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Author: Subject:  Advice on first Baja Bug Build
Learner Dubber

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posted on June 19th, 2014 at 07:56 PM
Advice on first Baja Bug Build

Hello, I am new to these forums, so please be gentle with my lack of VW experience.
I am in the planning process to build a Road registered Baja Bug. I live near Stockton beach (NSW), and intend to build a car that will see significant use (more that 80%) on the Stockton sand dunes.
As this is my first Baja Bug build (or any build for that matter), I need it to be robust and be cost effective, but most importantly a safe vehicle for the dunes.
This Baja is likely to be used by my kids (when they turn 18), on sand dunes so I want vehicle to be capable of working on the dunes but also forgiving in the hands of a inexperienced driver.
I would appreciate your comments on the best donor car and modifications that I should be looking for to meet my requirements.

Thoughts so far:
1968-71 VW Beetle (to avoid complex ADR requirements)

1300cc 1500cc Engine (not too powerful for inexperienced drivers, but still gets you around)

Suspension - From a robustness and reliability perspective I would like a King Pin Front and Swing Axle Rear. However, I have read that swing Axles are notorious for roll overs - is this still the case for driving on sand dunes or just high speed turns? Would fitting a Camber Compensator make a swing axle safer in the sand? Does IRS provide a much better ride and safety in the sand?

Tyres Open to suggestions given the high usage on the sand dunes. However, I do not want Engineering Certificate to be overly expensive.

Brakes Given extensive use in sand, what is better disk or Drum? Does it matter?

Body Lift Is it sufficient to adjust rear torsion bar and cut/rotate front beam torsion spring? Or is additional work required?

I would appreciate your comments and suggestions. This will be my first buggy build, and I want it to be cost effective, but most of all a safe vehicle for the dunes.

Thankyou in advance for your feedback.
A.k.a.: Chris Leete
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posted on June 19th, 2014 at 09:38 PM

G'day Doko.

Few things. Your choice of donor is good, particularly if you can find an semi auto donor, as they had IRS rear and you avoid the swing axle. Be aware that any post 68' bug is not king and link front end, its ball joint. Much the muchness if you aren't racing. Being a baja, when you 'raise' the rear you'll certainly see the positive camber come to play. Many people have run with it with no worries mind you, not me personally.

1600cc engines are easier for parts. Overpowering from a 1600cc is DEFINITELY not a problem. Actually, i got a 1600 in mine and finding it to be heavily underpowered but my baja is a fat sod and the soft stuff really makes it bog down.

Tyres - general rule of thumb is that street tyres are the best tyres for sand. I run AT's, most say to avoid MT's but on the occasion i have heard others recommend MT's. Down to personal opinions. Althoguh there are limits to what % tyre width etc you can go in excess of factory, vw's are fortunate to have their own exception cause allowing up to 8 inch rims on back, and 6?? on front i think it was.

Brakes - Either has been used offroad. Discs have all round benefits regardless if street or offroad. Ball joint fronts have factory discs available. Rears i run type 3 drums that were a straight swap, although with 31 inch rear tyres they lack in the stopping power department for hand brake. You cna make em work, but gotta reef it.

Body lift - Yup, that'll do! heck, stock bug height is pretty generous compared to most 4wd's with their dirty rear diffs hanging down!

Baja's don't require engineering approval. If you want to be fully legit about certification, ensure when you purchase a baja kit, it comes with an approved manufacturer's badge (such as cheetah, sandpiper, manx etc). An approved manufacturer's body kit is mearly a fit on and if you comply with the manufacturer's instructions (DOT should have their requirements) you are fine to go about it. This generally entails full width bumpers, mud flaps etc. Proving an old body kit is in fact an approved manufacturer's kit from back in the day can be hard as badges could be long gone, this was my senario. you 'can' register it as a bug and simply get about with little chance of harassment as no one knows anything about these little cars really. But thats only if you get desperate.

If you want a cost effective baja, you could start off with a plain Jane beetle, fit a baja kit & front/rear bars, adjust rear (free), run fatter / taller rubbers on the back and volla. you'd have plenty enough to have fun.

(_!_/) (_!_/)
69' baja: kombi box, thing spindles, irs, disc front, type 3 rear drums, 2 inch lift kit, 31x10 rears. :tu:
New engine in process: 94mm p&bs, 74mm C/w chomol Crank, 35.5x39 SP heads, turbo. Wierd combo, hopeful torque monsta!
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posted on June 20th, 2014 at 07:14 AM

IRS will be your safest option, as the Swing axle rears tuck when you start to raise the rear end, IRS will give you more lift before this becomes a problem. Its also easier to get a kombi gearbox to help ratios with the big wheels on the rear eg 1600 kombi box (3 rib)

Balljoint front end wont be an issue, been running one offroad for years now and they are nicer on road too. With king and link front ends yes these are easier to modify for offroad however the maintenance on these is slightly higher. Balljoint also offers disc brakes on most front ends.

