This is a Baja Bug, a highly modified Volkswagen Beetle designed for desert racing, and unlike the vast majority of its kind its powered not by a VW engine but by a 2.0 liter Porsche flat-four sourced from a 914.
Interestingly, Baja Bugs have now achieved more wins in the 50+ years of the Baja 1000 than any other vehicle type, and they remain a popular choice with competitors due to their lower cost, broad parts availability, and the fact that there are three Score International racing classes they can choose between for VW-based vehicles.
Fast Facts – The Baja Bug
- The Baja Bug is named for the Baja California Desert in Northern Mexico where it’s often raced, it’s a region that shares a border with the Southern United States. Baja is pronounced “Baahaa” and it simply means “low” or “lower,” as Baja California is known locally as “Lower California.”
- The most famous race in Baja is the Baja 1000, a torturous 1,000+ mile race across the desert for a wide variety of two and four wheeled vehicles that race in a number of different classes. The event first started back in 1967 and it celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017.
- A Baja Bug is defined as a custom-built VW Beetle-based vehicle designed for racing or spirited driving off-road. The first Baja Bugs began appearing in the USA in the 1960s, with their designs characterized by their modified front and rear fenders, significantly lifted suspension, larger wheels and tires, and other modifications for off-road use.
- Baja Bugs are by far the most successful vehicles in the history of the event, having taken more class wins in Baja 1000 history than any other vehicle type by quite some margin.
- The Baja Bug you see in this article is based on a 1970 VW Beetle, it’s powered by a modified 2.0 liter engine mated to a Pro Street 4-speed manual transaxle, and it has uprated suspension, wheels and tires, and of course that classic Baja Bug bodykit.
What Is A Baja Bug?
A Baja Bug is a custom-built off-road VW Beetle that has its roots in the Southern California desert racing scene of the 1960s. The vehicle type was initially designed for desert racing, where the vehicle would be modified to navigate the harsh terrain of the desert in long-range endurance events like the Baja 1000.
Above Video: Thus episode of The Next Big Thing with Magnus Walker is centered on the history of the Baja Bug.
The original Volkswagen Beetle that was introduced in Germany in 1938 as the “People’s Car” or “Folk’s Wagon” if translated from German literally, and it was designed by Ferdinand Porsche at the direction of Adolf Hitler.
The Beetle was developed to be a reliable and affordable car that could be mass-produced for the wider German population, however it went on to have enduring success around the world with over 21 million made in total – its dark origins long forgotten.
The Baja Bug’s history can be traced back to the mid-1960s when a group of racers in Southern California modified their Beetles for off-road use. These modifications included removing the fenders, removing unneeded body panels, installing larger wheels and tires, increasing suspension travel and ground clearance, and adding performance modifications to the engines.
The Baja Bug quickly became popular among off-road enthusiasts, and it wasn’t long before people began modifying the vehicle even further, some even going so far as to create off-road racing buggies that didn’t resemble the original Volkswagen at all.
The Baja Bug gained national attention in 1968 when a modified Beetle was entered in the Baja 1000 race in Mexico, then known as the Mexican 1000 Rally. The Baja 1000 is one of the most grueling off-road races in the world, covering over 1,000 miles of desert terrain. The Baja Bug’s performance in the race was impressive, and it quickly became a symbol of the event and it remains so today.
As the popularity of the Baja Bug grew, aftermarket companies began producing parts and accessories specifically designed for the vehicle. This allowed owners to further customize and modify their Baja Bugs, making them even more capable off-road vehicles.
The fact that so many Beetles were originally manufactured meant that their secondhand values remained low for decades, sometimes just a few hundred dollars for a complete running example, which made them ideal as a starting point for an inexpensive off-road buggy build.
Over the years, the Baja Bug continued to evolve, and they became a popular vehicle for recreational use, with people using them for camping trips and exploring the outdoors. The Baja Bug also became a symbol of adventure and fun, with its unique design capturing the spirit of the California off-road culture.
The Baja Bug’s legacy has been significant, and it has influenced the design of many off-road vehicles that followed it. Today, the Baja Bug remains a popular vehicle among off-road enthusiasts, and it continues to inspire people to seek adventure and explore the great outdoors.
The 1970 Baja Bug Shown Here
The vehicle you see here is a 1970 Volkswagen Beetle that’s been modified into an excellent example of a classic Baja Bug.
This Beetle is powered by a replacement 2.0 liter flat-four Porsche 914 engine, air-cooled of course, that has been equipped with twin carburetors, an EMPI billet breather tube, and a custom exhaust. Power is sent to the rear wheels via a Pro Street IRS 4-speed manual transaxle.
A full set of lightweight fiberglass body parts have been added including the Baja-style front trunk, rear decklid, front valance, and fenders. A roof rack with spotlights has also been added, as well as custom tubular bumpers, rock sliders, LED taillights and LED headlights.
The car now rides on significantly uprated suspension with increased travel, it has Black Rock 15″ wheels shod with 235/75 BF Goodrich All-Terrain Baja Champion tires, with a spare mounted behind the front seats. Four wheel disc brakes are also fitted.
Inside the car you’ll find TMI Products low-back bucket seats, a lightweight fiberglass dashboard and door panels, an under-dash parcel tray with cup holders, three-point seatbelts, and even an air conditioning system to make those desert rallies far more tolerable.
If you’d like to read more about this Porsche-powered Baja Bug or register to bid you can visit the listing here on Bring a Trailer. It’s being offered for sale out of Houston, Texas with a clean Georgia title.
Images courtesy of Bring a Trailer
Articles that Ben has written have been covered on CNN, Popular Mechanics, Smithsonian Magazine, Road & Track Magazine, the official Pinterest blog, the official eBay Motors blog, BuzzFeed, Autoweek Magazine, Wired Magazine, Autoblog, Gear Patrol, Jalopnik, The Verge, and many more.
Silodrome was founded by Ben back in 2010, in the years since the site has grown to become a world leader in the alternative and vintage motoring sector, with well over a million monthly readers from around the world and many hundreds of thousands of followers on social media.