Launching off the top of the hill, there's a brief sensation of weightlessness. A flashback to those youthful days of hitting jumps on a light, two-stroke dirt bike, floating through the air and then landing with a blast of dirt from the rear wheel. In a blink, that memory was replaced with a harsh reality: I’m no longer 17, and this is going to hurt. 5,500 pounds of steel falling through space tends to make a hell of an impact, after all.
Wishing there had been a bit more yanking on the shoulder belts, I clench my orifices and braced for a spine-crushing hit. Which never comes. Instead, 37-inch tires and 18 inches of suspension travel catch me in a cosseting embrace, like a fluffy kitten falling into a down comforter. Quite the juxtaposition for something that looks like a post-apocalyptic dune buggy, I know. But this is quite the machine.
Meet the SCG Boot: An actual desert racer that's both street-legal and entirely capable of winning the Baja 1000, inspired by the legendary (and legendarily weird) off-road machine that took Mexico's iconic race by storm over a half century ago. No traditional automaker would even consider building a vehicle this outrageous—forget your Raptors, TRXs and any other truck that purports to be Baja-ready despite needing a few pesky additions like a cage, suspension tuning and a puncture-proof fuel cell to actually compete in the race. By contrast, the Boot's kit is all set to beat on some Broncos the second it floats out of Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus' shop in upstate New York.
Of course, SCG is anything but traditional. Founded by Jim Glickenhaus and his wife Meg Cameron, the small outfit is quickly developing into one premier boutique automaker. The company currently has six unique vehicles in development or early production, including the 007 Hypercar, destined to run at Le Mans in 2021, and the 008 Mini Boot kit car, which blends supercar styling with the big Boot's off-road suspension to create something like an updated version of the Aixam Mega Track from the 1990s. SCG is very much in the business of building dream machines—and the modern Boot certainly looks like it crawled out of someone's fevered imagination and rolled right up to the starting line in Ensenada. But away from the dust and the cheering crowds and the tacos, is this $250,000 ticket to off-road glory still worth the price of admission?
Depends on the size of your wallet, and if you're a fan of infinitely entertaining vehicles. But in a word, yes. See for yourself:
SCG Boot Specs
- Base Price (as Tested): $258,750 ($299,093.21)
- Powertrain: 6.2-liter supercharged V8 | four-speed automatic transmission | rear-wheel drive with selectable 4WD and low range
- Horsepower: 650 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 650 lb-ft @ 6,000 rpm
- Top Speed: "We hit 120 mph on the dry lake bed."
- Suspension Travel: 18 inches
- Ground Clearance: 14 inches
- Off-Road Angles: 48° approach | 30° breakover | 47° departure
- Curb Weight: 5,500 pounds
From Reimagining an Enzo to Reviving the Boot
Jim Glickenhaus was infatuated with cars from an early age and began building and modifying them before he even had a license. Hanging out at Bridgehampton in his teens, Jim rubbed elbows with some of motorsport’s greats including Bruce McLaren and Jim Hall. With Hall and his boundary-busting Chaparrals, Jim learned to see beyond what everyone else was doing.
Jim rose to international fandom in 2006 when he unveiled his gorgeous Ferrari P4/5 by Pininfarina. The one-off reimagined Enzo was penned by Jason Castriota as an homage to the Ferrari 330 P3/4 in Jim’s collection. With the intent to compete in international endurance racing, Jim soon led a team to create a racing variant called the P4/5 Competizione. The GT2 spec racer debuted in the 2011 Nürburgring 24, and went on to win its class the following year.
In the same spirit as the P4/5 embodying a continuation of the P3/4, the SCG Boot is modeled after the famous 1967 Baja Boot, itself an exceedingly strange-looking vehicle. Those original desert racers were built by a GM skunkworks team headed by Vic Hickey. An off-road engineering pioneer, Hickey would go on to work on the design of the lunar rover and the military Humvee.
Even by today’s standards, it's a radical design with zero front or rear overhang and an engine dangling out back. Start with a custom tube-frame chassis riding on a four-wheel independent suspension and 3" internal-bypass Fox coilovers that provide a silly 18 inches of travel. Throw in a supercharged LT4 from a Camaro ZL1 (and, don't forget, the Cadillac CTS-V) and a four-speed 4L80E automatic transmission with a low-range transfer case. Pop on some 17-inch beadlock wheels shod in 37-inch BFGoodrich mud tires. Sprinkle the barest hint of bodywork all over, but don't forget the power seats and Apple CarPlay. Presto, you've baked yourself a Boot.
I know what you're thinking: But Roger, how am I supposed to pick up my kids from school in this? Frankly I don't care, but luckily Jim does; a four-seat version with suicide doors and an honest-to-goodness car seat LATCH system is in the works. Problem solved.
Dive into more of the specs and you'll see just how singular this thing is as the righteous blend of an SUV and a sand rail. Its nonexistent overhangs give it approach and departure angles of 48° and 47° respectively, besting even the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon. Those 14 inches of ground clearance exceed every mass-produced off-roader on the market that's not a side-by-side. At 84 inches wide, it's just two ticks shy of a Ford F-150 Raptor from side to side, yet its 116-inch wheelbase is almost a full foot shorter than that of the smallest Ford Ranger. A 30-gallon fuel tank seems excessive for a two-door toy, until you realize it's sized for both the reality of that thunderous V8 and the ideals of desert endurance racing.
Only two of those original Boots were built. Steve McQueen bought them both and raced one in the Baja 1000, but a transmission failure caused a DNF less than 300 miles in. In 1969, that same vehicle won the inaugural Baja 500. Jim Glickenhaus purchased the Baja-winning Boot at a Pebble Beach auction in 2010 to add to his collection of significant competition vehicles. But like all of Jim’s cars, the Boot was soon navigating the streets of Westchester as a quasi-daily driver with a New York state license plate hanging off the back. Jim comes from the auto collecting school that demands all cars be driven. And that's exactly what inspired him to revive this iconic off-roader.
