Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Hilariously out of place Baja

I truly have no recollection of where this car was located. It is definitely in NYC somewhere, most likely deep in Brooklyn where free standing homes with big lawns exist (Midwood? Marine Park?). Regardless somewhere amidst this beatific Americana setting was this misplaced lump:
In California? Sure. Way out on Long Island? Possibly. But a Baja Beetle on the city streets? Unprecedented!
For those of you who don't know this is a Volkswagen Beetle with an aftermarket dune buggy conversion kit called the Baja. These were super popular for decades but like the classic custom vans of the '70s they are fading fast.
With the modern cars around it this thing looks positively prehistoric! The look is enhanced by the fact that it seems to have no color at all. With the exception of the front wheels and turn signals it looks like a black and white photograph.
Pinpointing the year of a Beetle can be tough regardless, and this one has had half of its body replaced with components from the kit. My best guess is that this started life as a 1971 or so Super Beetle due to the slightly longer hood, crescent shaped vent behind the rear quarter windows, and front turn signal size.
The Baja conversion consisted of replacement hood, fenders, engine cover, and that front valance below the hood. While there were many kits to choose from there were really only 2 distinct styles; Wide Eye (pictured here with the headlights on the fenders), or Narrow Eye (where both headlights would be bunched together on the front between the fenders).
This car looks like you just woke it up.
Beetles were remarkably capable off-roaders from the factory due to the high ground clearance, flat floor, and engine located over the drive wheels. The Baja kit was named after the Mexican Baja 1,000 race which pitted all sorts of trucks, Jeeps, and motorcycles on a brutally rugged rock and dirt course to the Southern tip of the Peninsula. Beetles have always competed in it, with success. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about the Baja race is known as Class 11. To enter the Baja in Class 11 you must race a stock VW Type 1 Beetle with no modifications except for adding a roll bar and adding ground clearance. No Super Beetles are allowed. You must use the stock drum brakes! The engine and transmission have to be the equivalent of a standard 1968 Beetle too. No wonder they named these kits after the race.
At some point a visor was added over the windshield of this beast. On display here is one of the greatest advances in VW Beetle history; the exterior fuel filler door! From the early split windows of the '40s all the way through the late '60s you had to pop the hood to fill 'er up. It's the small things folks.
Those wheels are vintage Wagon Wheels from the '70s.
Lowe's emblem on the left fender? Really dude?
The taillights have been replaced with pointy rocket lenses from a '59 Cadillac which, if original, means this conversion happened a long time ago. The engine looks to be a standard air cooled Beetle unit, with what looks to be modified Cherry Bomb mufflers welded to a stock exhaust. The bumper is appropriately homemade looking, as is the trailer hitch. I suppose towing a very small boat isn't out of the question even for a Beetle.
Well there you have it; a funky looking hybrid kit car ready for the dunes. The best thing about a Beetle is that absolutely every single component is still available for it and probably will be forever. If you find something like this in a barn where it's been sitting for 30 years you can get it running in a day or 2. Complete engines are not only available, but take about an hour to install. Seeing this one made me realize how long it had been since I last encountered one and I have to say it's a pretty cool summer ride.

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