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Podium Prep Service Baja Bug - Wunderbar - Masterpiece In Metal

Posted in Features on April 6, 2015
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Photographers: Boyd Jaynes

To many, the Baja Bug represents a nostalgic, bygone era in off-roading. I personally had a 5/1600 and loved it even after I wadded it up prerunning the 500 many, many years ago. I really miss that car.

We say this not to demean the current crop of Class 5 racers who are still out there running the beloved Bugs, but the fact remains that the sport has evolved so much over the years that the 5’s should almost be considered a vintage class.

The silhouette may seem familiar, but this Baja Bug is an all-new creation.

Evolution through racing (and rule changes) has taken vehicles such as the Trophy Truck and Class 1’s and 10’s from humble beginnings to where they are today. But the Baja Bug? Due to many reasons, it is still much as it has been for the past 50 years.

Then, Jason Dudley of Podium Prep Service got a hold of this ’97 Volkswagen Beetle. What he built is nothing short of transformational. Volkswagen built the new Beetles as an homage to the car that put them on the map. The old bugs have been called the most sold car ever, and most of us who are over 50 probably owned one at one time or another. They did have their downsides, but they were fun, easy to work on, and inexpensive to operate. They were also a ton of fun in the dirt.

Having been the shop foreman at Dale Dondel’s Racer Engineering, Dudley knew how to take this newer Bug and turn it into a prerunner that has all of the fun that the old Bugs had, as well as turn it into something that features everything that a very off-road–capable vehicle should have. It has up-to-date suspension and performance, a killer appearance, and is just VW enough to make us old-timers take a long appreciative look.

A King bumpstop ensures that even in the biggest hits, the beautiful A-Arms are protected.

He began by custom designing a fully tubed chassis. The front suspension features not only custom A-arms and ProAm boxed spindles, but King 2.5 coilover shocks with 3.5 King bypass shocks as well. Total wheel travel is 20 inches. Braking is done with ProAm 13-inch rotors that are clamped with ProAm six-piston calipers.

Rear suspension features custom made boxed trailing arms along with King 2.5 coilovers with King 4.0 bypass shocks. Again, it’s ProAm’s six-piston calipers and 13-inch rotors that handle the braking chores.

ProAm was also the choice for the wheels as their 17x8 Forged Race Wheels have been equipped with BFGoodrich Baja KR (37x12.50x17) tires.

If you were hoping for VW power (as were we), then you may be a bit disappointed. Power actually comes in the form of a mid chassis-mounted 442ci Ford V-8. Featuring fuel injection that is controlled by a Life Racing ECU, the Chris Patton Racing engine puts out a healthy 630 horses. A dual UMP air cleaner feeds the air to a Wilson billet throttle body/intake manifold before being burned. Once smoked, the gases are then exited through a set of custom Big Dawg Kody Kirch Stainless Steel headers.

Hiding beneath the bodywork is the Chris Patton Racing–built 442 Ford engine. Bolstered by Life Racing ECU that controls the fuel injection along with a Wilson billet throttle body/intake manifold fed by air cleaners. The spent fuel is routed out by a set of custom Big Dawg Stainless Steel headers. All told, this engine produces 630 dyno-true horses.

An Albins transmission gets the power to the rearend while CBR handles the radiator and trans cooling chores.

We know what you’re thinking: This doesn’t look like a Beetle. But trust us, beneath the custom aluminum panels, it is. Dudley and his PPS crew did the majority of the work, who along with Aaron Kuykendall and Gabe Naranjo added the many beautiful touches to the exterior of the Bug. Touches such as the sculpted intake/cooling scoop that doubles as a roof rack/mount for the KC HiLites HID Pods are truly inspired. This car looks good; there’s no other way to describe it.

With the bodywork done, Mike Skaug of Hemet, California, added the DuPont Audi Satin Gray along with the black accents.

Would you believe that the power widows still work? They do, though the interior is not one that the VW designers may recognize, as it’s been redone in race chic. The dash is a custom unit that not only houses a Motec dash logger, a 10-inch Lowrance GPS/Pioneer stereo system with hands-free talk and backup camera and a huge switch panel, it’s all covered in black Ferrari leather. Stylishly efficient, to say the least. Armando’s Custom Upholstery in San Jacinto, California, did the stitching.

Done by a major hot rod upholstery shop, the interior has all the off-road tricks needed, and a few that only a high-end custom would have.

The Sparco Evo III seats and Sparco steering wheel color match the door panels and headliner, again thanks to Armando’s. There’s even cupholders in the custom center console! An Albins floor shifter and Crow harnesses add off-road cred, but the most interesting thing is that Dudley is using the Parker Pumper fresh air system to pressurize the cab.

Don Christianson at American Wire Harness is responsible for the intricate wiring found on the car, though Dudley had a hand in that process too.

Dudley and his Hemet-based Podium Prep Service have taken what was known as a chick car, and turned it into one that owner John Van Hattem can be proud to drive. It may have taken them three years to produce, but this “Baja Bug” is one for the new millennium.

BuildSheet
Podium Prep Service “Baja Bug”

Chassis
Manufacturer: Podium Prep Service
Wheelbase: 129 inches
Overall Length: 211 inches
Overall Height: 81 inches
Track Width: 92 inches
Weight: 4,360 pounds

Engine/Drivetrain
Manufacturer: Ford 442ci
Builder: Chris Patton
Horsepower: 630
Torque: 580
Induction: Fuel Injected
Intake Manifold: Wilson
Ignition: Life Racing ECU
Air Filter: UMP
Exhaust: Big Dawg Custom Stainless
Cooling: CBR
Plumbing: XRP by Jason Dudley
Wiring: American Wire Harness
Transmission: Albins

Suspension
Front Suspension: A-Arm 20 inches of travel
Rear Suspension: Trailing Arm 20 inches of travel
Shocks/Front: King 2.5 Coilover Shocks, 3.5 King Bypass Shocks
Shocks/Rear: King 2.5 Coilover Shocks, 4.0 King Bypass Shocks

Brakes
Front:ProAm 6-piston with 13-Inch Rotors
Rear: ProAm 6-piston with 13-Inch Rotors

Wheels/Tires
Wheels: 17x8 ProAm
Tires: 37x12.50x17 BFGoodrich Baja T/A KR

Exterior
Bodywork: 1997 Volkswagen Beetle with Custom Aluminum Hood and Rear Deck and Fenders
Paint/Graphics: DuPont Audi Satin Gray

Lighting
Front: KC HiLites HID Pods
Rear: Laser Star LED

Interior
Done By: Armando’s
Steering Wheel: Sparco
Seats: Sparco Evo III
Harnesses: Crow
Dash: Custom Aluminum Wrapped with Ferrari Leather
Gauges: Motec Display
Shifter: Albins
GPS: 10-inch Lowrance
Radio/Intercom: Pioneer, Kenwood 110 watt Race Radio
Fresh Air: Parker Pumper

Additional Information
proamracing.com
bfgoodrichtires.com
kchilites.com
liferacing.com
wilsonmanifolds.com
cbr-performance.com
Albinsgear.com.au
sparcousa.com
armandoscustom.com

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