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Auto World Baja Broncos
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Johnny Lightning and Auto World have resurrected many of the late 60s and 1970s Aurora HO slot cars - a range of bodies on updated versions of the Thunderjet 500 'Tuff Ones' and Magnatraction chassis. The Baja Bronco reappeared in the first X-Traction release of 2006 - like many of the early Auto World cars and the original Aurora models in a 'generic' paint scheme. Over the past few years, Auto World have brought HO enthusiasts real (or reality-inspired) liveries in their Stock Car Legends, Off Road and Legends of the Quarter Mile ranges. These two Baja Broncos really got me excited...

       

Those of you who know about these things will recognise the red, white and blue machine as the Parnelli Jones / Al Unser entry for the 1971 Mint 400. That's the very race Hunter S. Thompson was paid handsomely to cover for Sports Illustrated magazine. The story Thompson tells in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is light on the motorsport and heavy on the drug use. I think I'll give the mescaline a miss and concentrate on the background to these Auto World Broncos.

Desert racing in the US and Mexico began as soon as there were cars and trucks to race - commercial drivers would time their runs from one town to another over long stretches of desert road. Racers then modified their cars, trucks and bikes to go faster in the dusty, bumpy and extremely hot conditions. By the sixties, specialist desert racing vehicles - dune buggies - were developed using big wheels with lightweight chassis and glass fibre bodies.

The desert races started to get serious in the early 1960s, culminating in the National Off-Road Racing Association sanctioning the first Mexican 1000 Rally in 1967. That race followed the popular Peninsular Run, a 800-mile route from Tijuana in the north down the Baja California peninsular to La Paz. All of the unofficial and sanctioned races of the 60s and early 70s have wonderful stories of sabotage, booby-traps and decoys.

The winner of that first Mexican 1000 was a Mayers Manx kit-car, one of the most popular dune buggies based on the VW Beetle. The race was a hit for the organisers, entrants, sponsors and spectators and it wasn't long before the big manufacturers got in on the action - especially as the 1968 event would be covered by ABC's hugely popular Wide World of Sports programme.

At that time, Ford grabbed any opportunity for motorsport success. Their new Bronco off-road vehicle was given to experienced racing car builder Bill Stroppe and he produced a race-winner straight off the bat - Larry Minor winning the Mexican 1000 with Jack Bayer in 1968 and returning the following year to win alongside off-road legend Rod Hall. Their Stroppe Broncos all wore the same red, white and blue that features on one of the Auto World models - the same livery Parnelli Jones drove at the 1971 Mint 400 that is the backdrop for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Indy 500 winner Jones was the big name of the Stroppe Bronco team. However, his driving style often proved too aggressive for off-road racing, his car rarely lasting the distance. As his regular co-driver, Stroppe saw the problem close up and would spend much of his time yelling at Jones to slow down and look after the car. In the end, Stroppe built a special two-wheel-drive version of the Bronco for Jones, strengthening the space frame chassis and narrowing the track for the unforgiving Mexican roads.

The resulting car was decorated in gold and white and christened 'Big Oly' - a nod to the sponsor Olympia Beer. Parnelli Jones and Stroppe drove Big Oly to a first win at the Mexican 1000 in 1971 and again in 1972. During the 1972 race, Jones and Stroppe ran out of fuel just fifteen miles from La Paz. They stopped some local Bajans who had a full tank of gas and a tequila bottle... Jones still has the famous bottle that refuelled the car and won the race.

With those two wins at the Mexican 1000 and wins in 1973 at the Mint 400 and the Baja 500, Parnelli Jones, Big Oly and Ford became the pin-ups of off-road racing. And then the fuel crisis happened. Following a brief hiatus, desert racing continued, but it would never be quite the same again.

The two Broncos look just right on my old Tyco Turbo Hopper off-road track. Unfortunately, they don't get over the undulations so have to run on just the flat stuff...



Auto World have produced a couple of off-road sets in the past couple of years - but are only available in North America...

   

   

The Baja Bugs are nice, but - in my opinion - are not on a par with those Broncos.
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