What do engineers do for fun? Hint:  it involves a lot of mud.

In 2005, a group of intrepid and thrill-seeking undergraduate engineers formed Johns Hopkins’ first Baja team. Members of the group devote their extracurricular hours to designing an off-road vehicle with all the fancy shocks and sturdy tires necessary for an all-terrain race. And then they build it. By hand. “The experience gained from Baja is a huge advantage in advanced classes, as well as out in the workforce,” the group’s website claims — but, honestly, it mostly just sounds like a good time.

The school’s Baja team has placed respectably well in the past, but this year’s car gave the group its best-ever finish:  they came in 9th out of 102 teams, ranking 3rd in maneuverability, 7th in hill climb, and 10th in acceleration. Some of the design improvements they made included “custom font knuckles, a rear anti-roll bar, a modular fuel system and molded bamboo body panels.” Sophomore Sean Bailey designed and fabricated custom carbon fiber seats. Sophomore Aaron Rips designed the integrated mounting rails. In other words, this car is tricked out. The group will head to Madison, Wisconsin after finals are through for its next competition.

And in case you’re wondering whether hand-crafting a car that zips along at 38 mph is really an educational experience, consider this: a couple of previous members of Hopkins’ Baja team are now design engineers at Honda Research and Development.

And here’s a video showing the 2011 car in action:

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