“I Got Picked Up From the Side of the Road”
Karl grew up around vehicles. His Father was a founding member of the Mount Maunganui Hot Rod Club and there was always a hot rod to sit in, with a thumping V8 shaking the family driveway.
There was also a different type of engine to be found. One that has its own thump when idling, but sounds like a street bike when revved up and will happily go all the way to 9,000 rpm. The rotary engine has some of the highest horsepower per displacement numbers of any naturally aspirated motor being produced today and a Mazda RX8 1.3 litre can manage around 232 horsepower.
It must have been fun for a young Karl. Maybe it was one of the reasons he ended up working as an engineer and mechanic too. However, it wasn’t one of the reasons he go tinto off-roading. That took a fortunate incident and a complete stranger. “I got picked up from the side of the road by someone in a 4WD” says Karl. A quick drive later and by the time Karl made it home, he was hooked. “I went and bought myself a Safari and joined the Bay of Plenty 4x4 Club. 8 years later and I’m still hooked”.
Hooked, yes. But the lure of those rotary engines was hard to ignore for Karl, so he hit upon a clever idea. Why not take the rotary motor from his old drift car and build an off-road buggy? Yes, why not indeed.
“It Doesn’t Enter Shows. It Goes in the Bush”
Karl’s old drift car had a Rotary engine from a Mazda RX7. It’s probably not the first engine that comes to mind when thinking about building an off-roader. But strap it into a light frame and chuck on some massive 40” Trepadors and you’ve got yourself a scurrying beast that was built to scramble over and through everything. What it wasn't built for was shows.
“My wife saw something online and said she was going to enter the buggy. I said no, it doesn’t enter shows. It goes in the bush”. As luck would have it, Karl’s wife entered the buggy anyway. The photos used in the submission showed an incomplete vehicle, with rage hanging out of the piping.
“The night it got entered was the night it was started for the first time”. That first turn of the key sparked more than the engine into motion. With much haste, One Buggy Mud Muncher Raptor was finished off, polished off and readied for…well, the Ultra 4 of course. This wasn't built for shows, remember.
“We blew the front drive shaft on the second lap. So we carried on in rear wheel drive for the rest of the weekend” says Karl. It ended with a more than respectable 4th place finish.
Not bad for a first run out. But there was another competition coming up. The one Karl's wife had entered and this one was a bit different.
“I Didn’t Realise How Big It Was”
The Hot Wheels Legends Tour has only been going for a few years. It started in 2018, as a way to celebrate Hot Wheels’ 50th anniversary and has since become the world's largest traveling car show. In the US, thousands flock to their local Walmart to get up close and personal with entrants, young children (and a few adults no doubt) goofily grinning at these wonderful creations as they hesitatingly reach out to touch and feel the custom paintwork and fabrication.
Reaching out was a little harder in New Zealand in 2022. Covid was still wreaking havoc in the events industry so everything was held online. Amongst the judges was Kiwi drifting legend, ‘Mad Mike’ Whiddett. A rotary fan, the Mud Muncher Raptor One Buggy captured his, and the other judges’, attention. It was a win for Karl who suddenly found his buggy built for the bush was the Hot Wheels Legends Tour New Zealand Winner.
Winning NZ moved the Mud Muncher Raptor One Buggy into the global semi-finals. It was another online event and the NZ buggy made it through again. So now it was onto the finals.
It took a while for the reality of what just happened to sink in. From over 16,000 entries from 17 different countries, Karl’s buggy had made it to the top 10…in the world. “I didn’t realise how big it was. The final night was in Jay Leno’s garage. That’s when I thought huh - this is pretty serious” explains Karl.
Well-known car buff, Jay Leno, was himself on judging duty, along with fashion designer Magnus Walker. Although the British-born fashion designer is better known these days as having one of the world’s largest and most interesting Porsche collections. Even the German automaker has acknowledged his collection as being unique, while stopping short of endorsing it because of the levels of customisation Magnus subjects the cars to. It’s fair to say the judges had a reasonable eye for a decent vehicle then.
You can watch the final below. The Judges were complimentary about Karl’s creation, one describing it as ‘wild’ and wanting to drive itself. However, Jay Leno wasn’t convinced and ultimately the Mud Muncher Raptor One Buggy was beaten by ‘Texas Toot’ (a mini truck with really big wheels).
“They Will Literally Drive Up a Wall”
Karl has been pretty busy since the final. The Mud Muncher Raptor One Buggy is still in one piece (that won’t last though - Karl has plans to try and break it) and destined for display at the Ultra4 stand at the upcoming 4x4 show.
From there, it’ll be seen outside Karl’s new Hot Wheels hub. He’s kept in touch with the Hot Wheels team since the final and started selling models from a little shop. But that’s just the start. Plans are in place to transform the space into a location where kids can hang out, play some XBOX, watch hot wheels action on a TV while relaxing on bean bags…and sit in the buggy. There’s nothing like it in New Zealand and Karl has a few keen friends eager to bring their custom vehicles over. On open days, it’ll be like a mini show and the BBQ will be cranked up. A proper little hub for hot wheels and a way to get the next generation involved. We can certainly see a Kiwi taking the Hot Wheels Legends crown at some point.
…it might even be Karl later this year. He’s readying a car for entry. Something very low and very different.
Finally, we have to mention the tyres on Karl’s buggy. The 40” Maxxis Trepadors certainly stand out visually. They do so with their performance too. Of course, we would say that so we’ll leave you with Karl’s words; “They will literally drive up a wall - it’s crazy. I put them through hell and they just keep handling it - they love it!”.
Yes they do, Karl. They really do.