(Not) Breaking The Law In A Wheelie-popping Baja Buggy With Blake Wilkey

Whereas tarmac has laws, statutes, rules, and general norms and mores governing its use—things Blake Wilkey is all too familiar with—dirt is uniquely lawless. Out amongst the sand dunes, cracks and crevices, and sooty desert floor, modern-day Max Rockatanskys can still shout “Witness me!” while they huck their sand rails, trophy trucks, and Baja-prepped buggies through the barren and deserted wasteland without fear of state reprisals, city ordinances, and 26 counts of reckless endangerment. Here, Blake Wilkey can go full Ken Block or Evel Knievel, filming every second, with no danger of landing himself back in the slammer. Yeah, back in.

You may recognize Blake from the viral video, “Urban Assault,” which he put out almost two years ago. In the video, he took a Baja Beetle and compiled a Gymkhana-style video using the streets of San Diego as his own personal Hollywood studio backlot. Unlike Block and his Hoonigan crew, however, Blake didn’t get permits. He didn’t get local law enforcement to close roads. He just did what most of us dream about—and are likely too chicken (or too smart) to do.

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As you might have guessed, the cops and almost every news station in the tri-state area have access to YouTube, and after a little detective work (not that much as Blake wasn’t exactly hiding his identity with his name splayed across the side of the Bug), local law picked up Blake and threw the book at him. When the Man finally caught up with Blake, they charged him with reckless endangerment, improper use of a vehicle, lack of permits, and a few dozen other violations. He was looking at some serious consequences to what was originally thought to be just some harmless fun.

Adding to his trouble, the police wanted Blake’s buggy as they considered it a deadly weapon. This was complicated, since, before the film dropped, the buggy had already been sold and shipped to its new owner in Qatar. According to Blake, the police tried for quite some time to get it back into the U.S. In the end, it stayed in the Middle East. Blake couldn’t escape so easily. He hired lawyers and got some of the charges dropped, but still had 26 different counts of various mayhem to deal with. He spent two weekends in jail, and 45 days under house arrest but he didn’t spend it sulking or feeling sorry for himself.

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“I’ve never been so productive in my life,” he said. “I went from home, to work, to the TB Metal Worx’s shop. Those were the only places I could go, and I spent as much time at work and in the shop as I could.” Blake used the forced focus to start a new project. “I’d go to work, then immediately to the shop, and I’d work until I was forced to leave.” Blake had to routinely check in with police. “When it all ended, Project Megalodon was ready to be shipped to powder coating.”

Named after the biggest and baddest shark ever to live, Megalodon is a much different beast than Blake’s last buggy. Powered by a Mullenix Racing-prepped and DuneHoon-tuned LS6 with a Magnuson jack-shaft supercharger running a conservative five pounds of boost, Megalodon makes about 530 horsepower. The engine sounds bananas. The open headers give it a high-pitched yowl and as it shifts through the Mendeola S4 four-speed sequential transaxle transmission, it can spin the rear tires on command. Like its namesake, it’s an apex predator looking for its next Pro-2 trophy truck or 100-foot-tall sand-dune meal.

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I met up with Blake in Nevada at LS Fest West—an all Chevy gathering near Las Vegas, in order to experience the new build in a lawful fashion, without ending up in prison.

When I first approached Megalodon, its Rockford Fosgate speakers were blasting NOFX’s “Seeing Double at the Triple Rock.” Exposed King coil-over racing shocks with exterior bypasses were visible through the teal blue bodywork. I was invited to hop into Megalodon, which is somewhat like climbing a jungle gym without the flexibility or conveniently small size of youth. You climb on its rock rails, grab a piece of the inner cage, and wriggle yourself into the cockpit. Inside, you’re encased in the buggy’s fixed-back PRP seats. Even though the speakers were still blasting loud punk tunes in the background as I buckled in, and the engine overcame them, even at idle.

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With the mill growling and grumbling, we went puttering through the small crowd that was surrounding Megalodon and headed toward an expansive piece of open tarmac. “It sometimes doesn’t want to kick up unless I really beat her up,” said Blake over the engine’s rumbling bass notes. Then he stomped on the gas, and the front wheels popped up a good three feet.

Coming down felt like landing on a cloud, as the massive off-road shocks soaked up the violence. But that’s what happens when you have 19.5 inches of travel in the front and 18.5 inches in the rear. A few more throttle-ups, and we got a little higher off the ground. Our small wheelies attracted some attention, and more people gathered near where we were playing, including Blake’s friend Lance from DuneHoon who helped tuned the buggy. Waving his arms, he called us over, hopped up onto the rails and told Blake, “Quit being chicken and drop that clutch!” Blake burst out laughing.

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Blake was taking it easy for a reason. The night before, he broke one of the rear axles in testing. He was able to find a replacement, albeit with a shorter spline than the original; a 4-inch spline versus a 6-inch. With a “standard” or “safe” fit nowhere in sight, Blake and his crew lengthened it with a now “Roadkill-approved” (I gave them our blessing in the middle of the parking lot) spacer of duct tape and cardboard. At the time I had forgotten I’d be riding in it. After it held on the little ups, Blake gave a fox-in-the-henhouse grin, and lived up to the #ShreddyLyfe hashtag he created. He goosed it, jumped off the clutch and I saw nothing but sky, sky, and more sky.

