Not Just Another "53"
Even though we're primarily a truck magazine, each of us has come to respect and admire the off-road prowess of VW Bugs and their tube-chassis offspring. Compact dimensions make for a nimble vehicle, and a rear-mounted engine provides plenty of traction by placing weight over the rear wheels. Add in the smooth ride provided by four-wheel independent suspension and you've got a fun, versatile machine.
Darla Digby, of Hemet, California, knows all about it, as she's the proud owner of one of the most fun Bugs we've ever pointed a camera at. Together with her husband, Jeff, Darla set out to build a Bug that would not only be fun but also fast, smooth, and comfortable.
The first step was to round up a suitable stock Bug that would serve as a starting point. Once found and purchased, the 1967 VW was turned over to Steve Griffith of Griffith Welding in San Jacinto, California. Steve created a complete tube chassis that integrates the old-school sheetmetal. The skin is vintage, but the heart is modern. The completed tube chassis runs from stem to stern and incorporates a rollcage, shock mounts, and a custom engine cage. After the tube work was finished, Steve tied the 'cage to the sheetmetal using custom-fitted, dimple-died connection plates.
The project's structural parts were all in place, but style and comfort weren't yet on board. Terry Allred, of Hemet, California, lent his time and talents to the body and paint department. The body was stretched 6 inches at the rear quarter-panels. Late-model door handles were put in place, as were power windows. Terry also integrated Trophy Truck hood scoops into the rear quarter-panels, and in this location they bear striking resemblance to the gill slits of a great white shark. The crowning touch was the paint and the "53" in homage to Herbie, the original Love Bug. Tons of Bug enthusiasts have emblazoned Herbie's immortal number on the front hatch, but Darla's Bug is unique because it can conquer treacherous terrain without needing Disney-style special effects to help it along.
This Bug and its owners love Baja. "We do several trips a year," Jeff told us. "We go 600 to 1,200 miles at a time with friends and family. We have our own chase truck and crew that meet us at different stops for refueling and repairs."
Split Mountain Gorge and Ocotillo Wells aren't in Baja, but they've both got real, live dirt that's perfect for showcasing this Bug's fun factor. Darla didn't hold back during our shoot, as the "sandstorm" photo on page 26 clearly shows.
It's fast, smooth, comfortable, and fun. It's the Baja Love Bug and it's not just another "53."
Vehicle: 1967 VW Bug
Owner/Hometown: Darla Digby/Hemet, CA
Engine: 2.0L GM Ecotec from Turnkey Engine Supply
Transmission: VW 091 “Bus box” with Weddle internals, custom adapter mates the Bus box to the Ecotec engine
Front suspension: Custom front chromoly beam 12 inches wider than stock, Foddrill trailing arms 4 inches longer and 1.5 inches wider than stock, Foddrill combo spindles, Fox coilover and bypass shocks, 14 inches of wheel travel
Rear suspension: Kartek “5x7” trailing arms, Kartek hubs, Fox coilover and bypass shocks, 17.5 inches of wheel travel
Tires/Wheels: 33x9.50R15 BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A front, 33x10.50R15 BFG Baja T/A rear/BTR bead locks
Other stuff: Front-to-rear rollcage fabricated by Steve Griffith of Griffith Welding, 1-1/2-inch 4130 chromoly main tubes, paint and bodywork including rear body stretch by Terry Allred, steering is a combination of a SaCo Magnum rack and a Char-Lynn power unit