Peter Holderith and his team at The Drive, an automotive news source, went on a mission last year to find a one-of-a-kind, turbine engine, superhighway semi-truck known as “Big Red.” On Wednesday, Holderith announced that the famous vehicle still exists, and better yet, it still runs.
“I got very close in the initial search, and soon after we published the first article I got a tip with a key piece of information that led me to find the truck minutes later,” Holderith wrote in an email to FreightWaves. “It was months before we actually managed to get the owner to speak with us, however.”
History of ‘Big Red’
Big Red was born from a turbine truck war between automotive giants, Ford and General Motors in the late 1940s. Ford won the race after creating the massive red prototype.
According to The Drive, the 13-foot-tall, 96-foot-long vehicle had a gross weight of 180,000 pounds. The company unveiled the beast at the 1964 World’s Fair next to the brand new Ford Mustang.
With a 600-horsepower engine called the 705, the fully functional vehicle could haul double trailers at 70 miles per hour. But it never went into production — due to technological limitations — leaving the prototype as the only one ever built.
The investigation to find the owner
The hunt for this national treasure was not an easy task, and Holderith used the power of the internet to find the anonymous owner of the vehicle.
Going into the investigation, Holderith had documentation of Big Red’s whereabouts up to 1970, when the rig was bought by Holman Moody, a race team sponsored by Ford. The team drove it from a Ford facility in Michigan to Charlotte where it was stored in a hangar at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport until 1978.
According to Holderith’s article, the truck was then sold to an anonymous buyer in the late 1970s, as Holman Moody ended its partnership with Ford and sold everything in the hanger in a giant inventory sale.
With this information, Holderith turned to the internet for help. In a Youtube video comment section, a man claimed to know a man named Mr. Richardson who owned the truck. The Youtube commenter, who Holderith called Dan, claimed that he delivered material to Richardson in the early 1980s, which was used to build a storage facility for Big Red, and the owner allowed him to drive the vehicle.
“I drove the tractor only — they never had the trailers — for a couple of miles around the neighborhood. At the time it was powered by a VT-903 Cummings [V8],” Dan told Holderith in an interview. “It was residential streets and there were no tags on the tractor. I drove very conservatively as he and I discussed what the gas turbine must have been like.”
Dan did not give Holderith any more information on the vehicle’s current owner, forcing him to continue his search.
In January of 2020, he found an anonymous lead named Tim, who posted on a Mack Truck forum that in 1985, he helped repaint Big Red with a new color scheme, blue and white. Tim also let him know that the owner had moved and he was not sure of his whereabouts and did not release his name, Holderith recounted.
Finally, Holderith found a post on bigmacktrucks.com from 2013 from a man who claimed to be the current owner. The account name, John Eugene Richardsons, had not logged back on since February 2019. Holderith also found a man who claimed to be the owner’s brother in a 2014 Flickr comment. But he never heard back after sending an email to the address on the profile.
The discovery of the mystery owner
On Wednesday in an article on The Drive, Holderith announced that he had found the owner and confirmed that the truck still exists and is still functional.
The original engine was replaced with a 707 engine, and the rumor of the new paint scheme was false.
“I spent a lot of time and money getting the right color and paint process to match the original Ford color,” the owner told Holderith. “The color is a dark red candied metallic. The silver is candied metallic, also.”
Today the truck is in near-perfect condition but the whereabouts are still unknown. The owner is aware of the rarity and knows that releasing this information could lead to unwanted visitors at its location.
Holderith told FreightWaves that the search was not completely over.
“It was great to finally share my findings with the world, but there is more to come,” he said. “We’re still receiving more information and new pictures are a must for us. We hope to publish a follow-up soon.”