It’s a fair bet many of the drivers competing in the 2013 New Zealand offroad racing championship were still at school when this car rolled off the assembly line.
The humble Volkswagen, literally the People’s Car, a design born in Hitler’s Germany as the clouds of war gathered last century, has been reborn in Christchurch as the leader of the 2013 New Zealand offroad racing championship.
Brett Granger’s Baja-class 1969 VW Beetle is leading the New Zealand offroad racing national championship in the company of four very advanced specialised offroad race vehicles. It retains the metalwork of the innovative German original, but its original anaemic heart – the German-designed air-cooled flat four engine – has now been replaced by a powerful and reliable water-cooled Subaru engine with a similar format. There is still a German element to the motor: it has a supercharger from a Mercedes Kompressor coupe grafted onto it, to give it the low down torque required for offroad racing.
Granger has owned the car for 15 years, and has campaigned it in New Zealand’s most extreme endurance event, the Taupo 1000. He has also tipped the car over at the Canterbury club’s race track.
But true to the legendary toughness of the original, the car has bounced back from its tribulations in a new and competitive format.
The Beetle was saved from the car crusher when Granger bought it as an unfinished project, and was built up as a race car by South Island VW guru Dave Clucas of Oamaru. First campaigned with a 2.7-litre six cylinder Subaru engine, it has now received an late-model 2.2-litre ‘heart’, a four cylinder Subaru unit, that makes more power and torque than the six cylinder and is substantially lighter than that engine.
The new engine is both powerful and reliable, attributes even Granger would admit were never shared by the wheezy VW engine the car was originally produced with.
At the opening southern round of this year’s championship, the Beetle shared maximum points with the specialist single-seater offroad race car of Christchurch’s Wayne Moriarty, the massive and powerful Ryan V6 turbo race car of Vince Harvey (also Christchurch), the V8 powered Nissan Safari of Invercargill’s Roger McKay and the motorcycle-engined Odyssey-class car of defending national champion Hamish Lawler of Tapanui.
Granger laughs at the thought of his mid-20th century VW sharing the championship lead with race cars far more specialised and costing far more.
“Honestly, we’re really pleased with our result but we will play the championship by ear as the real focus is on a bigger test,” he says.
Granger is talking about the Taupo 1000, two days and 1000 km of racing in production pine forests in the middle of the North Island in September. For this two-day challenge he will again team up with long-time co-driver Matthew Hides, also of Christchurch.
“We’re pretty keen on having another go at the big one, it’s a fantastic challenge,” he says.
Granger and Hides competed in the inaugural Taupo 1000 in 1992 and placed sixth overall in a Volkswagen-powered Class Three open wheeled offroader. They have competed twice more at Taupo the iconic Beetle.
The VW Beetle, created in the years leading up to World War Two as Hitler’s ‘People’s Car’, was one of the first ‘proper’ cars released for sale in post-war Germany.
It later achieved fresh popularity with the Flower Power generation of 1960s USA.
In the middle of that decade it also proved popular with the growing sport of offroad racing, which spread out of the sandy tracks of Baja up into California and in subsequent years into other countries – New Zealand being one of the first to fasten on the sport.
Thanks to a timely heart transplant of reliable Japanese power, Brett Granger’s Beetle is once more racing at the forefront of this extreme sport.