Since its inception, the Baja 1000 has attracted VW Beetles by the dozen, and to celebrate 50 years of competition, Volkswagen of America is sponsoring the ProjectBaja Class 11 Beetle.off-road.com
In case you aren’t hip to Baja classifications, Class 11 is one of, if not the least modified groups that compete in the Baja 1000. That also means that their pace is pretty steady. With little more than tires and suspension mods—as well as the necessities of safety (roll cage, fuel cell, radio comms, etc)—these Beetles are about as close to stock as a race car can be.
To win, therefore, Josh McGuckin, Matt Wilson, Matt Fisher, Evan Chute, Nick Wilson, and CNET Roadshow’s Emme Hall (who will have the enviable job of reporting on the team’s progress live), will have to earn victory (or the finish line, this is, after all, more like a marathon than a race) through careful driving and enormous amounts of preparation.
“The Class 11 Beetle harks back to the origins of desert racing,” said McGuckin, “We like a challenge and racing a Class 11 in the SCORE Baja 1000 is the ultimate. Our story started in the same way as many Class 11 teams: we were inspired by seeing the little underdog Beetle bouncing through the desert while the big Trophy Trucks made it look easy. Last time we attempted the event, back in 2014, we failed to make it to the finish line, but we are hoping to use everything we learned and 6 years of car development to help us get there this year.”
The team will be racing a 1970 Beetle—affectionately known as Tope—running a stock 1.6-liter flat four attached to a Type 1 transaxle. Underneath, it has a heavy-duty torsion bar, and Fox dampers with external reservoirs. Stiffer springs will also help Tope race down the Baja peninsula.
Tires are 235/75R-15s BFG All Terrains (up from the stock 165R-15). Along with that, the rear trailing arms have been reinforced, some skid plates added, a 22-gallon fuel cell added, and interior stripped, and that’s about it.
Despite the stiffer springs, I can report, having been offered the wheel of this and another Class 11 Beetle in Barstow recently, that although slow, Tope handles off-roading with remarkable suppleness. Having even caught air, I was anticipating a chest cavity crunching landing but was instead treated to something more akin to landing on a mattress.
Pace and reliability will be the main obstacles for this Beetle, and indeed this class. Although some Class 11 Beetles made it to the finish line last year, none arrived within the time limit, which made them DNFs. And that’s not at all unusual for the class.
This year, the SCORE Baja 1000 is a point to point race that starts in Ensenada and finishes in La Paz. That route stretches 1,134 miles along the peninsula starting on November 14.
“We felt it appropriate to sponsor this team of eager enthusiasts who are following in the wheeltracks of Volkswagen desert racers over the past 50 years,” said Pietro Zolino, Chief Communications Officer for VW’s North American Region. “We’re looking forward to tracking ProjectBaja.com’s progress over the course of the event and wish them luck!”