5 Best Baja Special Edition 4x4 Truck Tributes
The Baja 1000 (and its Baja 500 cousin) represents some of the most grueling and torturous terrain a truck will ever tackle. Winning at Baja is a testament not just to skill but also endurance, with both driver and machine subjected to the kind of long-distance attrition found in few other motorsports (except Ultra4 off-road racing).
Needless to say, winning manufacturers are justifiably proud of their accomplishments, and have often put together special versions of the vehicles that tamed the desert to celebrate. Which of these tough factory 4x4 rigs are the coolest? Here's a look at the 5 best Baja special edition truck tributes ever built.
1. 2012 Toyota Tacoma TRD T|X Baja Series
TRD has a long history of building special edition Tacoma pickup trucks, and with Toyota's equally enduring interest in Baja racing it's no surprise that the desert spectacle has been honored with a unique version of the truck.
The 2012 Toyota Tacoma TRD T|X Baja Series was based on a SEMA concept that spawned an entire series of accessory packages for the mid-sizer just a couple of years beforehand. Each was an off-road special (and one marked the first time we'd see TRD and Pro in the same sentence), but the most interesting one was the Baja Series.
Built on top of the standard TRD Off-Road model the Tacoma's Baja Series added unique racing shock absorbers sourced from Bilstein, as well as TRD coil springs and a TRD cat-back exhaust system. The truck's wheel travel was boosted by an inch at the back and 1.5 inches up front, giving it more than a fighting chance at tackling dunes and washes at a high rate of speed.
Of course, there were also decals provided to separated the T|X Baja from the plainer TRD models out there. Weirdly, Toyota priced the Baja truck slightly cheaper than the standard TRD Off-Road package on the base model.
2. 1987 Dodge Ram Rod Hall Signature Edition
Imagine building a Baja truck so hardcore that the feds actually forced the automaker in question to recall each and every model for safety reasons? That's what happened for the 1987 model year with the Dodge Ram Rod Hall Signature Edition.
Things started innocently enough. Dodge wanted to commemorate Rod Hall's career as one of the toughest champions of the world's most famous off-road race. The plan was to equip four-wheel drive versions of the Ram with the kind of suspension upgrades a Baja truck would need, including dual dampers and enormously stiff springs.
Painted in the red, orange, and yellow livery that had been associated with Hall throughout his career, the trucks enjoyed only a short season in the sun before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration flipped out, claiming that the Signature Edition suspensions had never been tested for civilian use. Labeling the truck too dangerous to sell, the NHTSA cut short the planned run of 1500 examples, with only 14 or so ever having made it into the hands of customers. Those trucks were recalled for a suspension retrofit, but just over half actually made it back to their original owners, making it one of the rarest Dodge trucks ever built.
3. 1990 Dodge Ram Rod Hall Signature Edition
Wait, what? That's right—not content to simply sit there and take it after the NHTSA crashed its Baja party, Dodge would try again with a Rod Hall Signature Edition truck just a few years later.
This time, the Rod Hall models were built in partnership with Carroll Shelby, who had been working closely with Mopar on a number of turbocharged, front-wheel drive compact cars in the same era. The chassis of the Ram was dialed down to include Rancho shocks this time (developed in partnership with Hall), although hefty springs were still a part of the overall package. Big graphics and a comfy interior were included, too, as was a more aggressive bumper setup and a lightbar intended to mimic the look of Baja racers.
Sadly, the Rod Hall curse would strike again, this time in the form of a heart attack that would sideline Shelby and cap production of the truck at a mere 33 versions.
4. 1971-1975 Ford Baja Bronco
The original Ford Bronco first competed in Baja racing all the way back in 1967, which marked its introduction to the American market. Before long, the tough SUV had won both the Baja 500 and the Baja 1000, and Ford decided it was time to celebrate with a special edition of its popular go-anywhere hauler.
The Baja Bronco would ape the styling of the Stroppe team's successful race model, which meant a Poppy Red (read: orange) and white paint job set off by a blue hood and a blue roof. A somewhat more hardcore suspension system was grafted on to the Baja model at the factory, and it also came with better cooling, a secondary fuel tank, and the contents of Ford's Sport Bronco trim level. The Stroppe racing operation would then take each truck and outfit it with fender flares as well as knobby all-terrain tires and a unique shock absorber setup.
There were between 450 and 650 Baja Broncos built, and Stroppe's penchant for allowing a la carte modifications to the SUVs it customized means that there's a fair amount of variety out there when it comes to extras. Some trucks even left the shop with an air suspension setup and a full roll cage installed, although how many of the latter survived their owners' amateur Baja racing efforts is up for debate.
5. 2008 Toyota Tundra Ivan 'Ironman' Stewart Signature Series
When Toyota first introduced the revamped, plus-sized Tundra pickup in 2008, it took the opportunity to tag in a Baja legend as part of its promo. Ivan 'Ironman' Stewart had been a longtime off-road hot shoe for the brand, and had himself won multiple major desert racing events including the Mint 400, the Parker 400, and both the Baja 1000 (3 times) and the Baja 500 (17 times!).
It seemed like a no-brainer to create an Ivan 'Ironman' Stewart Signature Series version of the Tundra, and to further the truck's credibility Toyota would offer three distinct 'Stages' of upgrades on top of the standard pickup. Stage 1 included unique 20-inch wheels and tires, a Bilstein leveling suspension system, and a cat-back exhaust, while Stage 2 installed a lightbar and bedrails. Stage 3 would go whole-hog thanks to its TRD supercharger (bumping the Tundra V8's output to over 500 horsepower and 550 lb-ft of torque), Hella headlights, unique exterior trim, custom seats and TRD brakes.
It's also worth noting that, in addition to badges and decals identifying the Ironman Tundra trucks, all three stages featured a shifter that had Stewart's own grip embedded in it—meaning you got to shake hands with the champion each and every time you dropped the Toyota into 'drive.'
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