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EMPI Baja.jpg
1- EMPI BAJA edition  |   

EMPI BAJA SERIES 500, 1000 & 1000S

This time, I think I would give you more insight into another Joe VITTONE limited-edition model that is a lot less well-known than the famous EMPI GTV today, for the simple reason that it never enjoyed the success of its sibling : the EMPI BAJA, which first appeared on the pages of the brand's catalog in 1973. Contrary to what you might think, it's commercial name actually had nothing to do with the famous mexican race that bears the same name.

Typical early Bug-in picture showing the EMPI booth with the famous orange demo GTV and a white BAJA. Paul SCHLEY picture.

The limited edition-edition beetle were not prepared to drive on anything other that a normal tarred road, but the marketing brains at EMPI thought the name would be fitting, because there is a clear link between the small german car and the rueling desert race. It is also interesting to note that Mr PLAXCO, EMPI's director at that time, and Dana ABOTT, Filter dynamics' Vice President, entered the Baja 500 in the famous EMPI backed car.

But the name unfortunately didn't boost the sales, and only a few VW left the company under this name. The 'Sport car in a box', as it was described in the company's slogan, also wasn't helped by its launch date. At the beginning of the 70s, sales of the beetle in the US were declining and even after its takeover by Filter Dynamics, EMPI only ever really promoted its flagship model, the GTV.

This incredible SCHLEY picture was taken just after they delivered the Lightning bug II to its new owner as they were taking back demo BAJA back to Riverside... This is Mark standing on the left in yellow racing jacket.

Paul SCHLEY was one of the person responsible for the 1973 catalog which had the BAJA model on the cover. Paul doesn't remember how many models were sold during the 2 years it spent on the cover, but he does remember that the company didn't sell completely built cars like the GTVs. The BAJAs were sold in kit form comprising a varying number of parts, depending on the equipment level you purchased : 500, 1000 or 1000S. Paul also remembers that despite EMPI's commercial efforts and the fact that the dealers were pushed into taking stock, very few kits were actually sold.

For reference, a very nice picture of the Famous EMPI BAJA race bug at Mexican 1000.

The BAJA demo cars were touring the country and shown to dealers to demontraste the body styling of the new kits. Paul SCHLEY mentions that the fact that EMPI's salesforce was driving these cars shows how much the company believed in and promoted this particular model, unfortunately not to avail... The BAJA models offered some key sales aurguments. First of all, it sported an 'in your face' styling, which allowed it to stand out from the millions of others beetles on the road. The promo vehicles were painted orange, white and yellow, and they all sported a nice red and green sticker on the back, as well as EMPI Sprintstar rims. Volkswagen Greats magzine put one of the cover of its Spring 1973 issue with a nice (rare) colour picture, and its article praised the 'eye catching' styling of the car loaned by EMPI for the occasion. It's green, red and white BAJA 1000 sticker contrasted nicely with its vivid yellow coulour.

For reference, a very nice picture of the Famous EMPI BAJA race bug at Mexican 1000.

From a mechanical point of view, the 500 series was left completely stock, except for the 'Jet Pipe' echaust. But the article notes that the 1000 tested was a huge improvement in cross-wind resistance, compared to a stock beetle, a problem that all stock beetle drivers are probably aware of. The big EMPI front and rear anti-roll bars must naturally be credited for this. The 1000S kit was reserved for the Super Beetle (as the 1302 was called in USA) and offered some extra equipment like the bumper overrider guards and the functional side scoops, typically associated with the more upmarket GTV model. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noted that no engine kit was available for the BAJA, even the S model... Does it mean that it was actually the GTV's poor parent? Not really... It's probably more a sign of the times, and a shift of focus from EMPI's new owner, as even the GTV used the 500, 1000 and 1000S monikers, and none of them were available with a bigger engine anymore in 1973.

For reference, a very nice picture of the Famous EMPI BAJA race bug at Mexican 1000.

