1968 VW: Next Level

    This Baja Bug Is An Evolutionary Event

    Matt EmeryPhotographer, Writer

    Thanks to his dad, 30-year old Nick Underwood has had a long-time love affair with VWs. In fact, back in the day Nick’s dad had a Baja Bug featured in an issue of the sadly now-defunct Hot VW’s magazine. Underwood said he wanted a Baja Bug, but he wanted to take his bug to “the next level.”

    When we saw his 1968, we knew he had done that and more, and that we wanted to keep the family tradition alive by shooting a feature of his VW for DS+OR. The differences between father and son’s Bugs, however, are huge, starting, but not ending with, the engine.

    The elder Underwood’s Bug had a VW engine, probably even a hot one, but Nick’s would have a bit more juice in that he went with a Chevrolet LS1. And it’s not even a stock LS1 as mods such as cam, head, and valve work were performed, and a Holley EFI system and a K&N air filer were added. A FAST fuel system gets the go-juice from the fuel cell to the LS quickly and easily.

    That’s all impressive until you look at the handbuilt exhaust system. It’s a work of art that was painstakingly welded up by Giannini Metal Designs of Cherry Valley, California. All told, the engine should be producing around 500 horses, which is a lot, so it needed a good transaxle. Underwood found it with the Dave Folts-built Mendeola unit. Any Mendeola transaxle is a true race-capable piece; as are the Summers Brothers axles and CVs that connect it with the Pro-Am hubs.

    Yep, the competition-legal parts continue with the suspension and frame as Underwood went big when it counted. Once Underwood had built the 1 ¾-inch chromoly full-tube chassis, he had a custom A-arm front end built and designed by Woodruff Custom Fabrication of Redlands, California. The spindles are also custom, fully boxed Woodruff units built with 2-inch hollow snouts. The front shocks are custom-built and designed by Walker Evans Racing. The 2.5 internal bypass coilovers feature Eibach springs, while outside it’s all Pro-Am as 2-inch hubs and four-piston brakes complete the front suspension.

    Underwood built the long trailing arms that again utilize Eibach-equipped Walker Evans coilovers but they’re joined by Fox 2.5 bypass units. In keeping with the same (but not), the rear hubs are again Pro-Am—this time a pair of Wilwood four-piston brakes have been installed.

    Walker was again called upon as 15-inch Walker Evans Racing beadlocks were shod with 33x10.5R15 BFG KO2 tires and stationed one per corner.

    The full steel body was prepped and painted by the multi-talented Underwood, who really likes red (his tow vehicle is red too) applied the fire-engine red and then added 30-inch Tough-Light LED radius to the roof and 10-inch T-L LED straight unit to the pushbar. One thing we really like about this car is that it looks like a Baja Bug, albeit one that has huge suspension pieces and an engine that looks to be about the size of a Smart car hanging off the back of it.

    Never roomy, the interior of the bug has been downsized due to the cage yet upgraded with the standard items: PRP seats and five-point harnesses, a Rugged race radio and intercom, Lowrance GPS and a PCI Fresh air system. The custom aluminum dash has been covered with material and a set of Auto Meter instruments installed. There’s a Grant steering wheel and a Pro-Am shifter too.

    So, seven years after telling his dad about his plans to go small bigly, Underwood says he couldn’t be prouder of the results. He sends out special thanks to family (dad) and good friends “Woody” Woodruff and “Danny G” Giannini, who he says were a big help in getting this VW ready for the dirt.

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