Back in 2011, Jim took me for a ride in the original McQueen Boot on some technical off-road trails at Monticello Motor Club. The trails were narrow and forested, keeping our speeds low, so I could only imagine what it'd be like blasting over desert whoops. At the time, Jim was focused on his Nürburgring efforts and the Boot was merely another great toy in his growing collection. Fast forward five years and Jim’s son Jesse has become his partner in the vehicle production business. They looked at the Boot, considered the possibilities of a modern version and asked that magic question: Why the hell not?
Win on Sunday, Drive Home on Monday
Over the next couple of years, the SCG team engineered the new vehicle, keeping three goals in mind. It needed to look as badass as the original, be capable of winning its class at Baja and serve as the basis for a street-legal version. By early 2019, the race version was ready and SCG entered that year’s Baja 1000 in December. True to form, instead of using a transporter, Jim and his small team drove the race truck and a nearly identical pre-runner from Armada Engineering’s shop in Chatsworth, California to the starting line in Ensenada, Mexico. In Jim’s world, enclosed car carriers are for the weak. Or over-funded factory teams.
The SCG Boot was entered into Class 2, where there was one other competitor making its race debut, and it was a big one: the Ford Bronco R, which is loosely based upon the new Bronco and at that time was the most anyone had seen of Ford's highly-anticipated off-road SUV revival. Just as the original Baja Boot had taken on Ford’s Bronco factory effort back in 1967 (and lost), the rematch was another Davey vs Goliath battle.
Yet this time, the little guy won, with the Boot claiming victory and the Bronco failing to finish. Worth noting the Boot drove all the way home from Ensenada, too. The recently completed 2020 Baja 1000 saw the teams again going head-to-head; the Boot suffered a punctured tire and a rollover, but got back on its wheels and yet again claimed victory over the Bronco, this time by more than five hours.
Driving the SCG Boot
So, what’s the SCG Boot like to drive? As you would expect in a nearly three-ton vehicle with 650 hp and suspension travel you could measure in Hobbits, it’s hilarious fun and unlike almost anything else on wheels shy of perhaps a real (and very much not street legal) Stadium Super Truck. This particular vehicle was not just a test mule, it was also the company's Baja pre-runner, set up for 80 mile per hour whoop-de-dos. The body roll is cartoonlike; yet unlike those comparatively lightweight SST racers, the Boot’s tires stay firmly planted on the ground. From the outside, a quick flick of the wheel with its ultra-short ratio rack gives the impression the Boot is actually a life-size RC truck.
Testing on Monticello Motor Club’s new off-road rally course and various trails, the Boot is in its element. Tromp on the throttle and the LT4 hanging out back responds with sound and fury that belie its road legal status. At MMC there’s a long dirt straight with a two-foot jump in the middle. I take it relatively easy at first, getting used to the unusual handling characteristics of this much tire and suspension. As I raise my speed with each lap, the ride gets smoother to the point where at 70 mph the jump practically disappears. In two-wheel drive, cornering is controllable yet fun with just enough oversteer to bring the tail around coming out of tight corners.
Switching into 4WD, I hit the water hazards. The lack of front overhang feeds the water over the low nose and right into the windshield, giving a small glimpse of what I imagine it's like being a submarine captain ordering a dive. Still, the massive tires and ample ground clearance made the water crossings a snap—but also so much fun that I kept going back for another blast through.
You'd think a vehicle with this much suspension travel and ground clearance would have high rockers, and thus be an absolute pain to enter and exit. Yet the ingenious design makes step in easier than most modern pickups. Once inside, you're greeted by a clean, open cockpit with everything clearly marked and easily accessible. Forward visibility is excellent due in no small part to the short, low nose. I was not expecting the interior to be so finished and detailed considering this vehicle’s developmental status. There’s navigation, a sound system, backup camera and even power seats. Speaking of sound, the prototype has a racing transmission with straight cut gears, so, it’s loud. Like really loud.
That's probably the biggest knock against the Boot's daily drivability. Between the engine and transmission, I'm happy to don the provided ear protection once I hit the highway. The road-going Boots will be much more user friendly with a quiet transmission, less suspension travel for more predictable handling, and lots of sound deadening. But wallflowers take note: the wild looks, high mounted exhaust and screaming V8 remain.
After playing at Monticello, car cleaning maven Larry Kosilla and I take the Boot back to Larry’s shop in Connecticut for a thorough detail. For the 90-mile mostly highway trip, we took turns alternating between the Boot and Larry’s Audi R8. The contrast could not have been more dramatic. Flooring the gas in the R8, the car just rockets forward. Matting the pedal in the Boot, there is both forward and upward movement as the nose reaches for the sky and the engine screams behind your head. The nose settles back down as the speed quickly increases, but you want to slow down and do it again, and again.
It’s stupidly addictive and you find yourself laughing like an idiot as every other driver stares dumbfounded while you goose the throttle and wiggle the steering. Waiting in line for the toll booth, a lady in a Prius pulled up next to the Boot and started yelling, “you’re too loud!”
One of the more ingenious design elements of the new Boot is the air intake. The scoop is integrated into the roof and fabricated out of clear Lexan so it doubles as a moonroof. While the basic design of the Boot will remain for the road-going versions, Jim and his team are making sure they will be daily driver friendly. At the request of a couple of customers who inquired about more power, SCG is offering an upgrade to GM’s LT5 engine, tuned to over 850 hp. Is that too much? Who knows? But If any car deserves too much power, it’s the Boot.
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