Beauty to Beast: Transforming a Barbie Jeep into a 450cc Powered Off-Road Monster

July 2, 2020 / by John Basher

What does it take to build a 50-horsepower Barbie Jeep capable of conquering any off-road terrain? A lot of dreaming, designing, building, and a 450cc dirt bike engine, of course. Check out this in-depth look at Grind Hard Plumbing Company's creation appropriately dubbed "Senderella."

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In Mary Shelley’s famed novel, “Frankenstein,” a mad scientist constructs a monster out of various body parts and brings the creation to life. The monster proceeds to attack and destroy. It’s a terrorizing account of how an idea can go terribly wrong. Conversely, in Disney’s “Cinderella,” a maid gets her wish to attend a ball, where she falls in love with a prince. It’s a magical movie that is full of hope.

While the plots are polar opposites, these two stories aptly describe many of the masterful projects concocted by Grind Hard Plumbing Co. Their list of Frankenstein-like builds include shoehorning a dirt bike engine in a Power Wheels toy Ford Mustang and creating a snowmobile engine-powered off-road scooter. “Senderella” is one of their latest accomplishments. Aptly named, thanks to its pink fashionista bodywork and extreme fabrication efforts, Grind Hard Plumbing Co. transformed a Power Wheels Barbie Jeep into a 50-horsepower off-road machine, complete with full-travel suspension. If a Barbie Jeep and dune buggy ever had a child, surely its name would be Senderella.

Grind Hard Plumbing Senderella Barbie Jeep Wiseco 02 Grind Hard Plumbing Senderella Barbie Jeep Wiseco 03
Grind Hard Plumbing Co.'s Barbie Jeep creation is perhaps one of their most widely-known builds, and let's face it, it's just straight-up epic.

Based in Sand Point, Idaho, Grind Hard Plumbing Co. is a group of gearheads with varying talents. Or, as they describe themselves on their YouTube page, “We are a couple of friends who build crazy cars and contraptions out of a small garage.” What they left out is the fact that they are marketing geniuses. By documenting their builds, editing the footage into a viewer-friendly format and uploading to YouTube, they have amassed over 830,000 subscribers and are quickly nearing 113 million video views. These guys are the very definition of social media influencers, but in the most genuine way.

Grind Hard Plumbing Senderella Barbie Jeep Wiseco 04
The roots of GHPC are a group of gearhead friends who have a genuine passion for building awesomely off-the-wall machines that will leave a permanent smile on their faces. We're just thankful they document and share them with the world through videos on their YouTube channel.

According to 27-year-old Edwin Olding, Grind Hard Plumbing Co. is rooted in friendship.

“A while ago I was injured while sledding at Ethan [Schlussler’s] house. I messed up my knee really badly and was on crutches for two months. I was super bored, so I started thinking about fun things to do. I decided that I wanted to put a dirt bike engine in a Barbie car. I wanted a really fast Barbie Jeep. I knew that Ethan was the one person who could probably figure out how to make that happen.”

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The idea to build Senderella sparked from an unfortunate knee injury that left Edwin Olding bored in the garage. Once he enlisted the help of Ethan and building commenced, things escalated quickly.

A bit of context. Ethan Schlussler was a general contractor before Grind Hard Plumbing Co. came into existence. Edwin Olding was a professional videographer. It was natural how the pair used their strengths – fabrication and art – to create an entertainment juggernaut.

Even so, it took creativity and a stroke of luck for Grind Hard Plumbing Co. to get off the ground.

Olding continues, “We went snowmobiling once my knee felt better, and I had actually bought the pink Mustang that started it all. Ethan quickly realized that a snowmobile engine wasn’t going to fit in the chassis. He did have a Honda CRF230R laying around and said he would sacrifice the engine for the project. We built it in a couple of weeks and filmed the first video, which went viral. We knew that people made money on YouTube, so we both dedicated six months to building stuff full-time in the garage and making videos. By the end of those six months we could see enough promise to keep going. We weren’t paying ourselves yet, but we made enough money from YouTube ads to buy some tools and engines for the next projects.”

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Despite the idea for Senderella, the project that got the ball rolling was a CRF230R-powered Power Wheels Mustang. And yes, their builds got to the point where they were featured on Jay Leno's Garage.

Fabricators typically take a liking to a certain brand and stick with it. That’s not the case with Grind Hard Plumbing Co. The Mustang piqued their interest, but they moved on once it was completed.

“We wanted to do an off-road Jeep because while the Mustang was really cool and fun, we didn’t have anywhere to drive it,” explains Olding. “We knew we had to build something geared toward off-road. I wanted it to be pink, because I thought it was hilarious. When I hear the phrase ‘Power Wheels,’ I automatically think of a Barbie Jeep. It seemed like an obvious choice.”

Grind Hard Plumbing Senderella Barbie Jeep Wiseco 07A Power Wheels Barbie Jeep is designed for a child. It is made out of plastic and houses a motor strong enough to pull a five-year-old around the yard at a few miles an hour. The maximum load it can handle is 130 pounds. That’s not much to work with when you think about a full-grown person driving it through the mountains of Idaho. Ethan Schlussler set to work constructing a frame by hand out of one-inch tubing, while keeping the pink plastic shell. It took six months to complete, although other project builds were also taking place during that time.

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Ethan began the Senderella project by hand-building a tube frame with custom suspension to host its new powerplant and the pink Barbie Jeep body shell, of course.

