Boonie Bug


An Off-Road Van Built On A VW Van Chassis

This go-anywhere VW-van-based minivan was featured on the cover of Popular Mechanics magazine, and it appeared in the movie Total Recall. Plans include nine 17 x 22 inch drawings & a 14-page instruction booklet.


Boonie Bug combines the go-anywhere ruggedness of an ATV with the sleeping and camping facilities of a compact van. It gets its name from what it does best – roaming the “boondocks” – plus the fact that it’s built around a Volkswagen van chassis (the old style Transporter, Bus, or Kombie). The VW van was picked because it’s easy to convert to off-road use and just about all of the VW aftermarket add-ons will fit. Also, the VW van is almost free when purchased used (nobody wants one), and it’s thrifty on fuel. The featherweight 1600-lb Boonie Bug delivers 24 mpg, or slightly better fuel economy than the original van.

         After the body is removed, the chassis is shortened 16-1/2 inches to give the finished van the ability to traverse rough terrain without bottom out. Because the drivetrain is in the rear, shortening the chassis amounts to little more than taking a 16-1/2-inch slice out of the center and welding it together again. The shorter wheelbase also makes the van more nimble, both on and off the road. Two steel roll bars serve a station formers when the body is built, and they add extra strength to the finished van. The roll bars are glassed in place and become a permanent part of the body. The new body is anchored to the chassis by bolts around the perimeter and at the base of the roll bars.

         A carpeted floorboard, hinged down the center, is located at the widest point of the van. The two half-sections fold up on either side for access to 34 cubic feet of storage space underneath (see the drawing in the left margin for details). The floorboard also serves as a sleeping platform with enough room for two adults.

         Boonie Bug was more than just a fun and rugged on-road/off-road vehicle.  It also served as a test bed for the automotive application of foam/fiberglass composite, explained in detail in the document on this site entitled One-Off Construction Using Fiberglass Over Urethane Foam.  Because it had already experienced 60,000 miles of pounding on and off US roadways, the system had proven itself.  John Delorean, who was considering a foam/fiberglass sandwich composite for his Delorean sports car, sent one of his engineers out to check for delamination.   Engineers had been concerned that, due to the vibrations and twisting typical of an automotive application, the fiberglass skin might delaminate from the foam.  No delamination was found, even after going through three winters in Ohio wherein the doors became iced over and frozen shut due to freezing temperatures. This real-world experience also cleared the way for the series of specially designed vehicles that were to follow.  There is simply no other cost-effective way to build a vehicle body from scratch.  Today, that success is backed up by thousands of other home built vehicles that have used this system.  

       Boonie Bug also appears in a number of scenes in the original movie Total Recall. Although it was repainted and upgraded to 21st-century Martian specifications, it is still recognizable as the only van in the movie with a square-tube rack on top.  Popular mechanics ran it on the cover and then later Hot VWs magazine featured it on the cover too. 

       Boonie Bug’s simple shape leaves lots of room to create your own variation and make it “yours”.  Here’s a link to a design concept posted on a forum by Cujo31 (screen name).  I’m always amazed by the simple changes that builders make to their vehicles and end up creating a very different and personal design.

Additional information

Weight .5 lbs
Dimensions 13 × 10 × .5 in

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