Youve also got the type 181 (VW thing) spindles and arms (which fit ball joint beams) which will raise the front end using oem parts which engineers generally dont have an issue with.

a lift kit will give you increase guard to tyre clearance, and a 2" will see a kombi box fit in with minimal dramas. at 2" your engineer wont have a problem. however if you go any taller then 2" yu will have to rename the lift to a chassis stiffener :smilegrin:

tyres are a tricky subject, I have seen 1600 powered manxs with mudders not have an issue and others diggin themselves out all the time, All terrains are more forgiving on road and perform well in the sand. Some guys stay clear of tyres with sharp edges such as normal passenger car tyres which allow more sliding in the sand which can be good and bad.

brakes , discs I find are less maintenance and generally give you better braking however properly adjusted drums arent an issue either but do fill up with sand and water and tend to fade fast when full of water

look into availability of rims in different stud patterns as your brakes will determine this wether wide five or beetle four stud, generally speaknig going to discs makes it easier to change your stud pattern...theres a lot more options available

then when the body rusts out turn it into a beach buggy!!! shedding all that weight will add fun factor for once the kids get a bit of experience

thought you could only play up to the high tide mark on stockton these days? no more driving on dunes?

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posted on June 20th, 2014 at 12:38 PM

Also have a look at for some idea's.


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posted on June 20th, 2014 at 04:46 PM

Hi Doko, welcome to the forum and welcome to the small piece of insanity that is having a baja bug.

At the risk of poo pooing on some of your plan, Stockton dunes is no longer open for public use :( . There is a small RV area (which is about enough to give you a taste, but is pail compared to the dunes) I know , I cry a little bit every time I say it too.

Your big limiting factor will always be your budget of course, but lets talk about a nice functional no frills baja. Try and buy a body that already has already been converted and has its papers, As Chris said most baja's will just run around just registered as beetles. I have met HEAPs of people (including mechanics) that were under the impression that they where a factory style of VW. Let me just point out that this is still not technically legal, but don't despair it's not that hard to build one. There are just guide lines that you will have to discuss with your engineer, each one always has there own take on things.

Engineering aside,

* Late body shells are far superior to early shells, for baja particularly the bigger windows and door latches that stay shut when the body flexes.
* IRS is nice and if you can afford it, it also gives you the option of putting in a 1600 kombi box. This will really awaken a baja (particularly a small engine) and also give you the option to move on to bigger cv's, axles and travel, but once again cost will add up taking this route.
* early model swing axle gearboxs will have short ratios for big tyres and short axles to keep them under your guards, but will only last you so long as the extra load will wear them down. BUT..... make for a much lighter build than IRS. A purpose built swing axle box will still be very good in a baja as long as you don't want to go too high. As far as the ''tuck in'' goes, fat square tyres seem to negate this somewhat (Going by your talk of small engines, you're not hitting corners to hard anyways)
* Link pin front ends will net more travel if modified for such, but are a lot more maintenance and lifted and worn link pins with big tyres are sketchy on the road at best.
* Ball joints are much friendlier,( if something is loose. pop out the joint, new joint in) happy days. The thing front ends will also net you an few extra inches fully bolt in.
* The drum brakes on the VW will work on a very light baja when looked after well, I would recommend at least type 3 brakes on the rear. Drums do wear fast in the sand though. (as a note generally drums are lighter than disks)
* late model standard discs on the front are a good front brake and then upgrade the rear with either a type 3 drum or a custom rear disc (don't just buy and empi kit here, they are not much better than late drums)
* my bang for buck tyre combo for a nice baja would go 8.5 x 27r14 front 5-6'' rim. 10.5x 30r15 rear 6-7'' rim
* Engine wise, particularly for the sand that is on this part of the coast. You will need as much power as you can get your hands on (Queensland sand is MUCH less of a power drainer) A good 1600 at least, a mild 1835 or 1916 will see your much happier, Or even a stock T4 motor. We are still only talking 70-80HP here (you and the kids still won't get into much trouble with this)
* A body lift is not a bad idea for a budget baja, it will keep your fenders out of tyres way, but there are other ways to do so. Stick with 2'' only and if you build it yourself keep it light. This will also stiffen the body quite a bit.

If I was to start a new baja build tomorrow it would go-
- 68-69 body and IRS pan (or converted pan)
- 1800 kombi box, kombi cv's and conversion stubs
- thing front end
- stock front discs
- big rear discs
- 2ltr T4 motor
- wheels/ tyres as noted above but step up to 31''

On a budget-
- 68-69 body, swing axle (convert to an early box if I can find a good one)
- thing front end
- stock front drums
- T3 rear drums
- mild 1835
- wheels/tyres as noted above

Lastly get a copy of baja bugs and buggies by Jeff Hibbard, On a budget this is still THE go to book for baja building info.


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Learner Dubber

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posted on June 30th, 2014 at 08:06 AM

Thankyou very much for everybody's advice. It has certainly helped me understand the specific needs and options of a sand Baja.
The search for a suitable donor car has commenced!
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posted on June 30th, 2014 at 04:33 PM

This s my first Baja project. It's a 70 honey brown 1300 that's was previously done as a budget Baja by a previous owner and then left for a while after the engine was taken out and put into an other VW. I am doing a budget minor re-build on it. Has a new 1300DP on swing axles. Coil overs in the rear. Getting 205/75/14 ATs on the front. Engines getting a few bling bits. Big light bar with old Skool KC lights on the roof. buggy whip. tidy up the interior and get it registered.

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posted on April 6th, 2015 at 02:40 PM

Cool Baja.
Any further progress?

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posted on April 6th, 2015 at 03:49 PM

New owner now!?!? :spin: 

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