We discovered Ford’s unimaginable, turbine-powered ‘Large Purple’ tractor-trailer that has been misplaced for many years
The restoration involved a lot of research – the owner said he was “on good terms with Ford Motor Company” to gather information – repairs to the wiring and other small fixes to make sure they were as original and functional as possible . The work lasted two years. But in the end, Big Red was back – running, driving, completely reverted to the state of the World’s Fair. It was relocated to a purpose-built garage built with the assistance of the owner’s father, where it has remained ever since.
“The Big Red project was done over 35 years ago. I enjoyed bringing an old truck back to life,” said the owner. “I enjoyed the challenge of finding the parts I needed. It was just one of many projects I’ve done over the years.”
Still missing: the trailers
Although we found the tractor, Big Red’s tandem trailers were never found. After an intensive search, we are still not sure of their fate – it is quite possible that they have long been destroyed. At the time of sale, Lee Holman told the owner that “you went to the Bardahl racing team … [and] The second trailer … went to Bill Stroppe Racing in Long Beach, California. ”
We know the first part of this story is true because there is a single picture of this trailer in Bardahl’s livery seen above. The second part of the story is less clear. Bill Stroppe was a legendary figure in American motorsport, best known for his Ford Broncos, which crushed the Baja 1000. However, the Stroppe story has been mentioned by other sources with little evidence of it. The current owner is also skeptical.
“Willie Thompson, a compressor pioneer and employee of Bill Stroppe and later an employee of Holman and Moody in Charlotte, put me in touch with a gentleman who worked for Bill Stroppe. According to that gentleman, such a trailer was never there.” he said. So the ultimate fate remains a mystery – until now.
However, the bogie connecting the two trailers was included in the sale and the owner still has it. Should they ever reappear, the trailers can be reattached to the truck. But their return is unlikely. Once separated from the famous truck, it was difficult to distinguish them from any other trailer. In the end, they are only functional devices, and it is likely that they have been machined to the end of their useful life and then scrapped or rotted somewhere.
Big Red gray areas
“I can’t remember where we went with the rig,” Charlie Henry told us.
Henry, who lived near Detroit in the late 1960s, contacted us after the first story was published to fill a void in Big Red’s timeline – the void between his cross country tour and his roadside rescue by Holman -Moody. During this time, Big Red’s useful life was clearly – if not already – nearing its end. The party was over. Ford has been too busy breaking the hurdles with its new 707 turbine program to maintain this one-of-a-kind concept vehicle. The automaker obviously didn’t know what to do with it, and just a few years after it was conceptualized, the idea of a revolutionary, futuristic truck like Big Red seemed a little ridiculous. As a result, dust was collected while conventional-looking Ford tractors took over the duties of turbines for road testing.
One day, a friend of Henry’s named Andy Hotton said he needed his help to move Big Red with Bill Stroppe. Henry doesn’t know exactly why he was hired for the job, but it involved moving the truck from Hotton’s Belleville, Michigan store to Dearborn, where he speculates it was going to be shipped somewhere – he doesn’t know exactly where .
“The truck made it to I-94 on its own,” he said. “Anyway, he was about 5 miles from the store and broke down on I-94. Andy came back to the store with Bill’s rental car.” I grabbed myself and a big rope and drove the shop pickup back to Red. We tied the pickup to Big Red and towed him on I-94 to Dearborn. I believe [Stroppe] drove Big Red, Andy drove the pickup and I drove the rental car. “
Big Red’s current owner wasn’t aware of this part of its history when we passed the story on, but he didn’t doubt it was true. According to him, it would be difficult to steer Big Red with just a malfunctioning engine, to put it lightly.
“Trying to steer Big Red without power steering would be a beast,” said the owner. “The truck has a 20 gallon reserve air tank. Without at least 80-85 pounds of air pressure, the air brakes would lock up. You.” can use up your air supply in a short time. “
The owner also says it makes sense that the truck would not continue to drive for strop due to a previous mechanical failure that occurred while the truck was still in Ford’s hands. According to John Stopa, Ford’s original caretaker in the 1960s, The turbine engine heat exchanger split due to fatigue some time after the initial cross-country commercial flash. The exhaust from the turbine flowed straight into the inlet, meaning it either had major problems running or it wasn’t running at all. In fact, the vehicle was supposed to be taken out and driven at the Detroit Christmas Parade sometime in the late 1960s – but it missed the event due to the faulty recuperator. (“John said he tried everything he could think of, but the turbine wouldn’t ignite,” said the owner.)
This gloomy half a decade will probably never be completely filled for several reasons. We asked Ford if the company kept records of the truck at the time, and it didn’t – not surprising when you consider that automakers lose interest in concept cars and trucks pretty quickly once the bright lights fade . Unfortunately, many of the main sources who would have been familiar with this phase of the truck’s life have also passed away. There are aspects of Big Red’s past that are likely to be lost in time forever – but like our first episode, we hope this follow-up brings more memories and brings us closer to unlocking the full story.
The truck today
The truck is still in near perfect condition today and is in a purpose built garage that is occasionally visited by the owner and his family. The owner says that while it is a little dusty, it hasn’t deteriorated at all during the storage time. The phrase “ran when parked” would apply here – it will definitely still roll, and while starting up a decades-old turbine engine would be a tricky operation, the owner says the truck is in good enough condition to be back in a minute with a firing small DC. The last time it was driven around the year 2000.
However, there is one more important thing to discuss: new images. Although the owner was kind enough to speak to us and share a lot of information as well as the footage of the restoration posted here, he has so far declined to provide more recent photos. Based on the reaction to our first story, even 60 years later, Big Red is still a fascinating object for tens of thousands of people out there. We know you want to see it for what it is today. We also.
What we can say is the owner’s hint that they may be ready to snap new photos of the truck later this spring and we keep our fingers crossed. He said no new photos of the truck have been taken in nearly two decades, so waiting a bit more won’t hurt anyone.
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