Axle Pivoting Propane Fueled Nailhead Powered Dune Buggy Thing Breaks Barriers in WTFery

custom sand rail front suspensionChances are you saw this Craigslist ad pass arc past you in social media recently. Chances are you marveled at the idea of a small tube rail powered by 425ci of Buick power or maybe the precarious seating positions. Then, that front suspension. How does it work? How could it work? There are bars and linkages and pivots, but…huh?
Intrepid reader (and occasional LeMons Judge) Shawn Rodgers headed out to take a look and sent back pictures and video of it in action. Quoth the Shawn:

That video shows the front end turning; I have seen it, watched the video several times, and even made drawings, but I still can’t make it make sense in my head. The steering shaft goes into a mystery box (the metal piece with brazing on top) and comes out the bottom to a pitman arm or drag link of some kind. Magic happens, and the entire front end turns. I’m still just baffled and I wish I had had the presence of mind to take better video.

The fabrication quality is top notch, obviously done by someone with experience and passion for their work. I didn’t get the builder’s name, but probably can if needed.
Here are the pix that I took:  The black/white ones are pix of pix; they’re dated January of 1969, so this thing has existed in this form for at least 47 years(!).

Mystery sand rail

Here’s my best guess on what’s going on:
  • Suspension
    • Two sets of tubular arms go forward: one pair goes up, one goes down.
    • The whole front axle pivots off of the point where the two lower tubes join
    • There are steering arms off each knuckle, but they appear to be chained to the axle to prevent extra(?) steering
    • The front suspension is the spring between the headlight thing attached to the upper two tubes and the big cast iron axle thing.
    • There are extra end link things in there probably to keep something from moving more than it should
    • In the rear, we have a pivoting shackle arrangement to allow better articulation
  • Steering
    • The magic box is some kind of giant steering box that turns a giant pitman arm (maybe surplus from a plane?)
    • The giant pitman arm grabs the rearmost part of the whole pivoting front member, causing it to sweep side-to-side.
    • That whole thing needs to move up-and-down to accommodate the difference in radii between the pitman arm and the giant pivoting front suspension.

Clear as mud, right?

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  1. CruisinTime Avatar

    All that creativity and labor is nice,but find a couple decent front tires to replace the “maypops”.

    1. mad_science Avatar

      You’ll notice they’re the same bad tires in the shots from ’69.

      1. mdharrell Avatar

        I suspect they’re not “bad” so much as they were deliberately shaved. Their large contact patches would just make the effects of zero Ackermann even worse on hard, dry surfaces but the near-total absence of tread might very well help promote the necessary slippage in sand. Deliberately leaving the innermost and outermost tread is an interesting approach but I’m not sure what effects this ultimately would have produced.

  2. JayP Avatar

    So The Humongous is getting an upgrade?

  3. smalleyxb122 Avatar

    “To hell with Ackerman. I’ll make my own steering…with blackjack…and hookers.”

    1. mytdawg Avatar

      You know what? Forget the steering… 😀

  4. mdharrell Avatar

    (1) No, I had not seen this ad.
    (2) Oh, it’s on the Kitsap Peninsula.
    (3) If it’s still around at the time, I guess I know my new weekend plans.
    (4) Gee, thanks.

      1. dukeisduke Avatar

        Sure, why not? Who needs life insurance?

        1. mdharrell Avatar

          I haven’t seen it yet, but at this point I’m not at all convinced that this would be my least safe motorized vehicle.

          1. Tanshanomi Avatar


          2. mdharrell Avatar

            I decided to save myself a trip when I saw that the seller had updated the ad to include an asking price of $4000 (see below). I’ll wait to see whether it gets relisted for substantially less. At a low enough price it might be worth buying different tires, dropping an Eshelman Mailster body on it, and taking it to some vintage drag races, as long as the steering geometry isn’t too atrocious even for that.

  5. Van_Sarockin Avatar

    Why, it looks safe as milk. Unpasteurized milk that’s been left out on the porch, in the sun on a summer afternoon kind of safe.

  6. Batshitbox Avatar

    That intake… is it some sort of pressurized aircraft carb? Or was it bodged together from refrigeration units? I think, given the flow, we should call it a Backdraft Carb.

    1. mdharrell Avatar

      I’m less concerned about the specifics of the hardware for the propane carburetion than I am about the fact that it’s all mounted directly between the driver’s legs.

      1. oldcarjunkie Avatar

        That is called motivation for getting it right!

        1. mdharrell Avatar

          Alternatively, “motivated seller.”

      2. Batshitbox Avatar

        I hadn’t had enough coffee this morning, and there’s a lot to un-pack in that headline. I just noticed the “propane powered’ bit.

  7. Han_Solex Avatar

  8. Ray Houghton Avatar
    Ray Houghton

    I saw this and sent it to a friend with the subject line “Hold my beer and watch this!” you can tell a lot of car and skill went into the fabrication of this thing. It looks like a cast of a skilled fabricator with no engineering skills. I’m surprised it’s still in one piece. Perhaps the builder drove it once and wisely decided that was enough? File this under crazy death trap.

  9. Batshitbox Avatar

    The old pics seem to display its articulation capacity, which is more of a rock crawling thing than a sand rail thing. It also seems to have plenty of articulation if you happen to want to turn in the same direction as the obstacle. As the left wheel goes up, the right wheel is dragged forward and across, stuffing you into the boulder.

  10. mdharrell Avatar

    The ad has now been updated with an asking price of $4000, which rather dampens my enthusiasm.

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