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1970 Clodhopper Project Ride: Dune Buggy with Heart

dune_buggy_featureB My project ride is a little different from the rest of those that you'll find on Driving Line. She's no speed demon and, even though she thinks she is, she is not a 4WD. She's a dune buggy...who goes by 'Cora'. Her fiberglass body was made in 1970 by a Southern California company called FiberFab. If the company name isn't evidence enough that they weren't very good at naming things, then the fact that the model is a "Clodhopper" should complete the image. Cora's not very proud of that name and, frankly, no one else should be, either. Dune_Buggy_offroad_23 What she is proud of, however, is her power plant. The engine and transmission began their lives in the back of a 1971 VW Microbus. Originally a 1.6 liter engine, it was bored out to displace 1776 c.c. On such a tiny car, that makes a huge difference. Just how tiny is my car? The donor car, a 1969 Volkswagen Beetle, was ripped apart and cut 14¼" in order to fit the tub. Cora now has an 80" wheelbase. She also has no steel doors, hood, fenders, or roof - and no glass (except for a flat windshield). Yep...Cora's a lightweight. Dune_Buggy_offroad_24 While I didn't build Cora originally, I feel as though I did. When I picked her up, she was sorely neglected. After what happened to my Empi Imp (that's another story), I didn't know if I could even look at another buggy - but life must go on, and as I began to crawl from the shadows of the past, I met Cora. She wasn't in a junkyard, but she certainly wasn't being properly cared for. I couldn't stand to see such a beautiful creature being misused as such and I went in to talk to the owner. It just so happened he'd been thinking of dumping her off at the junkyard or, worse still, Craig's List. We negotiated an offer and I went outside to introduce myself to her. You may think I'm kidding...but no, I'm not. My cars all take on personas and to my surprise, Cora revealed hers immediately. Usually in my experience, VWs take months, if not years, to reveal their names to you. My Eurovan, for example, has been under my care for 7 years and still hasn't told me its name! But Cora...she must have been lonely, because she warmed up to me right away. Dune_Buggy_offroad_29 We towed her home and I got right to work. First removing her roof, which I sent out to get replaced, and next her interior. Within a day, we had nearly all of Cora apart and began working on the motor. This is one of the biggest advantages that a dune buggy has over their bigger, stronger and more powerful 4WD cousins: simplicity. No differentials, two axles, easy adjustments and so light that you can use a 2,000 lb. winch to get them out of any, almost any, situation. (We won't talk about those exceptions right now.) Dune_Buggy_offroad_25 After ordering the new floor pans from California, it seemed to take forever for them to arrive back east, where I was living at the time. Rather than twiddle our thumbs, we used the time to strip down and prep the metal so that there would only be nice, clean welds when we put Cora back together. We also installed the new wiring harness and ordered the peripherals - including new seats, a set of wheels and of course, the "ahooga" horn  - which makes Cora sound more like a Model T than a VW. Dune_Buggy_offroad_28 Once the floors had been welded in, we changed a bit of the suspension and upgraded the engine. After installing 87mm pistons, an oversized camshaft and a .009 distributor...she was ready to go back together! Dune_Buggy_offroad_26 Cora loves playing in mud and the occasional rocks, although she doesn't have the ground clearance to be a true rock crawler - she packs much more fun than her tiny size lets on to. After a life back east, she's now making her way to California along with me. I look forward to finding some sand dunes, where they allow such adventures, and letting Cora be a real Dune Buggy once again. -John McCabe
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