Home » Beach Bums: 1964 VW Dune Buggy vs 1969 VW Baja Bug

Beach Bums: 1964 VW Dune Buggy vs 1969 VW Baja Bug

Sbsd 8 18 2023
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Good morning, and happy Friday! Today we’re going to throw a little sand around with some cool beach toys. But before we head out for fun in the sun, let’s finish up with yesterday’s Minnesota sedans:

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A comfortable win for the Neon. Having owned both a ’99 Neon and an ’05 Focus, I’m inclined to agree. The Focus is a perfectly good little car, but the Neon is lightning in a bottle. Mine was an automatic, and it was still a hoot to drive, right up until it was rear-ended by a careless WRX driver with no insurance.

But enough about that. As you all know, the Autopian’s big muckety-mucks are at some big shindig in California this week, on a beach playing with pebbles or something (or was it on a beach listening to Pebbles? I forget). Anyway, it’s all too tony for the likes of us, so we’re going to look at a couple of hacked-up Volkswagens that would be a ton of fun on any other beach. Here they are.

1964 Volkswagen dune buggy – $4,999

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Engine/drivetrain: Overhead valve flat 4 of unspecified size, 4 speed manual, RWD

Location: San Diego, CA

Odometer reading: 57,000 miles

Equivalent Tamiya RC model: Sand Rover

I’ll be honest: I don’t know exactly what this car is. Bruce Meyers’s original Manx dune buggy spawned so many imitators (and outright ripoffs) that they’re almost impossible to keep straight. This isn’t an actual Manx, but I don’t know much more than that. I looked through a bunch of dune buggy photos, trying to match up the shapes of the fenders and those fairly distinctive add-on side pods, without any luck. But on the plus side, I got to look at a bunch of dune buggy photos.

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What the seller does say is that this car is based on, and likely titled as, a 1964 Volkswagen Beetle. Obviously, it’s a bit of a mashup, because the rear wheels are the earlier five-lug design, while the fronts are the later four-lugs. Maybe the front suspension is from a later car or something. They don’t give us any clue as to the engine’s displacement either, but I’d be willing to bet it’s not the original Beetle’s 1300.

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They do say it runs and drives, and is “available for test drives,” but is not street-legal. That makes no sense because it wears California plates that are only a year out of date. Are the expired tags the only thing preventing you from the noisiest, windiest, coolest commute to work ever? Or did they get pulled over and busted for not having windshield wipers or something? It’s hard to say.

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A dune buggy like this is pretty much the epitome of “somebody else’s project,” however, so maybe it’s best to plan on tearing it all apart when you get it home, even if you can drive it there. Besides, as cool as it is now, you’ll want to put your own special touches on it anyway, right?

1969 Volkswagen Baja Bug – $3,500

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Engine/drivetrain: 1600 cc overhead valve flat 4, four-speed manual, RWD

Location: Oregon City, OR

Odometer reading: Ad says 3250, whatever that means, but does it really matter?

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Equivalent Tamiya RC model: Sand Scorcher

If you simply must have doors and a roof, don’t worry; we’ve got you covered. Here we have a ’69 Beetle, converted to a Baja bug, which at its most basic level is as easy as bolting on a kit from J.C. Whitney and jacking up the suspension to fit bigger tires. (Or it used to be; they don’t seem to carry them anymore.)

I went through a phase when I was 18 when I wanted to build a Baja bug in the worst way; I even went as far as buying a $200 beat-up Beetle. Unfortunately, what I bought was a Super Beetle, which won’t work for a Baja conversion; I didn’t understand the difference. Live and learn.

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This bug is powered by a 1600 cc engine, which was rebuilt last year. It has a bunch of other new parts, and it runs and drives great. Obviously, all the money was spent on the mechanical side; cosmetically it’s a bit scruffy. But this is a toy, not a show car; make it too pretty, and you’ll be afraid to have some fun with it. It probably could use a coat of paint, though, and in some color other than sand. Camouflage on the dunes is not a great idea, unless you’re hiding from the Sardaukar.

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Inside, it’s mostly worn-out ’69 Beetle. But hey, it’s got a skull shift knob, a tape deck (which I sincerely hope is either a Sparkomatic or a Kraco), and a fire extinguisher. What more do you need? You could, of course, do it up as fancy as you like, but again, the fancier you make it, the less fun it becomes.

