Southern Comfort—Roy Ortega’s Swamp Scooter With A Big-Block And 38s

Trail’s End

"It's loud, fast, and mixes easily with water," is how the author described this particular swamp buggy back in the June 1985 issue of Four Wheeler, and we couldn't agree more. For the uninitiated, swamp buggy races are endemic to Florida and feature vehicles purpose-built for navigating the deep mud and boggy waters at impressively high rates of speed. Some buggies closely resemble stock vehicles, while others, like Roy Ortega's big block-powered machine dubbed "Southern Comfort," look more like muddy missiles with tractor tires.

Roy, a 29-year-old carpenter and mechanic from Florida, used a combination of 0.090- and 0.040-inch-wall aluminum (with T-bar for reinforcement) to craft the body of Southern Comfort, which he anchored to a 5-inch channel-steel frame. The buggy's boat-like upturned nose, narrow body, and 12-foot wheelbase all helped it motor across the top of the water. When the buggy did make contact with the soupy substrate, BFGoodrich 13.6-38 (read: 5-foot-tall) tires, typically employed in rice paddies, were on deck to get the horsepower to the wet ground. Roy bored his 454 0.125 inches over, bringing the number of cubes to 482. Other upgrades to the powerhouse included cc'd, polished, and ported heads; a Crane cam and valvetrain; and Holley and Weiand handling the flow of fuel and air.

Horses were run from the engine to a Powerglide two-speed transmission with a 5,500-rpm stall speed and a homebuilt shifter. From there, a custom transfer case featuring double roller chains and brawny gears split the power between the buggy's axles. Each 2 1/2-ton military axle was held in place with a pair of gas-charged stabilizers and was filled with 6.0:1 gears, with a locker in the rear. Trail Master shocks and 2 1/2-ton leaf springs handled whatever bumps were doled out by the Florida swamps while Roy sat high and (mostly) dry in the cockpit shrouded by a 1 1/2-inch steel rollcage. His gauge cluster was comprised of oil and water temperature readouts from Stewart-Warner, which he told us were rarely scrutinized during races as the ride was "too fast and wild."

To this day, swamp buggies continue to draw crowds to the wetland race courses of Florida with high-horsepower, slime-slinging excitement. Let us know about your experiences with these magnificent machines and make sure to send a high-resolution image to if you have ever been or currently are the operator of a Florida Swamp buggy!

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