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:
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.
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.
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.
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 That makes no sense because it wears California plates that are only a year out of date.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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
(Image credits: Craigslist sellers)