Buggy designerBruce Meyers

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Born to a singer/performer mother, which Meyers said gave him an appreciation for art, and an Indianapolis 500 competitor father, which he said gave him an appreciation for cars, after a stint in the U.S. Navy Meyers got into building …boats. He was also a Southern California surfer, and wanted a vehicle to get him onto the beach. Others built minimalist stripped-down beach vehicles from production cars, but Meyers found them ugly, and wanted something more refined. Based on his memory of cartoon cars driven by Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck, and applying his fiberglass skills from making boats, Meyers built “Old Red” in 1964 in his garage in Newport Beach, Calif. Built on a VW Beetle chassis to keep the weight down, and shortened to reduce weight even more (and to make it more maneuverable), the car got stares and “Where did you get that I want one!” reactions when he drove it. Meyers thus didn’t invent the dune buggy, he invented the first good-looking, fiberglass body dune buggy that people actually wanted.

Meyers shows off Old Red in 2014. (Photo: Volkswagen)

He formed a company and started churning out kits, including a one-piece body, for people to bolt on to their own surplus VWs to create their Meyers Manx buggies. Things really took off after Meyers and buddy Ted Mangels entered the car in the inaugural off-road Mexican 1000 (later named the Baja 1000) race in 1967. Thought of as a motorcycle race, “Big Red” — with several large oxygen tanks strapped to the car to hold extra gasoline — not only won, Meyers and Mangels’ time was five hours less than any of the motorcyclists’ times that year, or in any of the previous trial-run races going back to 1962. That caught the attention of movie producers: Steve McQueen drove a Meyers Manx in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968).

Short, red, no roof, extra-big tires: The Donald’s car was an inspiration.

Between 1964 and 1971 Meyers sold about 6,000 Meyers Manx kits, but he couldn’t stop cheap knockoffs from undercutting his sales and eventually gave up. Still, the Manx is considered the “original” dune buggy, which led to significant collector interest. He re-formed the company in 2000 to sell kits again — and to authenticate purported earlier Manxes. In 1978, Meyers was inducted into the Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame. He even let Jay Leno drive him around in Old Red in a segment of Jay Leno’s Garage for the car’s 50th anniversary (below), and Volkswagen is considering making a Manx-inspired electric buggy. Meyers died at his home in Valley Center, California, on February 19 from myelodysplasia, a blood cancer. He was 94.

Turnaround is fair play: Volkswagen showed off a Meyers Manx-inspired electric concept ID. Buggy at the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, clearly paying homage to the Manx. (Photo: Volkswagen)

Note how pristine the 50-year-old vehicle is — and that is apparently the car’s original body. Note the strap-on oxygen tanks marked “Gas” in memory of the Mexican 1000 win.

From This is True for 21 February 2021