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What is a VW Baja Bug and how to build one?

What is a VW Baja Bug?

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about the VW Baja Bug and how to build one yourself. If you like a bumpy road, then the Baja Bug is definitely your kind of vehicle. 

What is a Baja Bug? 

The Baja Bug is an original Volkswagen Beetle that has been converted to drive off-road. They are mainly used in the open desert, on beaches, and in sand dunes. You often spot them in forests and wooded areas. A Baja Bug driver is keen on adventure. You can easily recognize a Baja Bug by the higher bodywork and the exposed engine. 

The Baja Bug has its origins in southern California. It was an inexpensive answer to the successful sand rail or dune buggies. It was Gary Emory who created the first vehicle back in 1968. In the early days before fiberglass body panels became available on the market, Baja enthusiasts and racers simply made their own modifications to both the body and mechanicals of an old VW to develop a machine suited for off-road events and races. 

Typically for Baja Bugs is that the fenders and front and rear aprons of the vehicle would be partially cut away to allow more ground clearance and suspension travel. 

Driving a Baja Bug will get you an insane amount of attention. The vehicle has an exposed engine, no mufflers or emissions equipment of any kind. This is truly a performance beast. Usually, there is room in the trunk for the spare tire.

One of the biggest advantages of owning a Baja Bug is that you don’t have to be a mechanical wizard to fix something. The VW Beetle was designed to be extremely utilitarian. The Baja Beetle takes this to a new level as you remove everything you don’t need in the vehicle (like the bonnet, the floor mats, the seat cushions, and the back seats). There are no radiators and heaters. You have to strip this car to the bone (as you can see in this picture below).

The Baja Bug interior is stripped.
The Baja Bug interior.

Baja Bugs for sale

There are many Baja Bugs for sale, you just need to find them. You’ll find a couple of them on Ebay. Their price goes from $1,600 to $18,000. They are really cheap!

How to build a Baja Bug yourself

If you are a handyman, you’ll be able to build a Baya Bug yourself. It isn’t that difficult and it can be done in a weekend with the right preparation and tools. To do this job you’ll need 4 jack stands, a floor jack, a socket set and ratchet, sprint bars, a new bumper for front, larger wheels and tires for the Baja Bug, a large hammer, a chisel, masking tape, and safety glasses. 

Step 1: remove the wheels

Loosen the wheels’ lug nuts. Raise the Beetle with a floor jack and lower it onto jack stands at all four corners. Now remove the four wheels.

Step 2: remove the engine cover and rear bumper

To do this, you’ll need to remove the bolts that hold the hinges for the cover to the body. The bumper is held on with brackets that bolt to the chassis and are removed with a socket.

Step 3: remove the rear fenders and running boards

Remove the bolts that hold the rear fenders to the body. Remove the bolts that hold the side running boards on. Remove the fender beading between the fenders and the body and set it aside for later use.

Step 4: remove wires and undo the throttle cable

Remove the wires that go to the taillights and undo the throttle cable that goes to the carburetors. Unbolt the engine tin that surrounds the engine in the engine bay. These trim pieces are bolted on.

Step 5: cut off the rear apron

Use a Sawzall or angle grinder to cut off the rear apron (this is the rear bodywork below the engine bay of the vehicle). 

Step 6: remove the engine

Be careful during this step. Remove the engine from the engine bay. The motor is bolted to the gearbox and is also held in with a cross-member at the rear of the engine bay.

Step 7: cut the fenders to shape

Use masking tape to mark off the shape that you want the fenders to be after they are cut. Now, use a jigsaw to cut the fenders that you marked. Keep in mind that you should leave enough bolt holes so that you can bolt the fenders back to the Beetle body.

Step 8: remove the welds

Remove the welds for the channel that holds the engine to the body gasket, which is located on the inside of the engine bay. You can use a chisel and a hammer to do this. Cut the material off from the channel downward with the Sawzall. Use a grinder to clean up the cuts and then paint the inside of the engine bay with spray paint. Apply the paint about 10 inches from the surface in smooth back-and-forth motions.

Step 9: reinstall the Baja Bug engine

Reinstall the engine, rewire the taillights and reconnect the throttle cable to the carburetors.  Most of the Baja Bugs have a 1600cc or a 1800cc engine. 

The VW Baja Bug engine is exposed.
The Baja Bug engine is always exposed.

Step 10: put the wheels back on the Bug

Put the wheels back on the Beetle and lower the car. 

Parts for your conversion

In case you need air cooled VW parts for your Baja Bug conversion, visit our parts section for more information. Submit your parts request and it will be sent to multiple parts suppliers so that you get the best offer.

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6 Comments
  1. Do you know where I can get a baja bug parts catalog

    Reply
    • Hello Frank, try your luck here: pacificcustoms.com

      Reply
  2. HELLO I HAVE A 1968 VW……RUNS GOOD……..GOOD BODY.NEEDS SMALL INTERIOR WORK……….WHAT IS IT WORTH?…..MANY THANKS

    Reply
  3. HELLO I HAVE A 1968 VW……….WHAT IS IT WORTH ?……RUNS GOOD………….GOOD BODY…….NEEDS A LITTLE INTERIOR WORK………MANY THANKS

    Reply

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