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1977 2007 Anniversary Monster Trucks - Monster Mash!

Posted in Features on August 1, 2007 Comment (0)
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Photographers: The Primedia ArchivesCourtesy of Bigfoot 4x4 Inc.
Bigfoot 2, 4WOR Dec. '82 cover outtake.

For much of our 30-year history, this magazine has had a love/hate relationship with monster trucks. We were the first to write about the very first monster-Bob Chandler's Bigfoot-in 1979, just a couple of years after he built the then-huge truck.

We soon realized that putting monster trucks on our covers meant newsstand sales gold. For a while, anyway. That trend pretty much peaked in 1986, when most of our covers featured one monstrous creation after another.

Bigfoot 1, photographed outside of Las Vegas in 1978. Bigfoot made its national debut at the SEMA Show that year, after Chandler had to drive it into Vegas following a tow-rig breakdown.

On the other hand, there was a growing cadre of readers-and writers, too-that bemoaned our monster coverage. They believed our pages could be put to better use showing "real" 4x4s on the trail, in mud bogs, crawling rocks, and so on, rather than glorifying what some saw as the 4WD equivalent of pro wrestling. As early as the Nov. '85 issue, then-Editor John Stewart voiced what many were thinking when he wrote in his very first 4xForward column, "I love monster trucks. I hate monster trucks."

After 1986, our monster coverage shrank. The last monster featured prominently on the cover was Bigfoot 11, Sept. '93. For a while not a single monster graced our pages, until they started to appear again in 2001 as part of Jamboree event coverage.

Bob Chandler at his AutoCAD design terminal.

Which brings up an interesting point: Monster trucks may have nearly disappeared from our magazine, but they're still a vital part of four-wheeling entertainment. Chandler's Bigfoot 4x4 Inc. campaigns six to seven Bigfoot trucks each week at various events in the U.S. and internationally. The Monster Truck Racing Association has "about 100 members and probably a couple dozen trucks" participating in events, Chandler told us. And a whole new generation of monster-truck fans has made the Emmy-nominated "Bigfoot Presents: Meteor and the Mighty Monster Trucks" one of the most popular shows on The Learning Channel.

This installment in our 30th anniversary retrospective kicks off a two-part review of the monster truck phenomenon. To start, we present an in-depth interview with Bob Chandler about Bigfoot's past and present. Next month, we'll look back at some of the other significant monsters that have graced these pages in the past.

4WOR: Where did the idea for Bigfoot come from?

BC: I opened a four-wheel-drive shop called Midwest Four Wheel Drive Center and put a lot of the products on my own truck so I could show others what was available for theirs. I kept putting new items on my truck, some unique to the industry. I liked big things.

4WOR: And the tires?

BC: I started changing the tires on my F-250 right away, went through all kinds of tires, including several different kinds of tractor tires. I got interested in a turf tire that Firestone and Goodyear made at the time. They were for fertilizer spreaders that had 66s in back and 48s in front, and we eventually went to the 48-inch tires. When we had trouble breaking axles I went with 2 1/2-ton military axles. We did some really ridiculous things-pulling sleds, mud bogging. We were really hard on the axles.

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4WOR: Where did the Bigfoot name come from?

BC: I came back to the shop almost every Monday with a broken truck. My general manager, Ron Magurder, started calling me "big foot" because I could not keep my foot out of the throttle. I liked the way it sounded, and since I had big tires on the truck, I put it on the side of my truck.

The state-of-the-art in monster truck suspensions, circa 1990, on Bigfoot 9: tube chassis, cantilever suspension with gas-charged shocks, ZF axles with internal wet brakes, and planetary gears. This Bigfoot was lost in Brazil in 1998 after a customs dispute.

4WOR: How did car crushing come about?

BC: I saw a TV show once where they made a big deal of a truck that put its front tires on a car that was more than half buried in the mud. I told myself Bigfoot could drive over that car. I later told Jim Kramer I would like to try driving over cars, and he set it up with one of his friends who owned a farm.

Driving over the cars was easy. The first time, we put a bale of hay by the trunk of the first car to get the tires up. I did my first car crush in 1981. I'm not sure if that was the very first car crush or not.

I videotaped the car crush and played the tape in my shop. A promoter saw the video and wanted me to do it again in front of a crowd. I balked at the idea because Marilyn, my wife, and I thought it was too destructive. But the kids loved the video, so we decided to do it in front of a crowd in Jefferson City [Missouri] a few months later. I was shocked at the reaction from the crowd. They went nuts.

4WOR: Why do you think they liked it so much?

BC: Because they were seeing the same pickup that their dad or their uncle owned, but on steroids. It was huge. Kids like big things-tractors, big rigs, fire trucks. Adults just seem to like destructive things, whether it's car crashes or buildings being blown up. And, everybody's been stuck in traffic and wished they could drive over the cars in front of them. Even I do that.

