Cars

Father, son join forces to build a Baja Bug

Bill and Brody Ryan started their 1962 Baja Bug project three years ago after Brody spent $175 on the empty shell of the car at age 13. Finished last month, the car is a one-of-a-kind head-turner that’s already collecting awards at car shows.
Bill and Brody Ryan started their 1962 Baja Bug project three years ago after Brody spent $175 on the empty shell of the car at age 13. Finished last month, the car is a one-of-a-kind head-turner that’s already collecting awards at car shows. The Wichita Eagle

Many car guys seem to have a special kind of vision, being able to see what a rusty hulk could possibly be turned into. But a 13-year-old car guy having not only that vision, but the drive to make it happen?

That’s a rare thing, but Brody Ryan, with the help of his dad, Bill, made it happen with a worn-out, engineless 1962 Volkswagen Beetle that had made the rounds of several car guys who saw the potential, but never quite got the project off the ground.

“It was basically a rolling shell, but he thought it was the neatest thing in the world,” said Bill Ryan. “He had been saving his birthday and Christmas money, so ….”

How much did Brody shell out to make it his project?

“A hundred and seventy-five dollars,” he says proudly.

The VW had already been cut down to transform it into a Baja Bug and the fiberglass fenders, hood and engine cover were included in the purchase price, but they were also in rough shape. So it would not be an easy project. But the father-son team got rolling, with a projected finish date of the fall of 2015, when Brody would be a sophomore at El Dorado High School and have his driver’s license.

“We’re about a year behind schedule,” said Bill. “We just finished it the first of August.”

The VW was treated to a 3-inch body lift kit to give Brody a little more headroom inside the Baja Bug. A later model VW Beetle was procured as a parts car and supplied the rebuilt 1600cc flat-four cylinder air-cooled engine. It remains basically stock, but has been brightened up with some chrome parts, like the angled megaphone exhaust collector. The standard 4-speed manual transaxle was also retained.

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Inside, a pair of PT Cruiser bucket seats was used, with the original VW rear seat modified and upholstered to match by Jose Delarosa. Father and son installed the vinyl headliner themselves and describe it as a real learning experience.

An Auto Meter tachometer and three under-dash auxiliary gauges were installed, along with a custom steering wheel and a JVC sound system with Kicker and Audiobahn speakers.

Wheel choices were limited by the factory VW hubs, so the Ryans opted for a set of GM hubs and disc brakes at all four corners of the Baja Bug. That allowed Brody to select a set of American Racing Baja 5-bolt wheels. Goodyear Wrangler tires, sized P235x70R15 at the front and hefty 31x10.50R15 under the stubby rear fenders.

A lot of wiring had to be done to accommodate LED headlights, tail lights, turn signals and a front bumper-mounted light bar, as well as the windshield wipers and washer.

When it came time for the finishing touches, Brody bought a small-scale Baja Bug body for his radio-control truck chassis, to better visualize what the final product would look like. A friend copied the flame pattern from the RC body and scaled it up into a template for the full-sized car.

Bill Ryan, who had experience painting cars, shot the finished bodywork with several coats of Silver Metallic and followed up with Arc Blue flames down each side.

“We tried to keep it clean and simple,” said Bill.

“We wanted it to be as original as possible and not too crazy,” added Brody, now a junior in high school.

“I love it. On nice days, I drive it to school. It’s a little loud, but all the cops just look at me and smile,” he said.

Bill wasn’t sure their Baja Bug would measure up to car show competition, but Brody insisted they give it a try. So far, the car has brought home several awards.

“I’m enjoying it as much as he is,” admitted Bill.

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