In 1974, Bob Chandler (USA) was living in St Louis, USA. Back then, Bob worked in construction and drove a Ford F-250 4x4 pick-up truck, a robust vehicle that he could also use for off-roading in his downtime. But Bob drove it hard, breaking the axles and burning out the engines – only to discover that replacements weren’t so easy to come by in the St Louis area. That’s when an idea began to form. Along with his wife Marilyn, and friend Jim Kramer, Bob created Midwest Four Wheel Drive, to fill that 4x4 gap.
Naturally enough, they added various parts to their car – effectively turning it into a mobile advert for their business. Over time, they also began to make the truck bigger. And bigger. The first Bigfoot had 48-inch-tall (121-cm) tyres, four-wheel steering and a supercharged eight-cylinder engine. By 1979, they were being paid to parade their voluminous vehicle at the Denver Car Show. Bob drove the vehicle hard – not only to put on a great show, but also to demonstrated the lasting quality of the goods that he and Marilyn were selling.
Two years later, just out of interest, Bob found himself wondering whether he could crush a couple of scrap cars beneath the behemoth’s wheels. That historic first monster-truck crush took place in a field near Bob’s shop, and was even filmed:
“I was surprised how easy it was,” Bob reflected, years later.
He repeated the stunt at local events, to the delight of the crowds, then souped his truck up once again and put it through its paces at the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit, Michigan, in front of 68,000 people. This second Bigfoot sported 66-in-tall (167-cm), 34-in-wide (86-cm) tyres that had previously belonged to fertiliser spreaders. Its axle had once sat on a military truck, while its 640-cubic-inch engine ran not on petrol but on alcohol. With his son as a passenger, Bob drove the beast up and over some junk cars, stopped at the top and waved – prompting around 30,000 of the assembled audience to race towards him.
By 1983, Bob had a sponsorship with Ford. Clearly, he was onto something. To satisfy the demand for public appearances, he and his crew set about constructing a whole string of Bigfoots; many other monster-truck manufacturers followed suit. In the summer of 1986, Bob unveiled the biggest of them all. Bigfoot 5 stands 4.7 m (15 ft 6 in) tall and weighs 17,200 kg (38,000 lb). The truck was actually deliberately constructed to accommodate its gargantuan tyres, which stand some 3 m (10 ft) tall. They actually come from a huge vehicle used in Alaska by the US Army:
And changing tyres that size is no easy matter:
From car-crushing, monster trucks moved on – to racing:
And even ramp jumps – where the Bigfoots once again proved they were world beaters:
To date, 21 Bigfoots have been built (No.20 was battery powered!), with plans afoot for No.22; each new design employs envelope-pushing technology and materials.
So, after all that: why the name “Bigfoot”? Jim Kramer (then Bob’s office manager) had wryly warned him about how hard he was punishing his truck, and berated him for all the replacement parts they were having to fit. “If you’d keep that big foot of yours off the gas,” he chided Bob, “we wouldn’t have to do this all the time.” The name was painted on the truck and a legend was born.