Sand Cars Features

Wyatt Radke hammers the throttle of EMPI's Sand Pincher buggy at the Glamis dunes. The Sand Pincher name draws its meaning from the quartermile drag car that made EMPI famous during the 1960s, the Inch Pincher which was owned and driven by Darry Vittone.

Sand Pincher

This beautiful rail was built by Buggy Works as a rolling test bed for many of the products that EMPI manufactures
By Bruce Simurda | March 27, 2014

Photos by Bruce Simurda


If you’ve been into the VW scene for over five minutes, then you’re probably already familiar with the name Empi. The original company, Engineered Motor Products, Inc., dates back to the mid-1950s when VW high performance products were few. Today, it’s a different story, as Empi, Inc., based in Anaheim, California, has literally hundreds of products available for street, racing, and off-road use.
In order to test some of their new high performance and off-road components in real life situations, the staff at Empi decided to build a sandrail using as many in-house components as possible. But for the actual construction of the car, they enlisted the services of Scott Graham at Full Throttle Motorsports in nearby Alta Loma.
Knowing this rail was going to be VW powered, they began with a Buggy Works chromoly 4-seat chassis, which features a 130-inch wheelbase and approximately 18 inches of travelboth front and rear. The front travel is made possible with twin A-arms supported by King 8x2 piggyback shocks. The long arms are topped with Foddrill Combo spindles, and utilize 1-1/4-inch aluminum Buggy Works tie rods to connect the spindles to an Empi center-load rack and pinion.
From there, Goodyear farm implement tires, mounted on Douglas spindle-mount aluminum wheels, make contact with the sand. Out back we find a variety of Empi suspension components, from their lightened 930 CV-joints to 4340 chromoly axles, 930 flanges, 4340 stub axles, and chromed IRS trailing arms holding Empi’s own Micro Stub disc brake kit. Wilwood calipers provide the clamping power to the disc brakes, while King 14x2.5 piggyback shocks provide restrained movement for the big 14.5-x15 inch Dune Spoon’s from Sport Tires of America paddles mounted on Douglas polished aluminum bead-lock wheels.
Of course, the “Sand Pincher” had to have VW power, and that’s when B&B German in El Monte went to work. Starting with a new Empi aluminum Super Stock case, they stuffed it with a wide variety of other Empi components, such as an 84mm 4340 chromoly stroker crank and 5.400-inch rods, straight-cut cam gears, 30mm lifters w/oiling hole, high performance heads with 40mm intakes and 35.5mm exhausts, 1.4:1 ratio rockers on solid shafts, 3/8-inch chromoly pushrods, and centrifugal advance distributors.
Other engine components include Mahle 94mm pistons and cylinders, an Engle TS30 turbo grind camshaft, T3/T4 hybrid turbocharged pulling through a single 45 DCOE sidedraft carb, custom ceramic coated B&B turbo header, and a KEP 2700-lb. pressure plates pushing an Empi 4-puck disc against a lightened 200mm flywheel. Producing 273 horsepower at 15 pounds boost, all this power transfers through a VW 091 gearbox that was carefully prepped by Rancho Performance Transaxles with 4.57:1 ring and pinion, close ratio gears, side cover, and more.
Filling the vast interior of this sand explorer are four black vinyl and cloth Empi Race Suspension highback bucket seats and Deist safety harnesses. But the real theme of this cockpit is clean and simple, with an aluminum console housing warning lights, switches, and VDO gauges, a twin-handle turning brake, Empi hydraulic pedal assembly and billet steering wheel. One unique feature of this buggy is the use of Rhino truck bed liner on the floorboards, which make clean-up time quick and easy.
Finishing this beautiful buggy off are the body panels and wing/trunk by Buggy Works, and orange powdercoating by Olympic Powder Coating in Santa Ana, California. The cool “Sand Pincher” graphics and lettering were added by Paint N Place in Anaheim. There are also a bunch of trick little items throughout this buggy, such as the four billet side steps, New Wave Flamed billet 5-inch lights, billet rear-view mirror, and billet hydraulic/fuel line clamps.
Yes, while the crew at Empi says it’s a good way to test their products ... we just think it’s a great excuse to play with them!

 A Few More "Sand Cars" Stories...

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