Way back in the day, who could’ve thought that the Volkswagen Beetle would become a staple of off-road racing? Going from cheap commuter car to sand-slinging speedster is something not many cars are capable of. But go these cars did, and they still do to this day. Proof of this comes from Ryan and Karibia Baillargeon’s 1965 Volkswagen Type 1, as seen at the Petersen Automotive Museum Extreme Conditions exhibit.
We reached out to the Baillargeons to find out more about the Bug and how it came to be. Ryan shared that it was his father who purchased the car in 1994, when Ryan was just 14 years old. “He wanted us to have fun exploring the deserts of Southern California,” explained Ryan.
The car wore down over time, eventually suffering broken suspension mounts and a blown engine. It stayed in storage from 1999 until 2016 when Ryan decided to give it another shot and restore it. However, he wasn’t going to stop at simply swapping out broken parts. “I knew it was time to commit to completely rebuilding the car,” he said.
With help from Andy Devercelly, owner of Major Performance Racing Engines, and Eric Deen, an expert on the 5/1600 Baja Bug class, Ryan got to work fixing up his Bug. “We spent one full year, about 1,000 man hours, completing the build,” said Ryan. “My goal was to have the car run modern components, but still keep the body original for the nostalgia factor.”
The Bug underwent its transformation. “We designed and built a new rear cage, one that let the transmission sit lower,” explained Ryan. “We reinforced the rear suspension mounting points and cycled it many times to maximize travel. On the front, we replaced the beams, arms, spindles, links, and shocks, and cycled it as well. We also upgraded the steering to power steering, which has been one of the best upgrades for the car.”
The guys swapped in a Major Performance dual port low compression 1600cc VW engine. It uses a Weber 48 double barrel carburetor. Mated to the engine is a Dave Folts VW racing transmission with Weddle components. Shocks are Fox 2.5-inch-diameter bypasses on the rear, and custom-valved Fox 2.0-inch-diameter smooth-bodies on the front.
The Bug gets traction from Yokohama tires on BTR wheels. A Fuel Safe 22-gallon tank stores the gasoline. Inside, two people sit in Beard seats with Simpson restraints. They communicate with a PCI intercom and breathe from a Parker Pumper fresh air system. Ryan has complete control of his Bug thanks to Jamar disc brakes and a Howe power steering setup. He also has visibility from HELLA lights and can monitor the Bug’s vitals with Autometer gauges.
The Bug has come out of the upgrades ready to race, and race it has. Its accomplishments include first place finishes in its class at the 2017 and 2018 NORRA Mexican 1000, as well as the 2019 NORRA 500. “We want to compete in more NORRA races in the future,” Ryan commented. “We might also race in the Mint 400 and some smaller races in northern Baja.”
As 2020 ends and 2021 begins, Ryan and Karibia can look forward to getting the Bug ready for another year of racing. Seeing their race-winning VW at the Petersen Automotive Museum was quite a treat, and we hope this Bug keeps the sport alive.