Sand Cars Features

David handed the car over to Ed Niemela for the action photos. Ed is also responsible for setting up the Fox shocks and tuning the 25 inches of suspension travel.

Desperado - BFD Off Road's Wild Two Seater

Texan David Patnode hit up BFD Off Road to create this wild twin-turboed two-seater that runs the dunes
By Michael Sommer | January 1, 2013

Photos by Michael Sommer


A self-employed business consultant who resides in southern Texas, David Patnode lives several hours from the nearest sand dune riding area. As you can imagine, there’s nobody within hundreds of miles from his home who knows how to bend steel tubing and build a decent sand car. But, David is an outlaw of sorts with a wild imagination and this isn’t his first rodeo. He understands that it takes hard work to get a job done right and realizes that traveling a far distance is part of the territory when you live in the Lone Star State. Such was the case when he decided to embark on the adventure of building a new sand car.
The 402 cu.-in. LS3 has twin turbos, intercooler, MoTec ECU and a long list of quality parts that enable it to reliably produce 850hp to the rear wheels.
Having attended the Sand Sports Super Show numerous times, and then spending several months researching the different sand car builders and related components used to construct a car, David narrowed his choice to BFD Off Road located in Ramona, California. One of the aspects that David appreciated about BFD’s owner Russ Payne was his willingness to build a custom sand car without being limited to an existing line of production vehicles. The two men came to an agreement and began conceptualizing this car back in 2007. Their initial goal was to construct a two-seater with an over-the-top chassis that had the likeness of a Class 1 off-road race car, yet building it lighter weight and suited for the sand. The concept also called for a twin turbo V-8 engine paired with a 4-speed sequential transaxle (which has an inline shift pattern as opposed to an H-pattern).
The power is transferred to the ground via a Fortin FRS4 gear box. Car also has Fortin hubs and 4-wheel disc brakes.
With the basic parameters set, they began the process of designing the frame you see on these pages, which is constructed mostly from 1.5-inch O.D. chromoly tubing. It has a rear-engine layout and the wheelbase measures 127 inches. Their primary focus was arriving at a chassis and suspension design that incorporated exacting geometry and weight distribution features, resulting in a vehicle with 25 inches of wheel travel that would be stable and offer superior handling characteristics. David told us, “We spent a lot of time during this phase because we wanted a car that would dune like hell. This means it would need to be able to jump well, turn on a dime, not sag in the rear while circling a bowl and, most importantly, not pull wheelies under hard acceleration which is insanely hard to accomplish with a two-seat V-8 powered car.”
Interior is plush with leather seats, full contoured aluminum dash with AIM instrument panel, 5-point harnesses and an intercom system. Aluminum body was hand built by CRB Alumifab.
After the chassis was built and the car was sitting on wheels, David and Russ began the chore of designing a hot looking body to skin over the tubing. They were inspired by the lines of a 1969 Camaro, but transferring that shape to a sand car was challenging and required a lot of trial and error. In fact, the first body (built by a fabricator near BFD) was completely scrapped in favor of a new design, which was eventually built by Curt Beam of CRB AlumiFab. Because David knows that a positive first impression and good looks mean everything when a sand car is debuted, he ended up flying to southern California and made the templates himself for the new body that Curt made. The roof section includes a sunroof that was built by Pete Schwandt of Ridout Plastics, which was molded to follow the roof lines and uses a custom mounting system to prevent buckling.
These action photos are just a small sample of what we witnessed this car doing during our photo shoot. We were at it for a few hours and they ended up burning a full tank of C-12 race fuel. The car performed flawlessly and ran like an unleashed beast.
Good looks are one thing, but this car was built to run hard. Not just any engine would do. So, David turned to DanZio Performance for a race-inspired V-8 engine based on the GM LS3 design. They supplied him with a 402 cubic-inch motor that uses a high performance rotating assembly from Callies, CNC ported cylinder heads from AFR, and a pair of Turbonetics ball bearing turbos that work in unison with Tial waste gates, blow-off valves, an electronic boost controller and a forced air intercooler. Burning C-12 race fuel, this engine howls with the roar of 860 horsepower to the rear wheels, which was recorded during a dyno tuning session at DanZio’s shop.
The perspective is deceiving here, but this photo was taken on the face of a rather steep dune. Ed pulled the car into a wheelie just to show its versatility, although it was designed to stay planted on all fours under hard acceleration on flat ground.
Real quick, we should tell you that this is reliable horsepower, too. During our photo session, test driver Ed Niemela burned through a 15 gallon tank of fuel and this car never missed a beat. It never missed a shift either, thanks to the super stout Fortin transaxle which, as we said, is a sequentially shifted 4-speed model that uses 935 constant velocity joints and 300M drive train components for ultimate strength. Fortin Racing also supplied the hubs, which are a self-contained assembly consisting of the hub housing, CV joint, disc brake and rotor. These have been tried, tested and race proven on Baja winning desert cars, and they’re right at home on David’s vehicle, too.
The interior is quite impressive, outfitted with a contoured aluminum dashboard that houses the AIM digital dash with GPS, race radio for the intercom system, and billet fresh air vents. The expanded stainless floors and firewall are complemented by the custom interior which includes Koronis RX-T1 seats, matching upholstered inner side panels, and a leather wrapped center console that houses the Fortin gear selector, aircraft-style switches, turning brake, and other necessary controls to operate this amazing car.
Check out the custom sunroof which was made to follow the contour of the body.
After our photo session, David told us that this project was challenging and a lot of fun to work on. But the rewards for his hard work and investment can’t compare to the amount of thrills he’s had behind the wheel of this car during the many dune trips over the past few years (we photographed the car when it was finished, but they test drove it for nearly two years before having it powder coated and chrome plated). Our congratulation go out to David for a job well done, as well as the many companies who ponied up and helped out so this “Desperado” could make its way to the wide open desert.
The LED light bar is from Rigid Industries, headlights are from Baja Designs, and the switches are mounted next to the custom rearview mirror.

 A Few More "Sand Cars" Stories...

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