Looking back through the history of the dune buggy, tunnel buggies were a major part of the 1960s. Wherever there was sand, from California to Florida, these buggies were there. A tunnel buggy, as compared to a shortened pan buggy, was created by simply replacing the solid VW floor halves with expanded metal mesh. Today, the tunnel buggy is rare; most did not survive.
Jeff Elrod of San Martin, California, has joined a very small fraternity of enthusiasts who have saved and owned a classic tunnel buggy. Buggies have been part of Jeff’s family for years. His late father Curt Elrod purchased the family’s first buggy, a water pumper, in 1968. What started out as hobby became Elrod Motorsports; a full fledge off-road racing family. Roger and Rick Mears both drove Curt’s buggy at Pikes Peak during the 1970s. Jeff and brother Wes, owned their own dune buggies and became successful buggy racers competing at Ascot, Pikes Peak, the Mickey Thompson Off-Road Grand Prix, the Cranden International Off-Road Raceway, and the SCORE Off-Road World Championship. Last year they campaigned a Pro Class Buggy in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Series.
So why does a championship winning off-road racer with the skills and in-house resources to restore any buggy choose an old ‘60s era tunnel buggy? Per Jeff, “Wes and I saw the buggy outside at the Santa Maria Raceway. We could see the roll bar through the trees. It reminded us of a buggy that my dad’s friend Jim Lampy owned. It brought back great memories. Plus, you rarely see these buggies today.” Jeff bought the buggy as roller without an engine for $250 in 2014.
The buggy is based on a 1961 VW Beetle pan that has been shortened to a 77” wheel base. Like most tunnel buggies with a two seat configuration, the seats have been moved back near the rear torsion tube thus the need to reposition the gear shifter, pedal assembly, and master brake cylinder. Gone is the stock VW floor pan in favor of a much lighter and smaller expanded metal area to rest the feet of the driver and passenger. A single bar provides roll-over protection.
Where possible, Jeff has preserved original parts including the stock VW steering box, VW front beam suspension, brakeless and lightened VW front hubs, and the Firestone farm tires mounted to the ’66-67 VW stock wheels.
Personal touches include a polished aluminum master brake cylinder off a 1964 Datsun Roadster, Goodyear Terra tires mounted to Mike Tacoma 10” x 15” rear wheels, polished 7.5 gallon Olympia pony beer keg for a fuel tank, 1953 John Deere B rear tail light, and 1950 Dietz front headlights. Jeff also fabricated the oil pressure instrument pod, the tri-spinner fuel cap, and the dual handled cabled based turning brake system. The clear gear shift knob was created by Jeff in junior high school.
A stock 1200cc VW air-cooled engine running a 6 volt generator was built by Tony Mace of Beetle Power, Pleasanton, California while the original swinger transaxle was freshened up by VW buggy guru Joe Sellers.
The blue and yellow paint represents the original colors that Jeff and Wes started their buggy racing careers.
Completed in April 2016, Jeff would like to thank Tony Mace (engine), Joe Sellers (transaxle) Wes Elrod (paint), Gerald Giacalone (electrical), Eric Robinson (deal maker), and Mike Flannigan (all around) for their contribution to the two year project.
Jeff’s outstanding buggy restoration exemplifies old school: home-built with friends and family, use of period correct but unique parts while maintaining the originality and personality of this ‘60s era buggy.