The next step was finding an engine suitable for the Barbie Jeep. Their first thought was in using a 250cc two-stroke, but they quickly realized that retrofitting the expansion chamber would be a nightmare. They decided on a 450 four-stroke engine. As luck would have it (for them anyway), a local kid had a Honda CRF450R in the back of his truck. He went around a corner too fast and flung the bike out of the back. It had gotten destroyed. Edwin and Ethan bought the bike for $900.

As expected, the bike hadn’t been taken care of, even before it was launched out of a moving vehicle. Apart from the cracked side case, the CRF450R engine’s timing was off, oil was leaking from the gaskets, and the valves needed serious adjustment. Those realities didn’t surprise the team.

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The condition of the CRF450R donor engine was not exactly what you'd call 'mint,' so it was time to enlist the help of a Wiseco Garage Buddy engine rebuild kit, because no one wants an unreliable high-performance, off-road Barbie Princess Jeep.

Olding states, “We tried to work our way around the oil leak by replacing the gaskets, but that didn’t solve the problem. The engine needed a full rebuild, so we reached out to Wiseco about their Garage Buddy complete engine rebuild kit. It included a forged piston, crankshaft assembly, main bearings, cam chain, and all of the necessary seals and gaskets. We replaced the OEM valves with Wiseco’s high-performance X2 Master Valve Kit, which came with everything we needed for a complete valvetrain rebuild. We also installed a high-flow thermostat, because the bike was overheating. The Garage Buddy kit did the trick. Now the engine doesn’t smoke, and it has so much more power because the tolerances are perfect.”

Grind Hard Plumbing Senderella Barbie Jeep Wiseco Garage Buddy Engine Rebuild Kit Grind Hard Plumbing Senderella Barbie Jeep Wiseco X2 Valve Kit
The Wiseco Garage Buddy engine rebuild kit included everything GHPC needed for a bottom and top end rebuild for Senderella, plus, they were able to freshen up the valvetrain at the same time with an X2 Master Valve Kit from Wiseco.
Grind Hard Plumbing Senderella Barbie Jeep Wiseco Crank and Piston Grind Hard Plumbing Senderella Barbie Jeep Wiseco X2 Valves and Springs
The new crank, piston, and valves breathed new life into the Honda 450 engine and prepared it for the hours upon hours of Barbie Jeep sending soon to come.

Ready for some parts to rebuild your bike..or Barbie Jeep, apparently? Find what you need here.

The clutch was the other major engine update made to Senderalla. Out went the manual design, and in came the Rekluse RadiusCX auto clutch. Chock full of features, the RadiusCX was a lifesaver. It allowed the driver to manage engine output while navigating terrain.

“The ergonomics of using the clutch and also braking are very rough, especially if you’re trying to go slow,” explains Olding. “We’ve done two complete trails in Moab in the Jeep. I don’t think we would have had the patience to do them without the Rekluse RadiusCX auto clutch, especially if we had to go through the headache of restarting the engine every time the Jeep stalled. It helped so much when going down hills and braking, which was a big deal. It made Senderella a lot easier to drive.”

Grind Hard Plumbing Senderella Barbie Jeep Rekluse Clutch
The Rekluse RadiusCX auto clutch setup played a pivotal role in the driveability of Senderella.

Suspension was the next area of focus on Senderella. What started as a three-link wishbone setup in the rear turned into a four-link design. Once the crew dialed that in, they upgraded to snowmobile shocks. It was then that they knew they were onto something.

“At that point it became more than just a novelty,” admits Olding. “We ended up spending a lot more time and energy on it. We have actually ridden with four-wheelers on trails, and the Jeep kept up. It’s a little bit harder to balance than a quad. At the same time, it has a really low center of gravity.”

Grind Hard Plumbing Senderella Barbie Jeep Wiseco 10Starting technique and ergonomics are another unique part of the build. The group equipped Senderella with a choke for cold starting by cutting a hole in the dashboard. A snowmobile on/off ignition switch took care of shutting off the engine. Firing Senderella to life requires flipping the ignition switch to ‘On,’ turning on the choke, and rotating the steering wheel completely sideways in order to reach the kickstarter. Schlussler built a custom kickstarter in order to get enough leverage to crank the engine over.

Grind Hard Plumbing Senderella Barbie Jeep Wiseco Snow Tracks
Senderella is truly an all-terrain vehicle. Just a couple minor changes and she's read to shred some fresh powder.

How does one operate a Barbie Jeep powered by a 450 four-stroke engine? Olding explains, “All of the controls are hand operated. We tried to do foot controls with the last project, but that was miserable because you’d hit a bump and accidentally touch the gas or brake. The clutch and brake are on the bottom of the steering wheel, and there’s a thumb throttle on top. The steering wheel is a Formula One style design. It gives you room for your knees. The shifter is like a dirt bike configuration, so it’s actually not too bad.”

By the looks of things, it seems they have the controls configuration figured out pretty well.

They’re not done tinkering on Senderella yet. In fact, Olding wants to super-charge the engine. It’s obvious that the guys from Grind Hard Plumbing Co. are wired a bit differently. Browse their YouTube channel and you’ll find a video of Ethan Schlussler pointing Senderella towards a jump in the snow, mashing the throttle, and launching into the air. It’s quite a sight. That’s exactly why so many gearheads are drawn to their YouTube channel. It’s the place where wild contraptions and entertainment collide; where monsters and fairytales live together in harmony.

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Topics: FEATURES, featured, CAR FEATURES, Powersports, BIKE FEATURES, Build Features

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Written by John Basher