Taking on the Baja 1000 in a stock 1970 Volkswagen Bug
Three driving teams and 14 people in seven chase vehicles guided No. 1137 down the Baja peninsula on an epic adventure.
Emme HallFormer editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
When Project Baja asked me to co-drive in the 2017 SCORE International Baja 1000 in their Class 11 race car, I didn't really know what to expect. Sure, I've got my own desert buggy, and I've raced around the world from the desert of California to the dunes of the Sahara. But racing 1,000 off-road miles from Ensenada to La Paz, Mexico over of some of the roughest terrain known to man in a stock 1970 Volkswagen Bug? Yeah, that was new to me.
Class 11 may just be the most beloved class in all of desert racing. Everyone flips out over the snorting, high-horsepower trophy trucks, but stock, air-cooled Bugs are what started it all when the race, then known as the NORRA Mexican 1000, took off from Tijuana in 1967.
Since then, race vehicles have gone from those 65-horsepower Bugs to million-dollar, 600-horsepower trophy trucks and everything in between. Regardless of racing class, everyone respects Class 11 for the sheer grit, determination and will it takes to pilot these little Beetles all the way to the finish line.
The Baja 1000 is a unique endurance race, where all 37 different classes of race cars, trucks and buggies compete on the same course. In 2017, there were 404 entries, with only 203 getting an official finish. The overall winner completed all 1,134 miles of the race in 19 hours, 53 minutes and 36 seconds, but it took Project Baja -- spoiler alert -- over 58 hours to run the same course.
And even though car 1137 is technically considered a stock vehicle, Project Baja worked within the race rules to build a car that was as tough as possible.
Stock running and reverse lights. Stock turn signals
Baja Designs auxiliary lighting
On the way to La Paz our dear No. 1137 lost reverse, got stuck, waded rivers, got flat tires -- two flats at the same time at one point -- and the team had to replace a steering box and an alternator. Nobody ate or slept, we just pushed on relentlessly to the finish line.
Project Baja didn't win, or place. Heck, they officially timed out of the race and were DNF -- Did Not Finish. But the race brought the team closer together in a way that only challenges can. Together, the team never gave up, never wavered. The goal was to cross the finish line, regardless of time, and I'm so honored I got to see them do it.
We took our time with this video, hence the late publish date, but I encourage you to sit down with a frosty beverage when you have 30 minutes free. Come along with us as we attempt the impossible. It's 1,000 grueling off-road miles in a nearly 50-year-old car with one goal in mind.