How to Build a Baja Bugby William Zane
The Volkswagen Bug is a popular starting point for a capable off-road version, which is commonly referred to as a Baja Bug. The Bug has a rear-engine layout that lends itself well to being used off-road. Converting a Bug to a Baja version can be done in a weekend with the right preparation and tools. Every Baja bug is different and is built to the owner's desires, so use your imagination when envisioning the end result.
Loosen the wheels' lug nuts. Raise the Bug with a floor jack and lower it onto jack stands at all four corners. Finish removing the wheels.
Remove the rear engine cover and the rear bumper. To remove the engine cover, 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.
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.
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.
Cut the rear apron (rear bodywork below the engine bay) off with a Sawzall or angle grinder. Leave about six inches between the engine bay opening and the cut line.
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.
Bolt the fenders back onto the body temporarily. Use masking tape to mark off the shape that you want the fenders to be after they are cut. You may want to consult photos of other Baja Bugs to get an idea of what you want. Remove the fender. Use a jig saw to cut the fenders to the shape that you marked. Leave enough bolt holes so that you can bolt the fenders back to the body.
Use a chisel and a hammer to remove the welds for the channel that holds the engine to the body gasket, which is on the inside of the engine bay. 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.
Reinstall the engine. Find a new place to install the taillights, since the backs of the fenders have been trimmed off. On Baja Bugs the taillights are usually mounted on the top edge of the engine bay opening. Rewire the taillights, and reconnect the throttle cable to the carburetors.
Tape off the shape that you want the front fenders to look like with masking tape. Use the jig saw to cut out the shape. Do not cut too close to the headlights.
Put the wheels back on the car and lower it the ground. Most Baja Bugs use larger wheels and tires, so this is a good time to install those as well. After that, you can install whatever accessories you want, such as sprint bars, bumpers and driving lights.
Items you will need
- Jack stands (x4)
- Floor jack
- Socket set and ratchet
- Sprint bars
- New bumper for front
- Larger wheels and tires for a VW Bug
- Sawzall or similar cutting instrument
- Large hammer
- Masking tape
- Safety glasses
- Baja Bugs and Buggies; Jeff Hibbard; 1983