We have always been a fan of the early small Ford Bronco but never owned one. As for Parnelli Jones, he is one of our racing heros with a superstar record. Previously, we told you about a suspected 1968 Vel’s Parnelli Jones Bronco. As of this date, we have not been able to 100% document exactly why that vehicle was actually modified or who did it. However, this 1977 Broco is documented as the real deal.
Recently, Richard L. O’Connor of Kingston, WA contacted us about his Bronco find. It is a 1977 Vel’s Parnelli Jones Bronco powered by a 302-CI Ford V8 with C4 Automatic, 3.50:1 limited slip Rear Axle and Power Steering plus Parnelli’s modifications.
Rich has run a Custom Upholstery automotive restoration business since 1975, two years before Ford built this Bronco.
How Did He Find It?
Most of us dream of discovering a rare immaculate vintage vehicle in a garage when we least expect it. The reality is, they are out there, but the likely hood of being the person who makes that rare discovery is very slim. If you don’t do your research and follow up on all seemingly impossible leads, it never will happen to you, but if you do, who knows!
Rich says it was approximately two years ago when a friend of his told him of a rumor that there was a Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing, Inc. Bronco tucked away in a local residential garage. He also believed it had already been sold.
A year and half past and while visiting a garage sale in town, the Bronco was discovered at the same location. Did it not sell? No, it was available!
It was a nice plain white Bronco and did not appear to be very special. However, as Rich began to survey the truck a little closer, what appeared to be some unique Vel’s Parnelli Jones modifications showed themselves.
Rich still wanted to know more about the Parnelli special Bronco before committing to purchasing it. His research took him to Bill Eaton and Dick Russell. They both were part of the Carroll Shelby GT Program at one time. They were both hired by VPJ after Shelby and Ford parted ways. Bill was the shop foreman and lead fabricator at VPJ. Rich contacted brothers Derik Eaton and Wayne Eaton, sons of Bill Eaton who had passed away. Wayne verified that the Bronco was a VPJ Bronco built as a “Shop Vehicle.”
After more conversation, Wayne acknowledged that he purchased the vehicle from Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing Inc. in 1983-84 while he was a member of the VPJ Indy Car team pit crew for Parnelli. It was sitting in their back parking lot and became his daily driver to work.
Vintage photo of the Bronco when it was a shop truck.
Wayne was involved with the Indy Car series for over 10 years with his dad Bill, who had been in the series 30 years. The vehicle then ended up in Washington State in 1991, where Bill Eaton retired.
When Rich purchased the Bronco it had been registered every year but the plates had not been installed since 2000. There was a lot of documentation that came with the Bronco, including Bill’s notebook with hand-drawn pictures and repair notes. Also included were all the license plates from California and Washington going back to 1978 and more!