At first glance, the Bauer Ltd limited production “Catfish” immediately conjures up thoughts of vintage roadsters, the classic Speed Racer cartoon and once suggested, sure, resembles the wide mouth and tapered torso of a catfish. But what exactly is it? On paper, it appears to be little more than a Miata heart and legs with a stout tube frame and sexy cover. The reality is that it goes well beyond that. To build your own, you’ll need to source a 1990-2005 Miata as a donor vehicle. Its uni-body is to be removed and the Catfish tube frame is placed over the Mazda’s engine and suspension and Bauer’s body panels are then incorporated. Options abound at every turn, allowing the end-user the ability to completely customize his or her Catfish however they see fit. The result is about 1,650lbs and just under 280hp (turbo option), which, if your math is correct, has the Catfish flirting with supercar territory and a price tag well below 20K.
The company founder, Cord Bauer, is every bit as interesting as the car he stands behind. An inventor, designer of multiple car and motorcycle products and the owner of over 10 utility patents, he’s taken that momentum and applied it to the monumental task of creating a production vehicle of his very own. Bauer took the time out of his extremely busy schedule to tell us a little more about his original vision, the current state of his company and what he has in store for the future of Bauer Ltd.
Tell us a little about how you came up with the idea to create your own car.
Every car guy has a dream of building his own car, and I’m no different. Since I’ve been in the car and motorcycle industries since 1990, I have access to some of the most amazing talent for designing, fabricating and building exactly what I wanted. The Catfish was built for no one but me, and there was no committee or focus group telling me what I had to add. In fact, the major design ethos was that if it didn’t make it go, stop or turn, it shouldn’t be on the car
Had you ever conceptualized any other type of vehicle or was it always this particular vision?
My first design “win” was taking a tricycle, cutting off the seat, pedals and the back end and replacing it with a three-foot section of angle iron and “Big Wheel” back tires. After my dad welded the whole thing up, I was standing on the back and “drifting” down hills. Since then I stuffed an XR650L engine in an NSR250RR rolling chassis, dropped over 100 pounds off my Ducati 888 with judicious amounts of carbon, titanium and magnesium, and co-founded a company called ReadyLift Suspension, which is now one of the top truck level and lift companies in the U.S. That was all fun, but it wasn’t a clean sheet concept like the Catfish.
You’ve got a number of utility patents and motorcycle and car products that you’ve come up with over the years. Can you talk about some of those?
Most of the patents are for the ReadyRamp, which is a motorcycle ramp that can fold to become a bed extender for a truck. See www.ReadyRamp.com. With so many trucks with four doors and a short bed, it’s a great way to add extra room by enclosing the tailgate when it’s down. There’s also a Catfish design patent and a few suspension bits for trucks. Patents are great, but frankly, new rules enacted a couple of years ago (“first to file”, etc.) give big companies or deep pockets the edge. Unfortunately nowadays unless you’re ready to spend a million dollars to defend a patent, it’s just a pretty piece of paper.
What kind of driver was the Catfish invented for?
It’s the pointy edge of the spear. Just like motorcycles, it’s meant to get you up close and personal with the feeling, sights, sounds and smells of driving a performance car. You should be able to feel the road with your fingers and your butt, to sense when the temperature changes as you drive through a valley, to smell the hay as you zip past a field, and generally to get back to the essence of driving.
An enthusiast calls you up and says, “Bauer, I want one of these cars!” What is the process from start to finish?
It’s a process, and for some of us the process is almost as fun as driving. Because it’s a car that’s built, the customer gets to decide each detail of the build. We start with a build checklist for the basic car, but each individual customer then gets to add their own flavor to the car, whether it is a hard-core track machine, or something that will get all the looks when it’s parked in front of the Ritz Carlton. Or both.
On paper, the car sounds incredibly capable of embarrassing high-end sports cars on track. Describe what the experience is like from behind the wheel.
Words can’t describe. If you decide to add a turbo, Rotrex or even LS3, the first thing you need to do is recalibrate your brain. Everything happens really, REALLY fast. When you’re on the track, you can brake 50-75 feet later than your usual markers, and panic sets in when you take the corner at speeds you’ve never done before…and the car just sticks. At 1,650lbs and 275whp (turbo), you’re looking at supercar horsepower to weight ratios. But what you find out later is that the ultra-light weight also means that your brakes don’t fade, your tires don’t go off, and that you can keep doing hyper-laps, over and over.
How many of these cars are currently in circulation? Is the demand gaining steam, after having displayed at SEMA a few times?
Not enough! We just shipped off VIN # 15 and we’re currently building two more. Our current capacity could build about 50 cars a year before scaling up, which is why we call it “Limited Production”.
How painful is the process of registering one in a strict region like SoCal? California is an odd state, as we are the leader in making rules that clamp down on fun. In other states like Arizona, you could probably get a license for a Radio Flyer with a go-kart engine, but California is strict. Luckily we have the SB100 rule, or “Special Construction”. While it was originally intended for dune buggies and Cobra kit cars, lots of different cars fall under the umbrella. And while the 500 vouchers per year used to be snatched up on the first calendar day of the DMV, there are now vouchers still available for 2014…maybe even 2013. There’s no problem getting them, and only a few hoops to jump through in order to get your car licensed. The good part is that once approved, the car is smog exempt, with or without catalytic converters.
Since a customer can basically have their car custom-built with a number of different choices, we’re wondering: what does Cord Bauer have done to his current Catfish?
My car is fairly sedate, but we’re building the CFR (Race) version of the car later this year. That’s when the gloves come off. The current car runs a 1.8 Miata engine with a 2560 turbo, Flyin’ Miata intercooler and piping, MegaSquirt MSPNP2 ECU, 550cc injectors, all through a six speed transmission. It has Wilwood brakes and rotors, Bilstein shocks with Swift springs and a stainless TIG welded side exhaust made by Competition Werkes, an aftermarket motorcycle company. Tires are Toyo 245/35-17 R1R’s. This setup is capable of 285whp, but it’s being de-tuned to about 240whp as it will be going to my sister later this year. Since she’s in Seattle, we added seat warmers. Other than that, the interior is completely hand-made in dimple die aluminum panels and perforated Alcantara fabric. While customers can order a special dimple die interior for about $300 now, the original one cost about $10,000.
How daunting was the process of going from concept to reality and how long did it take to get to a point at which you’re taking orders and shipping cars? The crazy thing is that I went from walking around with Catfish sketches on paper at SEMA 2012, to an actual concept vehicle at SEMA a year later. That’s fast, and it could have been even faster. What has been much harder is turning that concept into a production vehicle. In other words, anyone can make a clay pot. Now go out, have drawings made of the pot and then remake it by hand exactly, time after time. Now multiply that by hundreds of custom parts and you start to get the idea.
What’s next for Bauer Ltd?
Cool stuff! The Naked Catfish is almost ready for its debut. It’s essentially a Catfish without the bodywork, and we’re targeting a price of $7995. Build it, track it, autocross it, be a hooligan. Set up your suspension and engine exactly as you want it. And when you want to add the rest of the Catfish bodywork, just give us a call.
Later this year the CFR will show up. This is actually the original design of the car–we simplified the design in order to get it done in time for the SEMA debut. It’s more track oriented, more purposeful, and looks like nothing else. Think downforce canards, a wild looking diffuser, right side exhaust solutions (V6, V8, etc.), and more. I can’t wait to show it off.
Shakedown testing of the Catfish in 2012:
For more information on the incredible Catfish and future projects from Bauer Ltd, visit http://bauerltd.com
Photos courtesy of Bauer Ltd
Story/interview by Rodrez.