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2007 Piranha Sandrail - Home Made

Part Street Bike, Part Mid-Engine Buggy

Jay KopycinskiPhotographer, Writer

From a certain perspective, sand is glorious. This is evidenced by the simple fact that shooting a tire-full skyward can put a grin a mile wide on your face. For decades, motorsports enthusiasts have put most everything on wheels in the sand.

Robert Huerta lives in Litchfield Park, Arizona, and is one of those guys who likes playing in the dirt. With his faithful VW buggy showing its age, he turned to friend Skip Nippress to fab up a go-fast sand car. The formula for the build was a two-seat buggy with healthy power and light in weight.

Starting with a stack of steel tubing, Skip went to pulling on the bender in his home shop. From that effort, the chassis arose and was constructed on a jig table. Much of the structure is built from 1.25x14-gauge wall tubing and the final wheelbase ended up at 115 inches.

The build centered on a chosen powerplant.

A wrecked 2000 Suzuki Hayabusa motorcycle contributed its motor in the form of 165 horses of sand-slinging power. The stock Hayabusa tranny was used and a custom chaindrive setup was combined with a rear-axle carrier to get the engine power to the ground.

Bob spends time in both sand dunes and running parts of the Sonoran Desert near his home. As such, the car was designed with a long-travel suspension to provide a smooth ride for the rail that weighs a bit less than 900 pounds.

All of the parts such as the spindles, steering knuckles, rear-wheel carriers, drive system, etc., were manufactured by Skip in his home garage. Suspension design can be credited to another of their friends, Bill Ford.

Bob wanted a color that was vibrant and stood out well. His choice of tint was Safety Yellow. The glossy powdercoating was shot by Arizona Powder Coat in Phoenix. The chassis and a number of the mechanical components were coated to match. The A-arms, steering shaft, and shifter were powdercoated in "chrome."

Run your eyes across the photos on these pages and we think you'll appreciate the design of a rail that's built to be light and nimble. We got the chance to slip behind the wheel and stomp the gas ourselves. The engine has punch and screams to redline at about 11k rpm. We now know that sand smiles and playing in this car is a blast!

VEHICLE: '07 Piranha Sandrail
OWNER: Bob Huerta
CHASSIS: 1.25x14-in gauge custom
ENGINE: 1300cc Suzuki Hayabusa
DRIVETRAIN: Custom chaindriven live axle
FRONT SUSPENSION: Long-travel, unequal-length
REAR SUSPENSION: Long-travel, five-link
STEERING: Rack-and-pinion
BRAKES: Single-disc caliper
TIRES/WHEELS: Ridge Runner/Padla Trak/BFG
Mud Terrains, Douglas Wheels
INTERIOR: Aluminum belly pan,
Renegade suspension seats,
Crow five-point harnesses
OTHER PARTS: Aluminum fuel cell, PRP
radiator, custom