Steve McQueen, Bud Ekins and the Chevy-powered Hurst Baja Boot

The Hurst Baja Boot was envisioned by Vic Hickey who was regarded as one of General Motors top engineers of the time. GM had a “no racing” policy in place that initially stopped any plans of producing the Baja. But under the shadow of darkness, Hickey and Drino Miller completed the Baja Boot in 26 days at the Hurst facility in Michigan. The chassis was constructed out of SAE- 1010 13/4-inch steel tubing that weighed 3,450 pounds. The suspension system included parts from a Corvette rear drive assemblies and a Dana transfer case to support the 112 inch long hybrid four-wheel-drive buggy. The Baja Boot could operate from a Front wheel drive platform through an inverted drive assembly that allowed the driver to disengage the transfer case. Other Innovative features included a collapsible steering column, 11-inch Hurst-Airheart disc brakes, a 20-inch-diameter six-blade fan with reversed pitch, and a 350ci V-8 engine that was installed backwards.

Steve first raced the Baja Boot in the ‘Stardust 7-11′ off-road race in June 1968. A gruelling 320 mile odyssey for both cars and motorbikes, the race started at the Stardust raceway in Las Vegas, Nevada, and ran across the potentially lethal Amargosa desert. Friend and fellow racer Bud Ekins was also with Steve in the Baja Boot in the role of rider-navigator.

In the lead up to the race Steve told the media - “I’ve lined me up a sweet machine for this one called the ‘Baja Boot.’ Chevy powered. Four hundred and fifty horses under the bonnet. Space frame construction. Four-wheel drive. Independant suspension. And ‘smooth’! I can notch close to a hundred over a sand wash and you better believe that’s moving.”

Steve and Bud were performing well in the race, until, in Steve’s own words, as related to writer William F Nolan– “We were really battin’ along, feeling good about the car and our chances with it, when we see this big fat wheel rolling along beside us. It’s our wheel! The axle had popped. Well, that did it. We just sat on our tails in the desert ’till help came.”

McQueen also took the Baja Boot for a spin in 1969′s ‘Baja 1000′, which as the name suggests, is a 1000 mile long off-road race. Set on Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula, also known as ‘The Devils Playground’, the Baja 1000 is the longest off road race in the world. It is also arguably the toughest and most dangerous– 1969′s event claiming two lives.

Steve McQueen was accompanied by co-driver Harold Daigh this time out, and the pair were travelling well, but, with just 237 miles completed, disaster struck when a broken transmission put them out of the race.

McQueen later told William Nolan– “In the fast sections, it was not unusual for us to get airborn for 50 to 70 feet over road dips. The Boot rides so smooth you can overdo things. Even in bad, choppy sections it’ll do 60 or so, and if you slam into a big rock at that speed you can crack an axle or worse.”