Sand Cars Features

Justin Cooney is proud of the dual-sport off-road car that he recently built and he drives it as often as possible.

Whipper Snapper

Justin Cooney shows us how the “young guns” of the Sand Cars sport are having fun.
By Casey Cordeiro | March 1, 2013

Photos by Casey Cordeiro


In the off-roading and sand duning worlds, you could say that there are 3 types of drivers out there, male and female, who love to get on the throttle. The first type represent the “old guys rule” tent (you’ve seen the shirts, right?), because they have loved the dunes for years and they offer up the most experience from behind the wheel. The second type tends to fly under the “pedal to the metal” flag, with guns a-blazing and full-bazooka amounts of horsepower to match their insatiable thirst for speed. The third type of drivers are sometimes referred to as the “young guns” of the sport. These are the youngsters who have an incredible amount of talent and desire to constantly reach their goals of eventually becoming the best of the best.
It’s based on a two-seat chromoly chassis that features X-bracing and gussets for added strength.
Enter into the life of a kid named Justin Cooney. Justin is an All-American kid. He grew up under the wing of two incredible parents, Robert and Laura Cooney. Their passion for the off-road sport is only surpassed by the love for their son, and Justin embodies the terms “Young Gun” and “American Kid” to the capital Y and A.
The engine is a 1776cc VW that’s mated to a 002 VW Bus box that was built by the pros at The Wright Gearbox. It’s got all the right stuff for hours of wide-open desert fun!
Not long ago, the Cooney’s began exploring the desert hobby, first by buying one of the initial releases of the venerable Yamaha Rhino. At that time, the Rhino was literally the craze vehicle, and the Cooney’s went all out with their family ride. You have an idea of the usual modifications; long travel kit, more power from the motor, seats, extended cage, and upgraded tires to make it a true “family” vehicle. Justin grew up learning to observe the desert and by driving a little alongside his parents. And, it wasn’t long until his need for adventure turned out to be a need to obtain a ride of his own.
As Justin graduated high school and started attending college, he began saving his extra money to buy a buggy. As time passed, he eventually bought a rail; a two-seater with a 1600cc VW motor. This car provided the turning point in Justin’s off-road expertise. As he gained more experience, Justin knew that he would want to upgrade to a bigger and stouter car.
Fast forward about two years and he had his sights set on selling his original buggy in favor of a true dual sport, two-seat desert car. It just so happens that opportunities present themselves in the perfect order. After much deliberation and some family advice, Justin picked up the cherry little two-seat dual sport car you see on these pages!
This car is truly a one-off product. Not only was it designed to be a true dual sport car, all of the primary upgrades to make it a race-worthy car were performed with the intent of racing this beast in the near future. When Justin was looking for the perfect car, he knew this one included all of the features he desired in an off-road vehicle, not to mention one that he might be inclined to race one day.
Essentially, Justin’s car was built around a one-off Big Boy chassis. It’s a chromoly pre-runner design that is gusseted and X-braced at all the critical points for increased strength and rigidity. The occupants are protected with custom aluminum sheet metal to ensure the desert stays in the desert. The chassis itself is powder coated a charcoal gray to provide the ultimate durability.
Powering this car happens to be a tried and true VW motor, specifically a 1776cc unit that is fed by two 44mm Weber carburetors. Transferring the power to the ground is a close ratio 002 VW bus transmission, which was built by The Wright Gearbox. Attaching the bus tranny to the outer VW stub axles and modified 3x3 trailing arms are 930 CV joints. On the outer portions of the rail are conventional BFGoodrich tires, specifically 32/11.50r15 Mud-Terrain T/A KM2s. Stopping those meats are dual disk brakes in the rear with dual piston calipers.
It seems like there is only one-way to go with suspension these days: a long travel system. Justin wanted a plush ride that would also give him the ultimate in suspension performance. This desire was completed with the use of Fox coil-over shocks all the way around. In order to provide more suspension control in the rear, King bypass shocks were installed to keep the dampening progressive and the car under control at all times.
Rounding out the list of items on this one-of-a-kind car is a five-gallon spun aluminum gas tank to keep the rides long and fun throughout the daytime and nighttime hours. Keeping the occupants comfortable inside the car are fully suspended Beard seats complete with 4-point harnesses to keep the driver and passenger safe at all times. The inside is also equipped with a Lowrance GPS that is custom mounted in the aluminum dash.
Justin, being the “Whipper Snapper” that he is, drove the heck out of his buggy on the day of our photo shoot. And, after taking advice from his parents for all of these years, it was only fitting that his dad was riding shotgun the entire time while we were out shooting the pictures. I wish we had some video of his excitement. Justin promises to keep the throttle down and fun times flowing in his very unique dual sport buggy.
Stay safe in the sand jungle!

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Whipper Snapper
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Andy Chandler was lucky enough to get his hands on a buggy that previously belonged to Andrew Buck of Buckshot Racing. This X3 is unique, fast, and it looks nicer than ever thanks to Andy's hard work.

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