered. We now know that in real life, ol’ Rufus kept it close by, enough so that it’s survived to go on sale at Mecum’s sprawling sale in Indianapolis, the 34th annual Original Spring Classic auction May 14th through 22nd at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Full disclosure, I’ve done work in the past with the fine folks at Mecum, who are making Big Oly the centerpiece of a collection of lots from Jones’ personal collection.
By any measure, Big Oly is an icon of American motorsport. It’s best to think of it as an example of drag racing’s Funny Car adapted for off-road competition. Big Oly was built in the Long Beach, California shops of speed pioneer Bill Stroppe, who had been fielding Ford products in major races since he ran the factory Lincoln team that ran in the original La Carrera Panamericana in the 1950s. Jones had campaigned Stroppe-built stock cars in NASCAR and USAC events for years. Big Oly made off-road racing history when Jones used it to score back-to-back Baja 1000 wins in 1971 and 1972, in addition to triumphs in other prestigious desert duels including the Baja 500 and Mint 400. Saleen has released a Big Oly tribute model based on Ford’s revived 2021 Bronco. The other prominent Jones lots that Mecum will sell include the 1974 Parnelli VPJ-4 that Mario Andretti briefly raced in Formula 1, and a precise re-creation of his 1963 Indianapolis 500-winning Watson roadster, Ol’ Calhoun. Mecum at Indy generally draws upwards of 2,000 auction cars of every conceivable stripe, plus automotive-themed artwork. If you’ve never been to a really big sale of collector vehicles before, this is a great place to start, most assuredly.