Emory Outlaws and Specials
The Original Baja Bug
Baja bugs, and their copies, are a common sight anywhere off-roaders or desert racers congregate today. But it hasn’t always been that way.
In 1967, Gary Emory wanted to build a Meyers Manx dune buggy, but couldn’t raise the money for the kit. Gary was assistant parts manager at Chick Iverson Volkswagen in Newport Beach, California at the time, so he had access to parts and information to build such a car, but he also had a wife and two young daughters, so the initial cash outlay was out of the question.
To surmount the problem, Emory traded an 80cc Suzuki for a clapped-out 1957 sunroof Beetle and built his own buggy to his own design. He had first class help on his project because his father, Neil was body shop manager and his brother, Don, was in charge of the paint shop-both, also at Iverson’s.
The 57’ Beetle was completely stripped and cleaned down to bare metal. The interior was left gutted, and the windows and raising mechanism were all removed. Ted’s Aircraft Interiors in Santa Ana upholstered the sock seats with black vinyl and built vinyl side curtains that snapped onto the doors to cover the areas left open when the windows were removed. This saved some weight, and allows open-air driving if desired.
Meanwhile, father Neil (old time hot rod and custom car nuts will remember Neil as the co-owner of Valley custom in Burbank, California where some of the best custom cars of all time were built in the 1950s) was working on the fenders, hood and rear lid.
The front was chopped off short, and the fenders trimmed to match. Top speed was not a part of the scheme, and gasoline was 30 cents a gallon, so aerodynamics was not considered in planning the front of the Beetle buggy. What was considered was light weight, minimal overhang, and enough metal left to keep flying dirt off the car itself.
After bobbing the front and rear ends (the running boards were to be left off), two front fenders were reworked to become rear fenders. A right front was used on the left rear, and a left front on the right rear. This gave a wider fender to clear the big tires that Gary wanted to install and also allowed a better styling match between front and rear fenders.
The bead that appears on the outer edges of all four fenders was fabricated by taking two pieces of 5/32-inch wire which were welded to the fender edge and ground to give a finished surface. A slight bit of body lead was used to smooth everything out. Aside from the aesthetic value, the wire added both strength and stiffness to the fenders.
Because the car was to be used for family outings in the desert, complete reliability was one of the top considerations. The engine was stock but consisted of a 1500 case with 1600 barrels and pistons. A single-port heads. The main alterations to be seen are the headers and upswept exhaust.
Added ground clearance was obtained by cutting the front torsion bar mounts and rotating them so the trailing arms hang down at an angle rather than straight back. At the rear, the simple expediency of installing a 1967 transporter transmission and axle assembly withy its outboard reduction gears did the trick. The Gated XT Commando tires-7.35-15 front, 10-15 rear – are mounted on Ansen Sprint alloy wheels (these are actually the first set of wheels of this series to come from Ansen’s firm).
After Gary and Neil had done their work, brother Don painted it chrome yellow. A tribute to his ability is knowing that the car still carries the original paint on the body and only the four fenders have been repainted.
When the car was finished, it attracted for more attention than any of the Emory’s had expected. Doyle Dane-Bernbach used it in a Volkswagen ad titled: “What have they done to our car”? The ad appeared in Time, Life, and on outdoor billboards.
Since 1967, the car has had two engines, a different front end, and acquired a new exhaust system. It has also acquired a new owner. Not long after the car was finished, Gary’s eight-year-old daughter Shelly told daddy she wanted that car. Gary said okay, when you’re old enough you can have it.
Well…Shelly acquired a husband and a son of her own, and recently reminded dad that he had promised her the car. So said, so done. Rick and Shelly Lugo are the new owners of the original Baja Beetle Bug.
Gary has gone on to operate Porsche Parts Obsolete in Costa Mesa, California, and brother Don and father Neil have a shop in Fallbrook, California called Emory’s which does custom bodywork and painting-specializing in Porsches.