“It was a phenomenal success,” said Meyers. “Suddenly everybody wanted this happy little car. It’s a visualization of friendship and love.”
There’s one a few blocks from where we live in L.A. Yellow, raucous, a cacophony of sound rolling down the road. A happier looking vehicle would be hard to find in the happy climate of southern California. That look was a part of what I wanted growing up in the 60’s, fascinated by anything Southern California.
From the Beach Boys to woodies, skateboards and the endless summer of SoCal, girls in bikinis held my adolescent fantasies of the surfing life. Unheard of, or uncared-about in my youth, the man that was a legend long before my surfer girl fixation arrived, Bruce Meyers, inventory of the dune buggy, passed away last spring at the age of 94, but not before ramming one hell of a lot of living into those well spent years.
Most know of the Meyers Manx dune buggy, but few know that Meyers was in love with off-road racing. He and a bunch of friends decided that a race prepared VW Bug could beat a motorcycle in a race across the desert, resulting in what later came to be known as the Baja 1000.
Nobody can tell it better than Bruce himself in the video below…
If you took everything that is pure Southern California—surfing, sailing, the beach, some guitar playing, blond hair, the Laguna Beach Arts Festival, even large portions of neighboring Baja, California, Mexico—and poured it all into a huge cultural Cuisinart, out would come Bruce Meyers, driving a Manx.–Autoweek
The tiny off-road machines were originally conceived and built in Newport Beach, CA. The concept was simple; chop off a healthy section of VW bug chassis, mould a tiny fiberglass body over that chassis, and hang a VW engine off the back in a fashion that would normally lead to questionable handling. No one gave a crap about the handling. The winning combination of the lightweight body meets marginal horsepower, with literally no need for weather protection other than a pair of sunglasses, put everyone that drove or saw a dune buggy into their happy place.
The original Meyers Manx was equipped with a standard VW engine, later ranging from 1.2 to 1.6liters. But variations were immediate and often exotic, hence what most point to as the ultimate engine when Steve McQueen hung a much massaged Chevrolet Corsair engine on the back of his dune buggy in The Thomas Crown Affair (1968). In 2020, McQueen’s Manx was sold at auction for $450,000, obviously increased by the owner’s affiliation and that very special motor. The Thomas Crown Affair (1968) also featured the 1968 Ferrari 275 GTS/4 NART Spider that McQueen later when on to own.
Ultimately, Bruce’s design proved too popular for containment and cheap knock-offs forced him out of business. No accurate numbers are possible, but estimates are that more than 250,000 dune buggies have been built, all inspired by Old Red, Bruce’s first.
I stood quite close to Bruce, outside press days at the L.A Auto Show press days, five or six years ago. I knew who he was through the murmurs in the crowd. Surrounded by old friends, well-wishers, and Old Red. Bruce was smiling ear to ear. My guess is, he died that way, too.