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4WOR: How did the subsequent Bigfoot trucks come about?

BC: Bigfoot 1 was being used all the time, so we didn't have much time to do much with it in the way of improvements. So we built a second truck. We made all the modifications to it, including the 66-inch tires, and that's when we realized those tires weren't going to work with the 2 1/2-ton axles. So we went to the 5-ton military axles.

The bigger tires meant a bigger overall gear ratio, so we had to go with a lower transfer case to get the thing to run. Then the engine wasn't strong enough, so we had to add more horsepower. It was a vicious cycle-bigger tires, axles too small, bigger axles, not enough power, then you start ripping out transfer cases and transmissions. It just went round and round and round.

That's when we found the planetaries, which put a reduction right at the wheels. Today we run a 6.2:1 planetary ratio; back then the military axles had 3:1 ratios. The planetaries were easier on everything. Axleshafts only had to be the size of a 1-ton truck because everything reduces at the wheel. That was the salvation for monster trucks.

The current state-of-the-art in monster truck suspensions, here on Bigfoot 15: The cantilever suspension was replaced by a four-link system and two very long, nitrogen-charged shocks per corner. The engine in Bigfoot 15 is a 572-inch Ford big-block based on the 460. Supercharged and slurping methanol, these engines produce around 1,500 hp and 1,450 lb-ft of torque.

4WOR: And then there was the other big monster-truck evolution-to the cantilever suspension.

BC: That's right. I wanted to go to the cantilever suspension because it changed the direction of the suspension [travel] from vertical to somewhat horizontal. Monster trucks are the only race vehicles that have a heavier unsprung weight than sprung weight. That's backward if you want your suspension to work correctly.

But the cantilever couldn't be done until we went with the tube chassis. With a tube chassis you can mount shocks way high on the chassis. I taught myself how to use the AutoCAD program, and designed the tube chassis and cantilever suspension for Bigfoot 8. It had gas shocks and 20 inches of travel, versus 6 to 7 with the leaf springs. What an amazing difference it made. We got thrown out of the TNT race series because we were just wiping the other guys out. They kicked us out for six months to let the other guys catch up.

Monster-truck competition had changed from just car crushes to racing before we changed the suspension. The racing was hard on the trucks and hard on the drivers. Guys were breaking vertebra because they were landing so hard.

Since then we've taken the cantilever suspensions off the trucks. Since they're just racing in pretty much a straight line, it's silly to have all that geometry on the truck. Right now the trucks are using a four-link with two long gas shocks per corner. They now have 30 to 34 inches of travel.

4WOR: Describe Bigfoot's powertrain.

BC: We use Ford 460-based blocks with new-style heads that are better than the old Hemi versions. The engines are supercharged and fuel-injected, and they use alcohol, which helps them run cooler while getting more power out of them. They're making a little over 1,500 hp and about 1,450 lb-ft of torque.

We're still using C6 transmissions, with manual shift bodies with good clutches in them. The transfer cases we're using were made specifically for pullers and monster trucks. They have a quick-change case, so you can change the ratios in five minutes. They're great for racing.

4WOR: How many Bigfoot trucks have there been over the years?

Bigfoot's cockpit is a well-used, no-frills environment. The myriad buttons and switches control everything from batteries and ignition to cooling fans and the rear-steer mechanism.

BC: We've built 17 Bigfoot trucks, plus Ms. Bigfoot [Ranger] and the Bigfoot Shuttle [Aerostar van]. Numbers 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7 are gone, bought by people who wanted to display them or build ride trucks. Bigfoot 9 is still in Brazil, Ms. Bigfoot and the Shuttle are gone. We're still running 1. We built two 10-footers for restaurants, which have since closed, so now they're in museums.

4WOR: What's next for you and Bigfoot 4x4 Inc.?

BC: I am working on a new chassis design right now. Our newest truck, Bigfoot 15, is over 12 years old. I want to come out with a new, stronger chassis, and move up to the next stage of monster trucks.

I am using AutoCAD and Finite Element Analysis (FEA) programs. The FEA program tells me how much stress and load is on each tube in the chassis as I put it through different configurations. An engineer friend of mine, Andy Whittle, told me how to use that program. He also said that more tube in a chassis does not always make it stronger, and that I need to look at chassis geometry to make the chassis stronger.

I'm not an engineer. I know just enough to do what I need to do. It's more headaches and more work, but I'm still having fun. Kramer does most of the R&D work, I get to work on computer designs. My two daughters, son, and son-in-law are all working here, which is great. They take a lot of the headaches.

Our final Bigfoot cover, Sept. '93, featured a see-through view of Bigfoot 11. These outtakes, shot by Petersen lensman Jim Brown, give us a behind-the-scenes view of the complexity of the set during the shoot and Bigfoot doing the Full Monty.

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