A Baja Buggy for Everyman
In 1997, veteran off-road racer Todd Clement decided to form a company that would offer excursions so anyone could experience the thrill of driving a buggy on trails across the Baja terrain. He formed a company called Wide Open Baja and set about having special buggies designed and built.
Rather than reinvent the wheel, so to speak, he relied on the experience of Baja racers. So it was not surprising that the first car built bore a strong resemblance to a race buggy. Like most buggies, it featured a strong tube frame and was powered by a modified VW/Porsche Type IV engine (as found in the old Porsche 914) mated to a VW Transporter gearbox.
Now 13 years and 50 cars later, all of them are still running except for one show car. But there is one big difference: The majority of them now are powered by Subaru engines.
Photo: John Rettie
A few years ago, Wide Open Baja Technical Director Tom Morris started to look for an alternative to the Porsche engine, which was getting expensive to build and required a lot of maintenance. Subaru enthusiasts will find it of no surprise that Wide Open Baja decided to switch to Subaru engines. It was a natural replacement because the SUBARU BOXER engine is so close in shape and size to the Porsche engine, and it maintains the benefit of its low center of gravity. More importantly, the stock Subaru engines quickly proved more robust and, hence, less expensive to maintain.
Wide Open imports used Subaru EJ25 2.5-liter engines directly from Japan. They are checked and refreshed by Outfront Motorsports in Orange County, California. They remain essentially unchanged from a stock engine, save for a different fuel-injection system, intake manifold, and headers. The engine provides substantially more power than is needed for the "Tours," so a restrictor plate (à la NASCAR) is added to help cut back top-end power.
Soon after switching to Subaru engines, Wide Open found that when the cars were driven under extreme conditions, the plastic timing belt covers were melting due to heat generated by the modified exhaust headers. That was resolved by installing a metal faceplate as a barrier. Apart from this, there have been no recurring problems with the engines.
The engine is mated to the same manual VW Transporter transmission used previously via a specially made plate mounted on the chassis. This allows the engine or the transmission to be changed independently. The design has proven to save time when working on the cars either in the shop or in the desert miles from anywhere.