Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Why the Beetle?
The Beetle was popular in less-developed areas of the world because of its rear-mounted, air-cooled engine, flat floorpan and rugged, torsion bar suspension. In fact, advertising of the period touted the fact that the Beetle was so watertight that it floated. Those same attributes made the Beetle the perfect choice for the basis of an off-road vehicle as evidenced by the car's success both then and now in the Baja 1000 off-road race.
Basic modifications were simple. A lightweight, narrowed fiberglass front end was fitted after the sheetmetal from the firewall forward was removed. The rear was given a similar treatment that left the engine totally exposed to aid in cooling. A tubular steel cage was fitted to the body and floorpan for protection of engine and occupants. Shortened fiberglass fenders both front and rear meant removal of the Beetle's distinctive running boards and the likely addition of more tubular steel parts in their place. The adjustable torsion bar front and rear suspensions standard on the car allowed the ride height to be raised and heavy-duty off-road tires and wheels fitted. Longer shock absorbers aided in the lifting of the body and increased the suspension travel.
The Baja Bug today
Though Baja Bugs have been greatly supplanted in recent years by tube-framed, purpose-built buggies known as sand rails , due to the slowly dwindling supply of suitable donor cars, they remain a popular choice in desert regions as few beaches in the US are open to vehicular traffic. Many are fitted with highly modified Volkswagen engines and a few homebuilt hybrids have Chevrolet Corvair, Porsche or even Subaru power out back. Customized roadgoing Baja Bugs remain fairly popular as well.
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