Sand Cars Features

Pat Pendley’s LS3-powered 2-seater was built by Total Off Road (TOR) of Arizona. The mid-engine chassis gives this car a sleek look and allows it to handle like a sports car.

Corvette Duner

Styling and performance for this radical buggy were inspired by GM’s classic sports car
By Michael Sommer | February 24, 2014

Photos by Michael Sommer

A native of Michigan who now lives in Litchfield Park, Arizona, Pat Pendley has been involved with off-roading ever since he was about 10 years old. Pat told us that he and his best friend both had motorcycles and they would ride all day long if their parents let them. They rode in the fields and woods near his home, and also at a popular location known to the locals as the Terminal, which was an abandoned gravel pit. Then, a few years later as a young teenager, Pat ended up getting hooked on sand duning after taking a trip to the Warren Dunes. These dunes are located near Sawyer, Michigan (situated on the west side of the state near the shore of Lake Michigan), which wasn’t far from Pat’s home. Although the Warren Dunes have since been closed to off-highway vehicles, they proved to be the perfect introduction for Pat into the exciting world of sand sports.
The 427 cu.-in. engine runs nitrous and puts 900+hp to the rear wheels. The car’s suspension offers about two feet of wheel travel with Fox coil-overs and bypasses front & rear.
A few years later, when Pat was 15, his parents decided to relocate and purchase a home in Arizona. Pat loved the fact that he now lived in the middle of the western desert and took full advantage of his new surroundings by getting involved with off-road racing. He joined the ADRA (Arizona Desert Racing Association) and competed on a regular basis in the motorcycle class up until the year when his second child was born. But, he ended his hiatus once his kids got a little older, because he wanted to teach them how to ride so the family would have an activity they could all enjoy together. This is when Pat began taking his family to the Glamis Sand Dunes, where they would join some of his close friends and their families.
Not only did Pat enjoy casual family outings where he would show the youngsters how to navigate the dunes, he also had a circle of friends that thrived on riding hard and fast. So, whenever possible, Pat would take off with them for a bit of friendly dune racing. A few of Pat’s closest riding buddies were Bruce Zeller, Darren Trede, Bruce Surber, Jimmy Brown, and Screwie Lewie (the founder and owner of Screwie Lewie Motorsports in Phoenix, Arizona).
As time progressed and Pat’s interests changed, he began noticing the high tech sand cars that were roaming the dunes. Pat started shopping around to see what the different off-road car builders were offering, and he eventually crossed paths with Brian Mullenix of Total Off Road (TOR). Pat said he realized from one the initial meetings he had with Brian that he was the right person to build the ultimate buggy. Brian had the motivation and attitude to work closely with Pat, and he had the vision to build a sand car that would share some of the styling and performance characteristics of an early Corvette. Pat like the idea of building a buggy with some of the classic ‘Vette features, and Brian was more than happy to meet the challenge.
The foundation for this buggy is a 1.75-inch O.D. chromoly chassis with a 123.5-inch wheelbase, which has been configured as a 2-seat mid-engine design. The front suspension is TOR’s custom A-arm setup that uses Foddrill 2-inch hollow spindles, Gear One 4-piston disc brakes, Howe 2.0 Power Rack steering system, and a set of Fox 2.0 bypasses and coil carriers at each wheel. The car rides on 17x8-inch Dragon Fire bead lock wheels with 17x12.50 Razor Master tires, and the wheel travel is 23 inches.
The rear suspension is equipped with dual pivot trailing arms, a custom anti-sway bar setup, 934 Centerboard hubs from Gear One, 6-piston disc brake assemblies, Gear One axles and 934.5 CV joints. A set of Fox coil-overs and 3.0 bypasses are used to control the 24 inches of rear wheel travel, and the rolling stock is a set of 17x12-inch Dragon Fire aluminum wheels with bead locks that mount 17x35.5 Sand Master paddles. It’s somewhat difficult to gauge the agility of a buggy by looking at photos, but the action pictures will give you a good idea of how well the car turns and remains level under power in a hard slide.
In keeping with the ‘Vette theme, car builder Brian Mullenix installed tabs and mounts in the chassis to accept a GM LS3 engine, which is the current standard for the Chevrolet Corvette. Since Pat is a muscle car buff and doesn’t like to keep anything stock, he decided to have David Dosch at Powerhouse Motorsports (Peoria, AZ) increase the displacement to 427 cubic inches. Performance upgrades include Callies crank and rods, Mahle 12.5:1 CR pistons, GM Stage 2 cam (.583-in. lift, 239° duration), GM LS7 ported and polished heads (56mm intake and 41mm exhaust valves), and Crower rocker arms. Fuel is delivered by means of a FAST intake manifold with a 92mm throttle body, Bosch injectors, Aeromotive A-1000 fuel pump, and a Delphi ECU. For an added kick, Dave installed a NOS 300hp nitrous oxide injection system. The stainless steel headers and mufflers were custom made by Arrowlane Fabrication (Scottsdale, AZ), and keeping things cool is a Ron Davis radiator with dual electric fans.
When it came time to tune the engine, Pat’s buggy was strapped down on a dyno where it ended up making 618hp to the rear wheels (corrected to an estimated 780hp at the crank). This means the buggy has the potential to put well over 900hp the ground when the nitrous system is activated. Harnessing all of these ponies is super stout Mendeola S4 transaxle. The sequentially-shifted gearbox was assembled by Bill Capatch of Arizona Transaxle (Phoenix, AZ).
Classic Corvette styling is also apparent when you peer into the interior of Pat’s buggy. The two-seater is equipped with vinyl covered bucket seats from Triple X (Chandler, AZ), hand formed 1967-style aluminum double bubble dash (with AutoMeter Pro Comp gauges in front of the driver and a Lowrance GPS positioned in front of the passenger), as well as a center console that mounts the sand sealed switches, intercom, and a Kenwood DVD and Nav system. Other amenities include Crow harnesses, Mendeola shifter, Momo steering wheel, Corvette style door panels with Focal coax speakers, cutting brakes, and billet aluminum Gen-X Hangerz pedal assembly from Gear One. The polished NOS bottle is mounted to the floor in front of the center console, and lighting the way are a pair of LED light bars from Rigid Industries.
All of the aluminum work on Pat’s buggy, as well as the fiberglass body, were fabricated by Brian Mullenix and Chris Bloomquist. The car’s two-tone black and silver paint job was done by Jeff Faschan of VIP Powdercoating in Phoenix, and Troy Davis gets credit for the pinstriping and lettering job. Pat told us he is very impressed with the car’s good looks, and that it handles extremely well at high speed and in the rough sections of the dunes. Everything on this buggy is race car caliber, and it has the appearance and performance of an off-road hot rod. But, what else would you expect from a “Corvette Duner?”

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