He is the oldest of the family’s four children. While a young child the family lived in South Gate California. Michael Chuchua ran L&M Steel in Compton. The family moved to La Habra Heights. There, Michael Chuchua purchased a Jeep for his son to learn to drive. At age 15 Brian Chuchua discovered he could travel far and wide behind the wheel of the off-road vehicle. He graduated from Fullerton High School in 1954 and Junior College in 1956. He raced his first Jeep race the same year he graduated high school, taking first place at Borrego Springs.
From the mid- to late-1950s Chuchua continued to race his jeep and participate in club runs in Southern California. He rode as a member with The Chuckwalla Jeep Club. His Jeep was the first to climb the Devil’s Slide at Pismo Beach in the mid 1950s and in 1954 he participated in the Rubcion Jeep Jamboree. He also started to use his Jeep to explore further regions of the globe and in 1960 he drove his Jeep from La Habra, California through Mexico and Central America all the way to the Panama Canal. By the age of 21 he was considered a very experienced off-road driver. With his understanding of Jeeps and their mechanics he opened a Jeep dealership in April of 1963 with Doug Olson in Fullerton, California. The dealership grew to be one of the most successful Jeep dealerships in the United States. In the late 1960s he also began the sale of aftermarket Jeep products at the dealership. His dealership sold the first aftermarket roll bars and V-8 conversion kits for both Jeeps and Corvettes. His involvement and knowledge of after market parts led him to join a group of individuals who became the founding fathers of the Specialty Equipment Manufactures Association (SEMA) in 1963.
In 1965 Chuchua introduced a new type of off-road racing which was spectator friendly. He sponsored the Riverside Grand Prix, held in a partially dry riverbed near Riverside, California. The cars started drag race style, two at a time, around two separate courses navigating mud holes, steep hills, deep ruts, and sand washes. After figure eighting the vehicle to cross the finish line first won the event. At his second event a number of future Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame Inductees participated including Ed Pearlman, Vic Hickey, Dick Cepek, Ed Pearlman, Rod Hall, Charlie Erickson, Bill Stroppe and Larry Minor. James Garner spectated and participated in later events. The event often had over 100 participants participating per year. Chuchua ran the Grand Prix annually until 1972.
Due to his sponsorship of numerous teams in the early Baja races, the sport grew quickly. At the inaugural 1967 Mexican 1000 he had three Kaiser Jeeps. In 1968 at the second Mexican 1000 Rod Hall and Carl Jackson drove his Jeep to a 5th place overall. At the first Baja 500 in 1969 he entered twelve vehicles including Jeeps, a Chevrolet Truck and Meyer’s Tow’d.
Chuchua went beyond sponsoring and organizing races he also collected records at famous drag races such as Bonneville, Dry Lakes, Mirage, and quarter mile drags at Pomona, Santa Ana and Long Beach. He raced his Jeep with a V-8 engine and super charged Corvettes. Recognizing his skill the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) asked him to captain the 1965 United States Drag team at expositions in England. He traveled far beyond the race circuits and participated in numerous international rallies. He drove the London to Mexico Rally, traveling from England to Bulgaria to Portugal, then onto a ship across to Brazil only to be time bared in Uruguay. He completed the London to Sydney traveling through the Middle East, into India, through Singapore and across Australia coming in 2nd place in his class and 5th overall. He also raced his CJ-6 Jeep across the African continent en route through Turkey where the Jeep crashed. Currently, Chuchua still drives for fun, last participating in his last Baja race in 1982. He sold his Jeep franchise in 1994 yet continues to collect vintage Jeeps. He owns the Pousada Chuchua resort in Brazil which he opened in 2003. He is a licensed helicopter pilot.
Sources: Author Interview with Brian Chuchua, July 2006.
Fiolka, Marty. 2005. 1000 Miles to Glory, The History of the Baja 1000. Phoenix, AZ.: David Bull Publishing.
Learn more about inductee Brian Chuchua in this Conversations with Big Rich podcast:
ORMHOF inductee Brian Chuchua, Class of 1978 drops some cherry bombs on us as he tells the Jeep history from the beginning. From paying $5,000 for a Jeep franchise to participating in year 2 of Jeep Jamboree to racing the first Mexican 1000. So grateful to interview long-time history-makers in the industry. Congratulations to Brian Chuchua, a 1978 inductee into ORMHOF, Brian is why we say; legends live at ORMHOF.org. Be sure to tune in on your favorite podcast app.
5:09 – the education today is not career advancing, for sure
10:59 – I was drag racing my Jeep with the V8 at all the local drag strips
14:28 – I made the cover of Popular Mechanics
17:24 – the Pan American highway existed, but the bridges did not, so you had to ford all these rivers
25:15 – I drove my Jeep up the steps of the Sydney Opera House
30:09 – we built the first Blazer and sold the name to Chevrolet
36:54 – the original SEMA was to fight the legislation on wheels