College of Science, Engineering & Technology

Vroom, vroom—Unisa 6 rides into history

Working in the state-of-the-art engineering workshops at the Unisa Science Campus, students from the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering built Unisa 6, a mini car, from scratch, to participate in the SAE Baja® competition for the first time.

The Unisa team with Unisa 6

Led by Dr Thembalani Sithebe, the team comprises the following students:

  • Bruce Ian Dutton
  • Ndishavhelafhi Ralinala
  • Queen Ndimande
  • Luan Badenhorst
  • Lebogang Clerrence Lebea
  • Busisiwe Sibongile Ndlazi
  • Yelaphi Ncube
  • Nyikane Abner Khoza

The project requires students to design and build a prototype, four-wheeled, single-seater, off-road recreational vehicle, to meet a given set design specifications. The vehicle must be safe, easy to transport and service, fun to drive and good looking. It should also be able to negotiate rough terrain and handle anything a recreational user will most likely put it through. Apart from certain minimum safety requirements, the design is open to the initiative and ingenuity of the students.

The Unisa team managed to design and build a beautiful prototype which adhered to the specifications. The team went through all stages of the competition, but was unable to take part in the endurance race due to safety inspection.

The action-packed annual national competition, held in October each year, forms the culmination of nine month’s hard work by the students from the various tertiary institutions. The final competition consists of four parts, namely safety judging, design evaluation, performance testing, and a four-hour endurance aimed at pushing the vehicles to the limits of their durability.

Among other institutions that were present, there were three local universities, Tshwane University of Technology, University of Pretoria, and University of South Africa. All these universities experienced technical challenges. Unisa’s challenge was a safety measure on the brake system, after which the inspectors deferred Unisa’s participation in the race to the national competition in October 2017. The winners will join the international race in Canada!


The objective of the SAE Baja® competition is to expose tertiary students to planning, design and manufacture of a real world engineering project. This equips them with the required skills necessary for real world engineering.

The SAE Baja® competition originated at the University of South Carolina in the United States in 1976, under the supervision of Dr J F Stevens. It is currently administrated by the SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers). Locally, the SAE Baja® competition was initiated in 1996 by Barry Grobbelaar and Francois Naudé from the department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Pretoria.

Unisa team and Prof Wei Hua Ho (CoD: Mechanical and Industrial Engineering) inspecting Unisa 6

Unisa team inspecting Unisa 6

Additional information sourced from Baja SA 2015

*By Nkululeko Mpakama