This is going to be the final chapter in my story of the Baja. I need to sell this car and move on. As life progresses, so do our goals and dreams for the future. We are slaves to our possessions. Even tho I am not currently spending time or money on the Baja, it occupies precious space in my head. I am going to sell off most of my projects so that I can clearly focus on my goal of driving the Pan-American Highway.
I left off Part 2 with an image of the Baja on a car trailer. Wouldn’t you know it, I overheated and broke down on the return drive home.
I call my close friend Tyler to come rescue me. He borrows his parents truck, his brothers trailer, and makes the 2 hour drive south to pick me up. When he arrived, he mentioned an issue with the Ford. After a quick diagnostic, I realized that the alternator was dead. We called the nearest parts stores and found one in stock for almost $200. We loaded the Baja on the car trailer and set off for the auto parts store. Luckily the 7.3L diesel Ford came with dual batteries and had enough charge left in them to start the truck and get us to the parts store. I changed the alternator of the truck that came to rescue me in the parking lot of an auto parts store.
At this point the Baja had a brand new OEM Subaru water pump, its 2nd or 3rd brand new thermostat, and its 3rd radiator. I got it home, tore it down and found blown head gaskets. After some research, I ordered Cometic multi-layer steel headgaskets and sourced EJ22 heads. I built the well documented Subaru Frankenmotor. When all was said and done, I had a lot more torque with the new smaller cylinder heads, while sacrificing some top end power.
Over the course of a few months, I got the engine reassembled and running. Tyler came back over to see how the car was doing, we went on a test drive and the rear brake disk came apart. Besides the issues I was having keeping the engine cool, the axles, brakes and suspension couldn’t keep up with the newfound horsepower. I bought a new brake rotor and caliper mount after the parts broke.
While digging thru the archives for this article, I came across another true gem that needs to be shared. My hair was ridiculous when I opened the windows and cruised down the freeway.
The engine was running well for the first time ever. I spent the next few weeks doing some fiberglass repair to the hood, painting the front bumper, cleaning up the wiring harness and applying bed liner to the entire interior. I also bought a set of used paddle tires. I found a set of 15″ x 10″ 5 lug wheels at my uncles junkyard. I had the rims filled and drilled to match the 4 lug beetle pattern.
If you noticed, yes that is my air filter. After the original engine blew up because it ate sand, I decided the Subaru engine would get air from inside the cabin. Let me tell you that accelerating with the air filter right behind your head makes all sorts of cool sucking noises and further intensifies the race car feeling of the Baja.
I decided to include the picture of the wiring because it is part of the story. Every fucking time I opened the hood, someone made a negative comment. I realize now that I shouldn’t have let those things get to me. Sure it was a spaghetti mess, but how many people do you know who can take the ENTIRE wiring harness from a 1998 Subaru Legacy Outback wagon and make it work inside a 1969 VW Beetle? My advice is don’t bother trying: nowadays there are companies that make plug and play wiring swaps in the neighborhood of $500 – $800 dollars.
My friend John and I went to Moses Lake for Memorial Day 2015. The car was running well, and I couldn’t wait to see how it did in the sand with paddle tires. This time I wasn’t taking any chances, so we loaded up the car trailer and towed it over. The torque of the new engine coupled with the traction of the paddle tires was incredible. I was able to ride wheelies off the top of hill climbs, and definitely jumped a few. On Saturday evening I gave my friend Brandy a ride in the Baja. She is no stranger to speed; I’ve seen her embarrass plenty of men at the sand drags on her quad. I was showing off of course, and flying thru the whoops. I smashed across 3 whoops and started to climb a small hill. I was hard into the throttle, the car was bucking over the bumps and all the sudden BAM! In the photo earlier, I destroyed the passenger side rear brake rotor. Well in this incident, the power of the engine completely stripped the threads out of the inside of the drivers side brake rotor. I was no stranger to breaking C.V shafts and thought that was what originally happened. Aftermarket rear disk brake rotors are not exactly available at your local parts store. I was out of luck in that department. What I did find was a huge service truck near our campsite. I threw the guy a $20 and told him to weld my brake rotor to my C.V. shaft directly. All these parts needed replacement anyway, so I went for the hail mary. He welded the car back together for me, we shook hands and I drove off. I made it all of a few hundred feet before the welds failed. My weekend was over with the car.
