My First Baja -


a guest article, by Searoy


My 1965 VW Baja recently died. I don't know if it is a broken valve spring, dropped valve or thrown rod. All I know is it made a God-awful racket for about 20 seconds and never started again.

Our last drive together was so much scarier than the first. Odd, since I was in control of her when she died, but when we met she was wild and untamed. I saw her sitting on the side of the road with a little white paper in the window. "For Sale $2250." I knew she had to be mine.

She was toothpaste green and dropped as low as she would go, riding on the bumpstops. A little dab of oil was under what I came to know as the #4. I knew she was too much, and needed a lot of loving care, but I figured it would all be worth it. She had no brakes, not even a hint of wanting to stop, and she bucked hard when I shifted, like she was trying to throw me, scare me away. She didn't signal left either. All of this I figured would be simple fixes.

$2,000 later she was mine.


The velour and vinyl interior was like new, except for a crack in the driver's seat. It even had a CD player, though the years of rough-riding had made it give up the ghost. An MTX speaker box with 8's and horns made a sound not unlike my mother-in-law, but it was music. It was all very nice once, but owners less-than sentimental for VWs had taken their toll and now she was in need of lots of attention.

First thing to fix was the brakes. There was no fluid in the tank, so I bought 4 quarts of the stuff. After adjusting the brakes all the way tight I filled her up and got a cheap brake bleeding kit at the local "Schlepp" Boys. 2 quarts of fluid later, I had a decent pedal. MY FIRST ACHIEVMENT! I backed off the brakes some and hit the road. She actually stopped without pumping the brakes 4 times! What a thrill.

2 weeks later I had to replace the shoes because I had them adjusted too tight. But I could STOP!

I did want discs though, so shelled out the cash for a disc kit. Come to find out they were welded spindles, and had a 4 lug pattern. What a disappointment. I had 5 lug EMPIs. An adapter kit was available, but wouldn't work with my rims until I could afford baja replacements, so the discs found a home in my garage.

Next to raise her up. I crawled under her and jacked her up. I had to use my wife's minivan's scissor jack since the hydraulic one I bought was too tall. Once I got her up and on stands I took a gander at the adjusters. The top looked OK, but I had never seen adjusters before so I didn't know what to look for. The bottom definitely didn't look like the top. It didn't have the screw going into the beam, only the bolt on the adjuster. I found a screw that fit and screwed it down tight, hoping it would do. Then I started adjusting up. Never knew you needed a breaker bar for allen wrenches. WD-40 was no help. 30 minutes later it was as far as it would go. Off the stands she came for a look-see.

She was a full 4" taller and I smiled a little as she stared up at the sky. Her tail was still riding low, but I figured a test drive was in order.

One step into the car and crashing down she came. She sat almost as low as she had at first. All that for a 1" lift. With a scatch of my head I raised her back up and saw nothing. After a drive to the local bug shop, the guy said the leaves had come off from the retainers and had rotated inside the bar. The only way to fix her now was to break open the beam and reset them.

Or I could buy a cheap set of coil-over shocks and move right along, and that's exactly what I did.

I knew this was a quick fix, but nothing on her was going to stay stock anyway. I wanted to raise her, but found out swing axles get dangerous if raised too far. Also found out that Ghia discs and Thing trailing arms only fit ball joints, leaving me no lift option besides turning.

I could lift the front by turning, but how to lift the back? I didn't want to mess with weird tire angles. After visiting the Da Bug site I had my answer. I would fit gear reduction boxes to my bug, and use a bus tranny for extra strength and lower gears. I always wondered if a bus swing plate would fit a bug, or could be welded up. I guess I'll never know.


I'm trading her for a '69 that has a good used motor being installed as we speak, and a better overall body. The interior and paint look worse, but it has everything I want, like ball-joint front and IRS rear, as well as a new clutch. So I guess I'm starting over.

Still, it's a time of mixed emotions. After all, she was my first, and you never forget your first, even if it was bad, full of lies and deception. I stuck up for her when others said "She's not worth all that trouble and money," and "You should have never gotten involved." She let me down and proved everyone right. Maybe I'm letting her go as a kind of revenge, knowing no one would love her the way I did. "Take that."

I know I don't need to trade. I could just fix what was wrong, but if I had known when I bought her what I know now, I never would have bought her, and would have gotten an IRS bug from the start....that or a 62 crew cab I just found.

In the works for me now are Thing front trailing arms, Ghia discs, a Bus IRS tranny and a 2.3L Type IV mill, everything I wanted to do before, but couldn't easily due to the year of my car. Add a 4-point roll bar in back, and a vinyl interior kit and you've got my new girl. Hell, I might even paint her someday, a flat sand color like a Desert Storm HUM-V. On the outside it'll be no different than the dream of my 65.

All in all the parts list for the 69 is shorter than the 65, cheaper and stronger too. I'll trade a few creature comforts like nice cloth seats and a CD player for a strong baja any day. I can always do the interior and CD player myself, and get it the way I want.

An all-vinyl interior goes in so it'll be easy to clean. White might not seem the perfect choice for an offroad vehicle, but it doesn't get as hot in the sun as a darker color. My wife shudders at the idea of twin trailer-towing mirrors on the sides, with a 4' CB antenna off of each. I kinda like it. The sun visor is a must to keep the mid afternoon sun out of my eyes. It gives me an unusual place to mount digital gauges, keeping the dash free. 31" tires all around make an imposing stature for a bug. They should keep it moving through anything, too.


The only problem is for now I have no bug. I sit at my terminal and peek out the window, and nothing is there. No toothpaste-green '65 with rust on the roof where I let a canoe slip off the foam mounts and rub a spot through the paint. Only a little oily spot where the #4 cylinder used to sleep...or rather, seep.

I'll always remember my first bug, the ugly little 65 who's seller screwed me. Oh well. I'm better off now.

Someday I'll send in a pic. I'll be taking them as I do things to her, and of course several before I do anything. Later.