SCORE Journal

SCORE Journal - June 2019

SCORE Journal - The Official Publication of SCORE Off-Road Racing

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Page 102 of 114

KICKED BY THE BOOT The BaJa Boot Was The First Vehicle To Win The Inaugural 1969 BaJa 500 By Dan Sanchez Photography by ICON Media Baja racing has it’s legendary drivers, but it also has its share of legendary vehicles too. These are machines that were so innovative, they changed how racers approached and ultimately conquered Baja, leading to how modern race vehicles are built today. One of the most important vehicles in off-road history, is the Baja Boot, a vehicle that was custom built by Vic Hickey, a legendary off-road innovator and Off Road Hall Of Fame inductee. The Baja Boot was specifically designed for racing in the desert, but the genius behind Hickey’s vision is that it utilized a combination of readily available parts from production vehicles. The Baja Boot earned its legendary status by winning the first Baja 500 race overall in 1969, with Bud Ekins and Guy Jones behind the wheel. The vehicle was so far ahead of it’s time that it wasn’t until 40-years later that the design ideas originated by Hickey, were used to create GM’s Blazer and the AM General Humvee. The Origins Of The BaJa Boot The story of the Baja Boot must begin with understanding the man who designed and built it. Hickey wasn’t a race driver per se, but he did love working on and building cars. His first was a Ford Model T he purchased at age 12. He got his pilot’s license at age 19 and began racing on Southern California’s dry lake beds. From his experience in trying to go faster, Hickey’s reputation grew and he was soon building sprint cars and Indy cars before he was drafted into the Navy. Upon his return, Hickey got back into building off-road vehicles including one his dad named the Trailblazer. The vehicle caught the attention of GM executives who offered Hickey a position as a research and development engineer. At GM, Hickey began specializing in designing off-road military vehicles, including amphibious vehicles and improved independent suspension systems that were ultimately used in the Apollo space program. Hickey’s love for off-road racing finally led to GM’s approval for him to build specialty vehicles on the side. In 1967, he had heard of a Baja race across Mexico and taking his Trailblazer design concept and adding his new ideas on improving independent suspension systems, Hickey came up with the Baja Boot which he completed in just 30-days. The BaJa Boot Debut The vehicle made it to the 1967 Mexican 1000 and looked much like a buggy, with a roll cage, removable ragtop, and front nose cone. The headlights were recessed into the front cowl just below the windshield, giving the vehicle a very strange appearance. As the race began, the Baja Boot showed what it could do and it reached top speeds of 140 miles per hour. Al Knapp and Drino Miller drove the Baja Boot in the race but broke the rear strut. The Boot later ran other races until actor Steve McQueen purchased it in 1968 and began racing with it. McQueen drove the vehicle at Stardust Raceway in June of 1968 with Bud Ekins as navigator. Ekins was the first motorcyclist who rode a timed ride across the Baja desert with his brother Dave, which started the Baja 1000 official race in 1967. McQueen brought the Baja Boot to the 1967 Mexican 1000 with co-driver Harold Daigh. The vehicle did what was expected and ran very fast until the transmission broke only 237 miles into the race. The Boot was repaired and returned to Baja for the inaugural 1969 Baja 500. This time it was driven by Bud Ekins and Guy Jones to its victory. The Baja Boot became the first four-wheel vehicle to win the race overall. A Design Ahead Of Its Time Built to handle high-speed off-road racing, the Baja Boot had a complete tube chassis with a 450 horsepower 350 cid GM small block V8. To cool the engine, Vic Hickey utilized a large Chevy truck radiator with a 20-inch diameter electric fan. The engine sat at the rear of the vehicle facing backward and was outfitted with a GM TH400 that had the driveshaft exiting towards the front of the vehicle. The engine position was intentional, as Hickey incorporated a Dana transfer case towards the front of the vehicle so that it could be operated by the driver. Using rear drive assemblies from a Corvette, torsion bars, and Oldsmobile Toronado axle shafts, the Baja Boot was a hybrid all-wheel drive and could be disengaged to operate with only front wheel drive when needed. Originally the Baja Boot also had a front nose cone and without a driver and passenger, the vehicle weighed 3,450 pounds. With the suspension system Hickey built, the vehicle had nine inches of vertical wheel travel and measured 112 inches in length. The steering column is collapsible and to stop the Baja Boot, Hickey equipped it with 11-inch diameter Hurst Airheart disc brakes. In the vehicle’s later versions the original nose cone was removed when McQueen began driving it in competition. The Boot’s Legacy After the fame of winning the Baja 500, the Baja Boot went on racing through the early seventies and into the early 1980s before it was retired, but not before it had become legendary in off-road motorsports. In August of 2008, it reportedly sold at auction for $199,500. In 2010 film producer and automotive entrepreneur Jim Glickenhaus purchased the Baja Boot to use it as a design project for building a modern version of the vehicle. According to Glickenhaus, their version will look similar to the original and have much more horsepower and suspension capabilities. The proof of the modern version will be during its participation at the 2019 SCORE Baja 1000. By far the Baja Boot is one of the most iconic vehicles in desert racing history. It’s innovation by creator Vic Hickey, led to the design of the Chevy Blazer 40-years after the Baja Boot was created. The vehicle’s design was also instrumental in the building of the Humvee vehicle, which was reportedly a very heavy-duty version of the Baja Boot. SJ BaJa Boot Specifications: Chassis: Custom Tube Chassis Engine: Rear Mounted Chevrolet 350 Cubic Inch Transmission: GM Turbo Hydro 400 Automatic Drivetrain: Dana transfer case, Oldsmobile Toronado front axles, Corvette rear axles Suspension: Front Oldsmobile A-arms, Rear Corvette Shocks: Bilstein (upgrade) Brakes: Hurst Airheart disc Wheels: Chevrolet steel rally wheels Tires: BFGoodrich Mud Terrain T/A KM3 Interior: Simpson Harnesses, Autometer Gauges, Hurst Dual-Gate Shifter

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