In the heart of trucking history, the resurrection of Evel Knievel’s world-famous Mack show truck, affectionately known as “Big Red,” stands as a testament to determination and passion. Led by the Evel Knievel Museum founders, Historic Harley Davidson, and a dedicated team of 92 individuals, the restoration project aimed at bringing back to life a piece of daredevil history.
The Visionary Behind the Project
Robb Mariani, a familiar face known for his role in the “American Trucker” TV series, was at the forefront of this colossal undertaking. Mariani’s journey with the 1974 Mack began with the “Finding Evel” episode, aired in September 2011, where he documented the truck’s then-current location – abandoned in a yard in Clearwater, Fla. The story unfolded through Mariani’s unwavering dedication and deep connection to trucking history.
From Neglect to Restoration
The restoration journey commenced in 2012 when the truck and trailer were transported to BPW Transport owner-operator Brad Wike’s shop in Lincolnton, N.C. The initial state of the rig was a stark contrast to its former glory – the steering locked up, the fuel tank dry and filled with dirt. Wike revived the Cummins engine, setting the wheels in motion for the intricate restoration process.
Challenges and Triumphs
Over the years, the restoration project faced numerous challenges, from a locked-up steering system to a cab roof that showed “more sky than metal.” However, with perseverance and the collective efforts of more than 96 individuals and businesses, including the expertise of Todd Williams and Kansas Powertrain, the Mack truck was gradually brought back to life.
Lathan McKay, a motorcycle enthusiast, and Knievel memorabilia collector, played a crucial role in the project’s success. His connection with Mike Patterson of Historic Harley-Davidson in Topeka, Kansas, marked the final chapter of the restoration, culminating in a triumphant debut in late summer 2015.
The Grand Unveiling
The restored Mack truck made its grand entrance at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas in 2015, marking the beginning of a Mack-sponsored tour across the country. Two Mack Pinnacles proudly hauled the iconic truck to various events through 2016, creating a spectacle that captivated trucking enthusiasts and Evel Knievel fans alike.
A Homecoming at Historic Harley-Davidson
The journey reached its pinnacle when the resurrected Mack found its permanent home at the newly built Evel Knievel Museum at Historic Harley-Davidson in Topeka, Kansas. Robb Mariani and Lathan McKay recreated the original paint detailing, ensuring that the Mack stood as a living testament to Evel Knievel’s legacy.
The resurrection of Evel Knievel’s Mack truck is more than just a restoration project; it’s a celebration of history, passion, and the unyielding spirit of the trucking community. As the Mack proudly resides in the Evel Knievel Museum, it continues to inspire generations, reminding us of the indomitable will to preserve and honor the legends that shaped our past.