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This one has expired tags as well, by several years. And mismatched tires that are probably frighteningly out-of-date. So once again, it’s probably best to take it home and spend a winter getting it ready for the summer. But the cool thing about a Baja bug is that it’s more or less still just a Beetle, with all the normal-car stuff still intact. You could drive this anywhere, anytime, once you whip it into shape. Well, I mean, if you re-routed the oil cooler lines and re-installed the rear window.

The air-cooled VW universe is vast and contains a lot of little corners and subcultures. But dune buggies and Baja bugs have always been my favorites. I’ve only gotten to play with one once, but it hooked me, and if I lived closer to a place where I could have some fun with it, I’d still love to have one. But which way to go? Fiberglass-bodied buggy, or hacked-up regular Beetle?

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(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)

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Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
6 months ago

???? Watch this video on Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/share/v/ytebxUqQFd7RxQ7x/?mibextid=Le6z7H

The truth about the bug.

Balloondoggle
Balloondoggle
9 months ago
BentleyBoy
BentleyBoy
9 months ago

It looks to me that the 69 has a rear window. I am seeing reflections of the hoses etc.

Slow Joe Crow
Slow Joe Crow
9 months ago

Baja Bug, I prefer the look and Oregon City is closer

ProudLuddite
ProudLuddite
9 months ago

I guess it is somebody else’s project, but it seems much simpler than some jacked up modern car. I mean, you have a VW Beetle where you’ve taken of all the pesky complications like doors and windows. You are down to an air cooled 4, a transaxle, suspension, very simple electrics, how hard could it be to sort one?

Last edited 9 months ago by ProudLuddite
Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
9 months ago

The cheap ass Manx knock off has a swing axle trans so I would pass on it and go with the IRS Baja Bug.

Marathag
Marathag
9 months ago

Baja Bug, as I had a Tamiya Sand Scorcher when they first came out in 1980 or whenever that was.

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
9 months ago
Reply to  Marathag

Plus, it looks like Yoda.

Myk El
Myk El
9 months ago

I live in the desert. I need a roof.

PaysOutAllNight
PaysOutAllNight
9 months ago

The Baja is for me.

I’ve always loved custom VW stuff. The Manx was never my favorite, and this looks to be the cheapest of knock-offs.

The yellow car looks to have the thinnest and cheapest fiberglass panels anywhere, and not a lot more going for it. Remember how aftermarket parts and accessories catalogs often offered three options for the same thing? This looks like the cheap Dune Buggy kit from the shadiest catalog.

86-GL
86-GL
9 months ago

Neither of these are remotely safe or practical by any standard… might as well embrace it and get the full top-down experience in the yellow dune buggy.

I don’t know much about air cooled VWs, but the buggy is just straight positive energy. If you’re going to own a vehicle that is basically entirely a fashion accessory, might as well go full Zoolander / ‘My Job is Beach’.

Griznant
Griznant
9 months ago

I would get the ’69 and promptly throw the Baja garbage in the, er, garbage. Then pick through my horde and graft a front and rear apron back on, factory fenders, and decklid. Which puts it back to a fairly stock ’69 which is NOT worth $3500 in that condition. So, I went with the buggy. The mismatched parts are a turn off, but it’s not terrible and isn’t the worst looking one I’ve seen so buggy it is.

MAX FRESH OFF
MAX FRESH OFF
9 months ago
Ricki
Ricki
9 months ago

Never understood the appeal. Sitting this one out.

JumboG
JumboG
9 months ago
Reply to  Ricki

As someone who grew up in the 80s with a stepfather who loved Beetles and was somehow convinced they were safer than Hondas and Toyotas of the day, I definitely don’t understand the appeal. I was forced to drive a tube chassis dune buggy for most of high school, and then they pulled the rug out from my goal of driving a normal car in college and bought me a 69 Bug. Luckily for me it was rebuild piece of crap that was constantly breaking down, so eventually my mother put her foot down and they let me get a normal mini-truck. About 10 years later it was revealed stepfather planned on giving me the dune buggy at some point in time and I was like NO Thanks.

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