P: Evan Klein

However, after we belt in and hook up the breathing tubes that supply us with filtered air, it’s obvious in the first thousand feet that the Project Baja Bug is a Lexus compared with the single-seater. It rolls over the trail crumble with far more absorption, meaning the Super Awfuls are a lot less awful, and the steering fidgets less and takes less input to hold the course. We catch the same air at the whoop, but I’m able to keep my foot in it and charge up the next rise with some real momentum.
With a full steel body to propel, plus another human body, plus a tool stash, a pair of sand rails, and a floor jack, the little 65-horse 1600 peashooter has its work cut out. Second-gear sections in the single-seater become first-gear dig-outs in the Beetle. On the real Baja, there can be grades so steep that even first gear is too tall and reverse may be the only way. As you drive along, your brain’s central processor works at max, making zillions of decisions per second. Slight left to avoid that rock, now a bit right, now straight, now left; put the right wheels on top of that rut rather than in it; a little gas here, maybe a downshift; less speed over this hump and then back on the throttle. And so on, for 30-plus hours.
“Building the car was the easy part,” said McGuckin, who budgeted $20,000 for running Baja and planned to take 10 people, including three driving teams. Compared with the pioneering 1967 run of Meyers and Mangels—the two of them plus whatever spares, fuel, and bug juice Old Red could carry—the modern Baja is a game of logistics as much as a race, and a Class 11 Beetle is cheap only by the modern yardstick of today’s bonkers racing budgets.