I got home and gave up on the current rear disk brake setup. It was built to handle all 45 horsepower that an aircooled engine could produce in 1969. I did more research and found conflicting reports that 944 rear suspension would fit onto a VW Beetle pan. Since my uncle owns a junkyard and parts are cheap, I tore apart a Porsche for parts. Don’t worry, the rear suspension was literally the last useful part of the poor Porsche.
I pulled the rear suspension from the Porsche, got it home and the Baja sat. I spent the summer on my Yamaha FZ6R, riding with friends. At the end of July, 10 of us loaded up our bikes and spent a week cruising down Highway 101 thru Washington and Oregon. The night before our trip was to end, I had a horrible accident on my motorcycle and was nearly paralyzed. I am now rocking a spinal fusion from S1 to L4, with 2 plates and 6 screws. After 2 weeks recovering at a friends house, I was bound and determined to go home and recover. I needed help around the house, so I arranged a work party. While others did yard work and cleaning for me, Brandon installed the Porsche suspension. The only modification that I had to make to mount the arms, was take the bushings from the original arms and put them inside the Porsche arms, and reuse the mounting bolts.
The car sat for the rest of the year. In the middle of January, I rolled the Baja into my garage and resumed work. First thing I had to do was setup the rear suspension properly. Having never worked on IRS Beetle suspension before, Brandon and I didn’t know how to set the preload. When he installed the suspension and removed the jack, the oil pan was about 2″ from the ground. I spent the day researching, tearing apart and adjusting the rear suspension. Once I had set the preload and had a ride height that I was happy with, I attacked the paint with a grinder. There were at least 7 different colors on the Baja between all the mix-matched fiberglass pieces, a terrible gray respray over a multicolor paint job, and my friends going to town with glow-in-the-dark markers at the sand dunes.
For some reason, I can’t find photos but Brandon also relocated the radiator…. AGAIN. I started with the radiator out back, over the engine. Then I moved it up front, under the hood. At this point I had used 2 different radiators, for each position. I figured it was time for a brand new radiator, so I bought and replaced the front one. After much deliberation, we decided to move the radiator over the transmission, and build a custom cowl over it. This was the 3rd position for the 4th radiator during the project.
While I was sanding/painting the body, I also added some goodies. I purchased and installed 2 LED light bars, made a switch panel and bought gauges with programmable backlight colors. I set all 3 of them different colors just for fun in the photo. You best believe I set them all to green immediately afterwards.
I have everything needed to finish painting the car. I ran out of time and left it in primer. February is the yearly “guys ride weekend” that my friends setup. John and I loaded up the Baja on a trailer and set off for Sand Lakes, Oregon. The night before we left, we tried to install the windshield to no avail. I have installed a few windshields before, but I was always assisting my uncle who has more experience than I. I figured it wouldn’t be that bad, so we rocked the Baja with no doors and no glass. Driving thru the dunes with no doors is absolutely incredible. You get that amazing open air feeling that Jeep people love so dearly, and the increased visibility on the trails is phenomenal. Driving thru sand with no windshield on the other hand is an experience that I don’t wish to live again. I imagined myself sitting inside of a sand blasting cabinet, because that’s how it felt. I was so excited to show off my car finally 1 color, use my LED light bars out in the dunes at night and get some real seat time with the paddle tires.
By now you are asking yourself how well my weekend went. This next photo should give you a pretty good idea.
3 – 4 Thermostats
2 water pumps
2 sets of cylinder heads
1 set of brand new multi-layer steel head gaskets
5 – 6 different radiator fans
A man can only devote so much time and effort into something before it becomes overwhelming. The Baja overheated for the final time at Sand Lakes. I got home and ripped that fucking thing out, the entire wiring harness and sold the engine/transmission adapter. The car has been sitting ever since then. The original problem was that I used a 1995 – 2001 EJ25 engine. I found out later that they are notoriously garbage engines and now I see why. My original plan to write a witty/viral Craigslist post turned into a massive 3 part narrative. I love this car, and people still ask me about it. However, I am past this stage in my life and need to downsize. I hope that this car can find a good home, find a good VW engine, and tear up the dunes for years to come. If you are seriously interested, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am interested in full/partial trades for an enduro motorcycle, or a camper van. Thank you for being a part of my journey, I hope you enjoyed reading it!