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SEMA to induct Bigfoot builder Bob Chandler into its hall of fame

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photo via Bigfoot 4×4 on Facebook.

Poster cars like the strake-laden Testarossa or the bewinged Countach might have defined the ambition of the 1980s, but the vehicle that epitomized that decade’s excesses better than any other didn’t come from Italy or a hyper-stylized studio. Instead, the F-250 known as Bigfoot came from St. Louis and from the truck-building efforts of Bob Chandler, who will be inducted into the SEMA Hall of Fame this summer.

Prior to Chandler, monster trucks didn’t exist as we know them today. Sure, some dedicated niche off-road racers – Florida’s swamp buggy racers, for instance – fitted tall tractor and implement tires to their rigs and some specialty manufacturers built towering truck-like vehicles for remote terrains, but for the most part off-roading in the Seventies meant utilitarian work: farming, mining, logging, that sort of thing.

It was little surprise then that Chandler, who enjoyed backcountry camping and exploring with his wife, Marilyn, in their four-wheel-drive 1974 Ford F-250, couldn’t find much for off-road vehicles where he lived near St. Louis. To facilitate their hobby, in 1975 the Chandlers and their friend Jim Kramer founded Midwest Four Wheel Drive and pressed the F-250 into service as a shop truck.

At the same time, they continued to use the F-250 for their camping adventures and continued to break parts on it, “which in turn spurred (Chandler) to improve and modify the truck in an effort to soak up the abuse,” according to the Bigfoot Monster Truck Racing Team history page. To improve trail clearance, Chandler installed 48-inch-tall tires. The bigger tires put more stress on the axles, so Chandler installed military-spec axles. The bigger tires and axles required more power to turn them, so Chandler built a 460-cu.in. Ford V-8.

To promote the shop, Chandler started to enter Bigfoot – so named due to Chandler’s heavy right foot, not due to the massive tires – in truck and tractor pulls, mud runs, and other area off-road events, and by 1979 the truck had earned enough of a reputation to allow Chandler to start charging for event appearances. A couple years later, Chandler even landed a film role for the truck in the flick Take This Job and Shove It, which took its name from the David Allan Coe/Johnny Paycheck country song.

That same year, Chandler towed a couple well-worn sedans out to a rural cornfield and then ran Bigfoot over them – construction materials in the bed of the truck bounding around the whole time – with a video camera capturing what Chandler claims to be the first-ever car crush. Afterward, he put the video on loop in the store, where a promoter saw it and decided that Chandler and Bigfoot had to replicate the event for a live audience.

From then on, Bigfoot became less of a promotional tool and more of a business itself. Chandler built a second Bigfoot – the first monster truck to use the 66-inch flotation tires that have since become a monster truck standard – in 1982, and in 1983 secured sponsorship from Ford Motor Company. Shocks seemed to multiply underneath the trucks while the number of hoops in the rollbar multiplied atop them. More Bigfoot trucks (Bigfeet?) followed, including Bigfoot #3, which made an appearance in Police Academy 2 (Bigfoot #6 appeared in Police Academy 6, for those of you keeping track); Bigfoot #4, the first to be built from scratch as a monster truck; and Bigfoot #5, specifically built to wear the 10-foot-tall tires from the LeTourneau electric arctic land trains that Chandler came across in a Seattle-area junkyard. In all, Chandler’s shops have built more than two dozen Bigfeet and related vehicles.

Forty-five years after the first Bigfoot, monster truck racing has become a spectacle all its own, with dozens of other trucks racing and competing in freestyle events, and Chandler remains active in Bigfoot racing. According to the Specialty Equipment Market Association, which announced Chandler’s nomination to its hall of fame last month, Bigfoot “paved the way for an entire market of monster trucks and has influenced the truck industry as a whole.” Chandler has previously been inducted into the Monster Truck Museum Hall of Fame.

In addition to Chandler, the SEMA Hall of Fame will induct aftermarket camshaft maker Bruce Crower and public relations professional Marla Moore. The induction ceremony will take place July 26 in Anaheim, California. For more information, visit SEMAHoF.com.