Before then, I’d never done a wheelie in a car. Motorcycles and bicycles sure, all the time. It was almost a daily occurrence on my ride to work last year. But in something with four wheels that weighs nearly a ton and a half, that’s something I never thought I’d get to experience as there aren’t many cars or trucks able to pull wheelies right out of the box (excluding the new Dodge Demon and 911 Turbo S). FYI, Megalodon doesn’t have a wheelie bar to keep it from flipping over.

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“What’s that scraping sound?” “Are we ever coming down?” More sky and with a soft thud, insatiable giggling, and a grin that lasted a good day and a half, we finally landed. I’ll never forget the sound as we tore the license plate off on the asphalt. Megalodon and Blake are both insane in the best way possible.

While technically street legal—once the plate is reattached, Megalodon wasn’t built for asphalt and pavement. It was built to take dinosaur-sized bites out of sand, dirt, dunes, and jumps, and with access to Las Vegas Speedway’s dirt track and a few choice jumps, that was where we needed to head next.

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During our drive out to the course, Blake gave me the lowdown on the rest of Megalodon’s specs. The tube chassis was constructed using Competitive Metals’ 4130 Chromoly tubing. In addition to the King Shocks-sourced coil overs with exterior reservoirs, the front suspension uses A-arms while the rear has trailing arms, and as mentioned earlier, almost 20 inches of suspension travel. Touching the ground are 37-inch Toyo Tires on 17-inch Method Racing wheels. For midnight hooning, there are two LED lightbars from KC HiLiTES on both the front bumper and the on the roof, as well as a Buggy Whip LED whip light.

To keep that supercharged behemoth cool, Blake and the guys at Next Level Motorsports built an integrated aluminum roof scoop that feeds the rear-mounted engine. The musical accompaniment comes through four Rockford Fosgate speakers as well as two 10-inch subwoofers, all wired through a marine-spec head unit. The laundry list of parts continues almost to infinity. Blake seems to have spared no expense, but then, he had a lot of time to kill during the build.

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We rolled onto the dirt track and lined up with Blake’s Dirt Alliance friends who were also in attendance. These guys just want to go out and have fun hitting jumps, shredding dirt, and sending rooster tails skyward. “Ready?” an official asked over the radio. A thumbs up from us and Blake got the signal to throttle the LS6 like a maniacal drag car loading up for launch. The flag went down, and we immediately bounced the needle off the rev limiter as the rear tires struggled to find grip and put the power down. Blake grabbed second gear before I had even started breathing again, and he kept his foot flat as we aimed for the first and biggest jump.

Launching off the dirt, I felt the buggy go weightless and time seemed to slow. Seconds felt like minutes as we flew through the air. Then the ground began to approach at a much faster pace and I braced for impact. But like the wheelies before, Megalodon soaked up the ferocity of the hard-packed landing. Thank you, King Shocks!

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Blake ripped Megalodon’s right side cutting brake and pivots around the first turn’s berm. For those unfamiliar with a cutting brake, it’s similar to a standard hydraulic handbrake that drifters and rally drivers use, but it works by braking only one side of the buggy at a time instead of both. With Blake applying pressure to the right side, Megalodon slides, but as soon as we’re pointed straight again, Blake stomped on the gas, and the front wheels bucked up, threatening another wheelie. The second, third, and fourth jumps come in quick succession and with equal cushiness as the first. It never felt as if Blake or Megalodon were out of control. He does a dance with the machine over the dirt, sashaying to and fro, the engine spinning the rear wheels with every throttle input while his hands and feet do the rest. It’s a delicate, yet noisy, ballet.

The second lap went by in a blur of dirt, gravel, and dust. By the time we crossed the finish line, I didn’t have a clue where the second truck was in relation to us. With a quick peek around, I saw it a turn or two behind.

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With the sun setting behind the casino towers of Las Vegas, Blake and I hopped out of the buggy, shook off the dirt, and fist bumped each other (a common occurrence throughout the day). Blake asked me what I thought. “Wow, what, wow, that machine, it’s rad AF. It’s like. Wow,” I sputtered. I couldn’t seem to find the words to describe it, but later I got my thoughts a bit more in order. Megalodon feels like the sum total of Blake’s outrageous, carpe diem lifestyle. The intricate suspension, the “look at me” style, the bumpin’ stereo, and that hellion of an engine were all built to help Blake seize the day, live each moment like his last, and give him an experience that he can look back on and say, “Totally worth it.” It’s beyond rad.

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“You’ll have to come by once my next project is done,” Blake says. Lance chimes in, “We’re thinking turbos.” “It’s going to be a hard-shell Bug. Not another tube-frame monster like this one. Something more similar to the bug in the Urban Assault,” states Blake. “It’s gonna be bitchin’,” he says, with that same fox-in-the-henhouse grin I saw before. “We’re also making a followup video.”

“Permits this time?” I ask. Blake laughs, “Oh yeah, I’m not getting into trouble again! At least not too much.”

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Roadkill Fall 2016 Cover