The Baja Pig – Part 1, The Big Picture


The drawing is real. Its a 1989 BMW 325is that I converted into a desert racer for the Baja 1000. Turns out its the first production based BMW to run the infamous race and it all started when I was dared by Miller Welders to build a BMW for the Baja 1000… in 15 days… and starting on the floor of SEMA.

My favorite part was that SEMA rejected my credentials a year prior because I wasn’t part of the auto industry! And now my friends and I would become one of a handful of people to actually build a car on the floor of the show. There are so many parts to this story that I’m going to tell it in sections. This article gives you overview or the big picture. Later I’ll dig into how it started at Miller, how I designed it and actually built it, the week at SEMA, the week in San Diego, our shakedown bar hopping adventure in Ensenada, the Race itself and the aftermath.

Back to the overview story…. I accepted the challenge but I knew I was screwed. I had never been to SEMA. I had never seen a desert racer, I had four days on the floor of SEMA and the only real tools I could use were a welder and a plasma cutter, I had never been to Baja, never seen a desert racer and the only thing I knew about the Baja 1000 was what I learned from watching Dust to Glory with my friends in the garage.

There was no room for my Jd Squared Bender(model 3.2) or Mitler Brothers notcher so I brought a hole saw, joint jigger deal and a chop saw. Worse was that I had never seen a trophy truck or desert racer other than on TV. So I had to build the entire thing from pictures on the internet. I had to order every part I needed before leaving Chicago and when I got to Las Vegas I still didn’t know how wide the vehicle would be or even the the wheelbase. I was in trouble. But I have awesome friends and we were about to build a car on the floor of SEMA.

So we loaded an empty E30 shell onto a trailer and a ton of pre-bent tubing and set off for Las Vegas. I think we were the only booth to load a POS E30 chassis on a forklift. I remember the guys bringing Nicki Lauda’s Ferrari freaking out that my chassis might fall off our forklift and crush the iconic car. 

And I didn’t fully understand that we could only work on the car from 8am to 5pm and then the show closes. I knew that there was no way to build an entire desert racer from scratch in 36 hours plus do 56 interviews with various journalists. But I knew we had the entire following week plus two days the second week before towing town to the start. So we went out drinking every night and attended all the SEMA parties. No way we were going to fail and miss SEMA too. If our train was going to wreck, at least we would enjoy the ride.

SEMA was easy compared to San Diego. I had no shop out there at the time. Thanks to a Jalopnik post I found a garage to use and made friends that I still hang with every day in San Diego. We also found SRD which might be the best fabrication/ race car building shop that I’ve ever seen. No one does better work that Justin Hermman and his wife Heather. They have won their class numerous times in the Baja 1000 and Heather has won a bunch of races too. They kick ass and so does their business, Strategic Racing Designs(SRD). No way I would have made the race without them.

We finished the night before, or really the morning of tech inspection (as planned) and headed down to Ensenada as the sun began to set. There was something really special about that first tow down into my Baja with my friends. I did sleep a lot but listening to everyone talk about how we just built a desert racer BMW in two weeks was a lot of fun. And Tech was open till 8pm or so and even after running out of gas(we forgot to fill the Baja Pig)we made it with 15 minutes to spare.

Then we ripped the Baja Pig all over Ensenada trying to break things. When I say “all over” I mean we went bar hopping. Vehicles like the Baja Pig are street legal in Ensenada on race weekend. So we went to Santos and crashed a huge party, ate a bunch of steak and got wasted, then to Paris De Noche (yes its a strip club, but they have $1 beers), ate tons of street tacos, went to Hussongs(oldest bar in Baja), my team lost me for an hour, but then found me in a hot tub with a dozen naked women, Cameron(my codriver and good friend) took one for a ride in the Pig (yes she was naked, and yes we have pictures for the part of the story), and when some people we were drinking with found out we were sleeping under the Baja Pig in the street, they gave us these awesome houses to sleep in on a ranch somewhere far from town.

We sort of missed the start because of the those awesome houses and a series of failures on the way home which we fixed in the morning, but we made the race starting ramp but were allowed to start anyway(long story), and ripped for 180 or so miles until the steering rack came lose. Then we realized we had been robbed at some point and our tools were mostly missing so I was forced to swap steering racks using like 3 tools and a rock and tried to continue.

Unfortunately the replacement rack sucked and I had smashed my hand and it was bleeding pretty badly so we headed for the lights of San Felipe in the horizon. We checked into a hotel where we stayed for three nights getting drunk with the hotel manager and a bunch of locals. We borrowed some clothes for the next day because our friends were still hours away and we hung out at the beach and drank beers at Pete’s camp.

One of the nights I foolishly let the manager take the Pig out wasted and we were drifting thru town at 80mph in no time. It drives more like an e30 than you would ever image. And I forgot he used to race when he was younger and could actually drive. I was scared. No windshield, No helmet, 80mph and way too sideways on way too much tequila is a nightmare. We also jumped it over and over again in the hotel parking lot which was more fun than you would ever imagine.

I’m in the process of rebuilding the Baja Pig for next year’s 1000 and already have this cool new steering system rigged up. I need to get the engine running again and do some work on the suspension but it should be a strong little car for this years race. I also took Travis Tollett’s  drawing from above and put it on a T Shirt. I kind of forgot to promote it but there are still a few days left if you want a copy of the shirt too. This is a screen capture of the sale which lasts until Monday.

I’ve already got the next section written and its titled something like “How I Got Wasted And Raced In the Baja 1000” – Its not about the night in Ensenda, Its about the meeting with Miller Welders…

Baja Pig drawing by Travis Tollett Designs

Pictures by Bill Caswell and Sam Smith(yes, @thatsamsmith)