Skip to main content

Words: JAMIE WISEMAN | Photos: AMBER WISEMAN

FROM DIRT BIKES TO VINTAGE VWS

I moved to Alabama from Toronto, Canada, in 1989 when I was 17. I’ve always been fascinated with off-roading – from riding dirt bikes to racing off-road RC cars. After college in 1992, I landed a job as a master automotive technician at our local Toyota dealership. In 2004, I opened up my own automotive repair shop. Since then I’ve restored vintage VW’s, and have been fabricating my own parts and accessories. I’ve loved VWs ever since I was a kid and had an RC dune buggy. Now, my wife and I own three vintage bugs, including the Burro.

THE MEMORABLE FIRST

El Burro is actually the first off-road vehicle I’ve ever built. The best thing about it was that the vintage VW Bug could go pretty much anywhere! The Burro name was fitting for the Bug since it was our pack mule to the west – Colorado and beyond.

We wanted something different. I had a ’67 Bug that I was going to restore and sell, but instead, I decided to convert it for something unique. We had a trip planned to go to Colorado, and we thought it would be fun to drive the Burro on a 6,000-mile road trip from Alabama to Colorado and back. It never skipped a beat! We even got it up to 14k feet elevation at Imogene Pass.

EL BURRO COMES ALIVE

Good thing there’s a huge market for off-roading VW’s because there were many parts, but I still had to fabricate a huge amount of mods for the Burro. We wanted to keep the entire Bug body and not go with the Baja Bug look.

I did everything myself given I own my own shop and have been doing this for a living for quite some time. Everything from the suspension to the interior, bumpers, roof rack and body parts are all custom built.

A FEW OF MY FAVORITE MODS ARE:

1. The custom A-Arm front suspension since I designed it from what I learned from building and racing RC cars
2. The Roof rack. It gives the vehicle a whole lot more storage
3. The Holley Sniper Fuel injection. When it was carbureted it was a pain to keep changing the jets at different elevations.

The Burro is about to get a new heart transplant. I’m in the process of building a new engine that will be turbocharged to help with elevation and towing the trailer. I’m also going to be installing a locking rear differential to help with traction since we only have 2wd. The biggest challenge of the build was keeping everything reliable, especially when you’re out in the middle of nowhere.

ADVENTURING IN EL BURRO

We mostly love week-long camping trips, but we also use it for our vacations from time to time. It’s so much fun to drive. On our trip to Colorado and back from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, we camped out of it for two weeks. It was the first major trip we took with the Burro and we had a blast. We ended up driving several of the mountain passes in the Ouray and Telluride area. But in all, we got to see pretty much the whole state of Colorado. The drive was uneventful thankfully and we got to see a lot of different scenery. We also love to drive and camp and explore the mountains of Tennessee since it’s only a 3-to 5-hour drive for us.

We turned a lot of heads driving this thing off-road. Being only 2-wheel drive, you have to think ahead when on a narrow pass. Sometimes we would have to get a running start to get momentum going to make it up a steep grade. We can’t crawl like the 4x4s; that’s why I’m installing the locking diff. Other than that the Burro is very easy to handle off-road. Now I know why they drove VW’s off-road for years. I must say the 4×4 guys are super! We were in a group of Jeeps driving up one of the mountain passes in Ouray. They would all pull over for us so we wouldn’t lose momentum and have to stop. Don’t get me wrong, the Burro will still crawl up some of the steepest grades. We drove the Burro through some heavy mud and deep creeks and we still haven’t got to a point where we had to use the winch.

PLANNING SMARTER, NOT HARDER

I always make sure the Burro is maintained and ready to go, it’s a very reliable vehicle. I sometimes drive it back and forth to work for days. But being a very unique vehicle, I always have to make sure I use parts from other makes of vehicles that are popular, so if we do have an issue while on our trips, I can pop into an auto parts shop and grab a spare if needed. I always carry some extra parts with us just in case. The Burro is equipped with tools, first aid, wool blankets, and some provisions just in case. But if the trailer is being towed behind us we’re set for anything!

1967 VOLKSWAGEN BEETLE

WHEELS/TIRES
• 30×9.50R15 front and 31×10.50R15 rear General Grabber AT tires
• 15×8 front and 15×9 rear US Wheel Baja Mod
PERFORMANCE
• 2180cc Air-Cooled Type 1 with Holley sniper EFI putting out 140hp
• Equipped with cold AC
• VW type 3 rear drum brake conversion
• Wilwood 4-piston front disc brakes and cross-drilled rotors
• Jamar rear cutting brake
DRIVETRAIN
• VW bus rear transaxle with locking differential and 5.38 final gear ratio
• Porsche 930 CV joints with Sway-A-Away axle shafts
• VW bus gear shifter modified to fit
SUSPENSION
• 3” front and rear suspension lift
• Custom front A-Arm type suspension with FOA coilovers.
• Custom 2” longer and 2” wider rear trailing arm suspension with FOA shocks and Sway-A-Way 28mm torsion bars
ARMOR
• Custom-built front and rear 1.5” tube bumpers with 1.25” rear receiver hitch
• 10 point interior 1.5” Chromoly roll cage
• 1/8” steel engine skid armor plate
EXTERIOR MODS
• 3” body lift
• Clearances front and rear fenders with 3” flares
• Custom step bars with integrated roof rack ladder
• Custom tubular convex 4” left and right rearview mirrors
• Roof-mounted dual oil coolers
LIGHTING
• Led front headlights with Halo
• (3) SuperBrite LED roof rack mounted off-road lights
• (2) SuperBrite LED front bumper mounted driving lights
RECOVERY GEAR
• Warn VRX 45-S bumper mounted front winch with remote control
• (2) KC ActionTrax traction boards
• 36” high lift jack
GEAR STORAGE, ORGANIZATION, ROOF RACK, BED RACK
• Blue Ridge Overland gear seatback storage panels and storage bags
• Bucket Boss tool bags and tool rolls
• Custom roof rack with spare tire mount and high lift jack mount
• (2) 4.5-gallon RotoPax fuel containers
ELECTRONICS, COMMUNICATION, IN- CABIN ACCESSORY MOUNTS
• Several USB power ports, 500W power inverter, and dash phone mount
• All the gauges are made by Holley EFI and are GPS enabled.
• Heat is provided by a Webasto diesel air heater.
AUDIO, MULTIMEDIA, ENTERTAINMENT ELECTRONICS
• Kenwood Bluetooth Head unit, 8” Bazooka Bass tube, and Kenwood 200W amp and 6” component speakers
CAMPING GEAR
• Custom-built off-road trailer with air ride suspension and custom swivel hitch
• CVT rooftop tent with lower vestibule
• Renogy 100W flexible solar panel and 20-amp charge control
• Mighty Max 100W AGM battery
• 750W power inverter
• Yakima 4 gallon Road Shower
• 5-gallon freshwater jerrycan
• 1-gallon LP tank
• Camp Kitchen Gear
• Dometic CFX 45 fridge
• Two burner slide-out LP stove
• 5-gallon gray water tank for folding sink and folding shower basin
• Flip-up countertop on rear trailer tailgate