A car born in the middle of last century has been reborn as a potent new-millennium race car for the most extreme terrain.
Three VW Beetles – two ‘classic’ versions and one New Beetle - are at the sharp end of the 2013 New Zealand Offroad Racing Championship. They race in a class for production-bodied and saloon-type race vehicles.
Brett Granger’s Baja-class 1969 VW Beetle has been reborn in Christchurch as the leader of the 2013 New Zealand offroad racing championship in the company of four very advanced specialised offroad race vehicles. It retains the metalwork of the innovative German original, but air-cooled flat four engine – has been replaced by a powerful and reliable water-cooled Subaru engine.
Granger says there is still a German element to the motor: it has a supercharger from a Mercedes Kompressor coupe grafted onto it, to give it the low down torque required for offroad racing.
“It makes a great little package, the torque is right where you need it and the flat four engine layout keeps the weight low down for better cornering. With the weight biased to the rear it really hooks up out of corners,” he says.
Granger has owned the car for 15 years, and has campaigned it in New Zealand’s most extreme endurance event, the Taupo 1000.
The Fruzo Beetle was saved from the car crusher when Granger bought it as an unfinished project, and was built up to a race car by South Island VW guru Dave Clucas of Oamaru. First campaigned with a 2.7-litre six cylinder Subaru engine, its new 2.2-litre ‘heart’, a four cylinder unit, makes more power and torque than the six cylinder and is substantially lighter than that engine.
At the opening southern round of this year’s championship, the Beetle shared maximum points with the specialist single-seater offroad race car of Christchurch’s Wayne Moriarty, the massive and powerful Ryan V6 turbo race car of Vince Harvey (also Christchurch), the V8 powered Nissan Safari of Invercargill’s Roger McKay and the motorcycle engines Odyssey-class car of defending national champion Hamish Lawler of Tapanui.
Granger laughs at the thought of his mid-20th century VW sharing the championship lead with race cars far more specialised and costing far more.
“Honestly, we’re really pleased with our result but we will play the championship by ear as the real focus is on a bigger test,” he says.
“We’re pretty keen on having another go at the Taupo 1000, it’s a fantastic challenge,” he says.
Granger and Hides competed in the inaugural race in 1992 and placed sixth overall in a Volkswagen-powered Class Three open-wheeled offroader.
Aussie Beetle found in Opotiki
Meanwhile in the North Island, a new-shape Beetle with a powerful V6 turbo engine has surfaced to add heat to the championship. Maurice Bain of Opotiki has bought the American-built New Beetle recently campaigned in Australia by Roly Dixon and joined the fray.
At the first North Island round of the championship he went up against class champion Mike Konings of Kamo, putting the new car’s massive power and traction to the test in slippery going. The pair shared the wins at Meremere, setting up the prospect that 2013 could well prove to be the Year of the Beetle in offroad racing.
The Bain Beetle has a Nissan VG30 turbo V6 in the back, and was built by specialist race car company Crumco which has many years of desert racing experience behind it. Proven in racing on both sides of the Tasman, the new car is in its debut year in the championship. Previous owner Roly Dixon is related to Kiwi rally legend Mike Marshall and has raced in New Zealand on numerous occasions including several runs at the Taupo 1000.
The Konings car, like Brett Granger’s, runs a Subaru engine, though his is a late model Impreza WRX turbo unit. It has long travel suspension built around Fox offroad racing shock absorbers, a popular choice among leading teams in offroad racing for many years.
Konings had an easy run to the class title last year but says there is obvious interest in the class in 2013 and he is enjoying the new competition.
All three cars are likely to come into their own at the coming rounds of the championship which are endurance races, and also at the Taupo 1000, a two-day blast through production pine forest just outside the resort town. Roly Dixon says his car was built with Taupo in mind, and Bain can expect to have a very productive weekend there.