It’s common in the world of custom big rigs to see classics that were long forgotten and rusting away pristinely restored, saved for generations of truck lovers to admire.
But to see a restoration that is instantly recognized by millions around the world just by the person it carried is altogether different. So it is with Big Red, the Mack truck and trailer combo that carried daredevil Evel Knievel into the hearts of millions.
To Baby Boomers, and the generation before them, Knievel was “a hero” of the early ’70s, pulling off death-defying leaps and stunts no one else had dared or dreamed of doing.
To Millennials who grew up after the man made famous on ABC’s Wide World of Sports had hung up his red-white-and-blue leathers and matching helmet, he is the unspoken father of today’s “extreme sports” movement.
His name is revered in the skateboarding, snowboarding, surfing, motorsports and any other form of action sport where risk-takers lay it all out time and time again to do some stunt no one else in their sport has tried or completed.
As the new documentary Being Evel clearly shows, the Butte, Montana, native was patriotic to the bone. He loved the American-built iron of the Harley-Davidson dirt track bikes he used to carry him through the air. And he was passionate about the icon of American trucks: Mack Trucks.
Near the peak of his career, in 1974, Mack build a custom FS model to be his transport and office/dressing room at the shows, with a trailer to match. The truck was affectionately called “Big Red,” because it was … big and red.
When Knievel retired, so did the truck and trailer, which ended up sitting in a bone yard in Florida. A couple years ago world-renowned skateboarding star and huge “Evel” fan/memorabilia collector, Lathan McKay, tracked it down after former American Trucker host and trucking aficionado Robb Mariani brought the old rig to the light of day via his TV show, a story told here in Overdrive. McKay bought the rig and eventually enlisted Mike Patterson, a renown restorer of vintage Harley-Davidsons, to rebuild the combo.
“There was more sky than metal in the cab when we got the truck,” says Patterson, the owner of Historic Harley-Davidson in Topeka, Kan. “It took us the last year-and-a-half, with the help of more than 96 business and individuals in and around the town, to rebuild it.”
McKay had plenty of photos and the original build sheet in his growing collection, which helped in the restoration of the 295-inch FS786LST.
Patterson says they took the truck down to the last nut and bolt, refurbishing every part putting it back together exactly as it was on the line. “We teamed with Kansas Powertrain, in Topeka, to handle the chassis and motor, and we also teamed with Topeka Trailer to handle the trailer portion,” Patterson says. “Todd Williams, a nationally known restoration expert, did the cab and interior.” The estimated cost: $300,000.
Big Red will be driven a little at special events, parades and truck shows, says Lathan, and it will be on tour around the country for the next year before retiring in the Evel Knievel museum.
During the majority of the tour Big Red and its trailer will be transported on flatbeds pulled by a pair of Mack Pinnacles with 70-inch high-rise sleepers.
Big Red will also be on display at this year’s Great American Trucking Show and seen on the big screen around the country in “Being Evel.”
Below, catch further views of Randall-Reilly Trucking Media Senior Editor Bruce W. Smith’s views on the Mack at the Hollywood premiere of the “Being Evel” documentary earlier this week. Find before views and more about the rig’s background via this link.