Wide Open Baja Challenge Cars
The Baja Challenge cars are not watered-down buggies. They cost about $100,000 each to build, can reach speeds of 100 mph across rough tracks, and survive after taking nasty hits. The front and rear wheels can travel 17 inches to give a smooth ride over the roughest of terrain.
The majority of drivers in these cars are amateurs, so it's vitally important that the cars are as bulletproof as possible. They have been. The 50 cars built so far have covered more than 4 million miles. Only one is a non-runner, and it is used as a static show car.
Even more amazing is how these cars stand up to the rigors of racing. Each year, they also are rented to guest racers who only have to show up in Ensenada in Baja to have a turnkey professional race team at their disposals. Over the years, these professional and would-be racers have included some famous names such as Paul Newman, Patrick Dempsey, Danny Sullivan, Rod Millen, Ken Block, Glen Plake, Tara Dakides, Boris Said, and many more from the worlds of NASCAR, open wheel, and sports car racing.
What's most impressive is that while there is normally only a 50-percent finish rate for most vehicles entered in the Baja events, the Baja Challenge cars usually bring all starters to the finish line. A 100- percent finish rate is testament to the robustness of the cars and reliability of the engines, as well as to the proficiency of the support crews.
The Future of Baja Challenge Cars
When we visited the company's research-and-development facility in Orange County, California, we saw some future versions of the Baja Challenge cars.
The first is a utility vehicle that could be utilized by the border patrol, the Army, or oil companies for maintaining pipelines.
Variants include a turbocharged model, and we saw one being tested with a four-wheel-drive system attached to a custom-made transmission.
Photo: John Rettie
The Experience of a Lifetime
Driving a Subaru-powered off-road buggy would be the experience of a lifetime for many enthusiasts. Check out www.wideopenbaja.com for more information.
Author John Rettie first ventured to Baja 40 years ago when he photographed the Mexican 1000 off-road race (now known as the Baja 1000) in only its third running. Rettie enjoyed his experience so much that he went on to photograph and write about the races for many years. In 1978, he gained firsthand experience when he co-drove in a Baja Bug and finished 9th overall. Rettie still covers at least one of the three Baja races each year.