Gary powers his way through the dunes in his mid-engine, turbo VW-powered Suspensions Unlimited sandrail.

Power Sander

Gary Smathers’ latest “power tool” smoothes the dunes with a 2387cc turbo Type 1
By Dean Kirsten | May 5, 2014

Photos by Mike Sommer


As a veteran duner, Gary Smathers admits that this is his 29th year in the sand, and still loves every free weekend he can take off work. Of all the buggies he’s owned during that period of time, his latest just may be his coolest. This 2003 Suspension Unlimited mid-engine two-seater tips the scales at respectable 1,386 pounds, and measures 122 inches from wheel center to wheel center. Although he did purchase this car complete, once he got it into the sand, he quickly decided to make some changes to fit his need for speed.
Plenty of room for Gary and passenger, thanks to a pair of PRP seats. Inside side panels, seat covers, and ice chest cover were all upholstered in gray and blue flames to match the airbrush work found all over the buggy. Center console houses three Auto Meter gauges, as well as CNC steering brakes and AJ (sequential) Speedshift.
The Suspension Unlimited package consists of a chromoly chassis, with double A-arms up front, using 2x8.5-inch Fox shocks to smooth-out the ruts. Steering is a RBP rack and pinion assembly, while brakes are CNC disc. Out back, SU supplied the chassis with its famous 5-link control, using Fox shocks (2x12 inches), and setup for a Rancho Transaxle-built Megasand IRS trans. Axles are from SAW, CV-joints are 930-style, while rear brakes are CNC disc.
Don Minkel of MTM Performance (Hemet, CA), assembled this 2387cc, based on an 86mm Scat crank, 5.6-inch Scat rods and 94mm Mahles pistons. Turbo is a T04B, fitted to a Car Craft intake manifold and T-section. Induction is handled by a 45 DCOE Weber. Nitrous oxide and fuel enrichment are also found on board this 350hp power tool.
Behind the wheel of this quick duner, Gary relies on a pair of PRP suspended seats fitted with Crow safety belts. Engine vitals are monitored thanks to a set of Auto Meter gauges. Foot controls are all CNC, as are the steering brakes, but when it came time for the gear choices, Gary selected an AJ hydraulic sequential shifter with reverse lock-out, to find the best gear for the moment.
Wild graphics by Steve Vandemon.
What is all new for this particular buggy is the engine, built by Don Minkel of MTM Performance of Hemet, California. This 2387cc Type 1 uses a magnesium case, Scat 86mm forged crank, 5.600-inch Scat Hbeam rods, and 94mm Mahle pistons and cylinders. Street Eliminator heads were ported by Steve Tims, and setup with 8.37:1 compression. Induction is a single sidedraft 45 DCOE Weber, fitted to a Car Craft intake manifold, and T-section. From there, Don installed a T04B turbo, along with a Turbonetic waste gate. CB Performance supplied the 1-5/8-inch exhaust system, which was later ceramic coated. The whole enchilada makes about 350hp, depending on how much boost is applied.
Traditional Suspension Unlimited double Aarm setup works like a dream in the dunes!
The most stunning feature about Gary’s car are, of course, the paint and graphics. The entire tube chassis was powdercoated Candy Blue, which gives it a near bulletproof finish that stands up to the abuse of “power sanding.” From there, the side panels and inside consoles were hopped up a bit, with some outrageous skull and ghoulish graphics, created by airbrush ace Steve Vandermon of Absolute Custom in Anaheim, California. There is some pretty radical stuff going on within those panels! But Gary is delighted the way his latest “Power Sander” came together, and he looks forward to his 30th year of dunning next season!
Megasand gearbox was fully polished, as was the AJ shifter assembly.
ENGINE/1600cc Type 1;
DISPLACEMENT/2387cc;
BUILDER/Don Minkel, MTM;
Performance, Hemet, CA;
CRANK/Scat, 86mm, forged,
8-doweled, Chevy journals;
RODS/Scat, H-Beam, 5.6-inch long;
PISTONS & CYLINDERS/Mahle, 94mm;
RINGS/Total Seal;
CAM/Custom grind;
OIL PUMP/Melling, cast iron;
OIL COOLER/Empi, remote-mounted, w/fan;
OIL/Kendall 40W;
HEADS/Street Eliminators, ported & polished by Steve Tims, Riverside, CA;
VALVE SIZE & MAKE/42mm intake, 37.5mm exhaust, stainless steel;
COMPRESSION RATIO/8.37:1;
ROCKER ARMS/Scat 1.5:1;
PUSHRODS/3/8-inch, chromoly;
IGNITION/MSD Billet Distributor, MSD 6AL box, MSD Boost Timing Master;
INDUCTION/Weber 45 DCOE Sidedraft;
INTAKE MANIFOLDS/Car Craft manifolds, Turbonetics T04B turbo;
EXHAUST/CB Performance, 1-5/8-inch, ceramic coated;
CLUTCH/KEP Stage 3, 3-puck disc;
HP/350hp (estimated);
OTHER MODIFICATIONS/universal case, MTM fuel enrichment system, NOS nitrous system, Turbonetic waste gate;
TRANSAXLE/MEGASAND;
BUILDER/Rancho Performance Transaxles, Anaheim, CA;
RING & PINION/4.43:1;
GEAR RATIOS/3.10 first, 2.07 second, 1.67third, 1.30 fourth;
SPECIAL MODIFICATIONS/AJ Sequential shifter, 930 Lobro CVs, SAW axles, 930 flanges.

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