So there you go... And today, I hope this little focus will motivate some of you to transform their own car into a nice EMPI BAJA replica... After all, these parts are still pretty easy to find and affordable (for how long?) and for once, Super Beetle owners will not be left behind and be able to join the ranks of the Nostalgia VW owners... It doesn't happen vey often so it has been worth mentioning...


While not being the most sought after period EMPI catalog, the 1973 EMPI hi-performance products catalog sure proved that the glory days of EMPI was far behind... No more Heinz JUNG groovy colored pages, except a flashy cover, all replaced by cheap and boring B&W design...

But speaking of the actual BAJA subject, actually, this is the one that deserve a further look, as this catalog show in detail the differences between the 500, 1000 and 1000S.

A very nice Super Beetle Baja 1000 grace the front cover.

Close-up view of that Super Beetle. Hard to tell the color of the bug...

BAJA 500

BAJA 1000

BAJA 1000S

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Checking period literature is the only way to go if you want to know more about a car or past story. Period Volkswagen Greats magazines are always a great ressource and there is no exception here. The color picture of the yellow Baja 1000 beetle on the cover teach us that the Baja stripe kit was green and red... This was not evident on B&W pictures of course...

Enjoy the complete article below :-)

EMPI, long the leader in performance bolt-ons for the Beetle, has just introduced their latest 'sports car in a box', as they call it. This box is full of performance parts for the Beetle and Super Beetle that will, like their famous GTV kits, turn the VW into a well-behaved road car that will give many a sports car a run through the corners. For some reason, known only to marketing men, this collection of high-performance equipment is named the BAJA 500 and Baja 1000, the larger number denoting the more extensive list of pieces. But don't be fooled, these so-called Baja Beetles are not meant to be taken off road. They're made of ironing out those hairpins and sweepers, not for ironing out bumps and potholes frequently encountered on the Baja Peninsula.

A perfect bug to go skiing... ;-)

Basically, the Baja kits are the equivalent of the GTV kits, only with a different name and markings. The 500 kit includes Sprint Star wheels, Jet Pipe exhaust pipe with baffle, deluxe simulated wood-grain dash panel kit, chrome shifter sleeve with knob, chrome louver pieces for air intake below rear window and on decklid and the Baja 500 side markings. The 1000 kit comes with the same components plus an EMPI Eliminator shifter, vynil-trimmed GT steering wheel, heavy duty shocks for front and rear and 1000 side markings. For the Super Beetle, the 1000 gets an 'S' designation, functional air scoops, bumper guards and a deluxe hardwood dash.

Since it had been over two years since we'd sampled a GTV, we requested one of the new Baja 1000 beetle to evaluate. We had wanted a super-colourful one for one of the cover photos, but we had no idea it'd be such an eye-catcher with its bright yellow paint and contrasting green, red and white Baja 1000 insignia emblazoned on the rear quarter panels. The first thing we found was that the Jet Pipe did seem to add some usable power to the stock engine, but without the raucous sound usually associated with hot exhausts. Despite the refined exhaust note, however, we discovered that the car's wild color scheme prevented us from wringing it out in Los Angeles, so we took advantage of a weekend ski trip to get it away from the watchful eye of the law and see how it handled.

Another car for all seasons...

Following the long stretch of freeway out of L.A., the 1000's improved resistance to side-winds became noticeable. For a VW, any help you can give it in this area really reduces driver fatigue and lessens the chance of unexpectedly swapping lanes at the wrong mome,t. The Sprint Star wheels, which have the stock rim width but are offset 1/2 inch, large diameter sway bars front and rear and the racing gas-filled shocks also contributed to excellent handling in the mountains. Cornering is very flat and there is virtually no body lean. Even on the snow-covered roads in the Mammoth Mountain area, handling was good and, as long as there was at least a small amount of tire adhesion, very predictable.

Overall we believe the 500 or 1000 packages are certainly a worthwhile addition to any Beetle, old or new.