BARSTOW, California — Last month, Volkswagen celebrated five decades of desert racing when the flag fell at the 50th Baja 1000. Ever since the first running of the sprawling race in 1967, then known as the Mexican 1000, Volkswagen has been on the starting line. It’s been at the finish line as well, with a VW-powered buggy completing the 950-mile sprint from Tijuana to La Paz. As part of the semi-centennial celebrations, VW rolled out three dusty, race-weathered Baja VWs for a day of fun in the desert, just outside of Barstow.
In this industry, reference points are crucial. For the past six years, my most valuable reference point is my dearly departed 1974 Volkswagen Super Beetle. Covered in fading primer and poorly-painted silver trim pieces, the slightly rusty Super was, at some point in its life, shoddily converted to a Baja bug, wearing yards of booger welds and sharp edges from a pair of dull metal shears.
I loved that car more than I should have, honestly. It was a Baja Bug by loose definition only, with a crude, hand-formed engine cage out back and a strange angled bullbar jutting from the front bumper. It rode high, but only because the original builder added longer springs but neglected to swap out the struts, rendering the front-end nearly unmanageable under braking. Inside, the rear seat was ripped out in place of a rough vinyl-covered shelf, while the two front passengers made do with faded, pungent seats unbolted from a Ford Aerostar.