When it comes to thrills per liter, this Meyers Manx-style dune buggy is tough to beat.
As spring turns to summer, our thoughts have drifted toward outdoor adventures and the vehicles that would facilitate or be the focal point of those adventures. This means perusing the listings on Carsforsale.com for cool and interesting outdoorsy vehicles. Once such vehicle we ran across was this 1968 Volkswagen dune buggy done in the style of a classic Meyers Manx. Among the many, many iterations based off the estimable Beetle, none, from the microbus to the Thing to the Porsche 356 itself, can offer the level of perma-grin inducing joy that a Meyers Manx-style dune buggy can.
Below we’ll look back at the history behind the Meyers Manx dune buggy and what made it the ultimate summer fun kit car.
The story of the Meyers Manx starts back in the early 1960s California’s surfing scene with Bruce Meyers, WWII vet, artist, boat maker, and surfer. Bruce and his fellow surf buddies, when they weren’t catching waves, enjoyed booming over the beaches in homemade dune buggies. These early dune buggies were about as barebones as it gets, little more than a drivetrain, suspension, and chassis, often built from old Fords, Chevys, and VW Beetles. Bruce took his boat building experience applied it to dune buggies when he designed the first fiberglass unibody for what would eventually be known as the Meyers Manx.
The first dozen of these dune buggy kits used the chassis and drivetrain from a VW Beetle and borrowed suspension components from a Chevy truck. But Meyers monocoque design wasn’t the easiest to build and was rather expensive at $965 plus the cost of a junked Beetle. A redesign in 1965 shortened the chassis by some 14 inches and used more of the Beetle itself, including the suspension, steering components, and even the seats. The updated version was cheaper to produce and easier for buyers to assemble. Meyers was now able to offer his kits for as little as $300 and still turn a healthy profit.
The Meyers Manx proved itself a very capable off-roader, despite its lack of four-wheel drive (recall that the RWD Volkswagen Thing/Type 181, also based on Beetle architecture, was great off-road). The Meyers Manx proved its worth as an off-road racer, netting a class win at Pikes Peak, and beating Corvettes in slalom competition. The Manx made the covers of Hot Rod magazine in 1966 and Car & Driver in 1967.
As an early promotional stunt, Meyers took the Manx on a run through the Mexican desert from Tijuana to La Paz. The record set on the 952-journey had originally been held by Dave Elkins and Billy Robertson as part of a Honda motorcycle promotion. Meyers bested their time of 39 hours and 56 minutes with a time of 34 hours and 45 minutes. Not only was the publicity good for Meyers dune buggy business, it inspired the formation of the Baja 1000 off-road race by the then new National Off-Road Racing Association.
Sales were good for the Meyers, but this success led to a slew of imitators. Meyers’s lawsuits foundered in court. Despite over 5,000 kits sold, Bruce Meyers stepped away from the business in 1970 and the Meyers Manx company dissolved shortly thereafter in 1971.
The redesigned Manx wasn’t the only version of the dune buggy. Meyers also offered a version he called the Tow’d. The Tow’d was lower to the ground with a narrowed nose. It was also extremely light, at just 900 lbs. Its name came from its signature feature, a built-in tow bar that could be extended from under the nose to easily be hooked to a hitch for towing the buggy to off-road sites. Around 1,000 Tow’d kits were sold. The Manx SR was another kit, this time for a street-oriented build. The Manx SR was a more complete body kit, with ten fiber glass pieces versus the Manx’s two. The SR’s most distinctive feature was its supercar-like scissor door design. Around 200 Manx SR kits were produced. A larger Turista/Resorter version was also offered with four seats and lower sides for ease of entry.
The Meyers Manx is as fun looking as it is to drive. Meyers said the bug-eyed headlamps and curvy hipped fenders were partly inspired by cartoon cars. As a kit car, the Manx could be configured as buyers chose, making each example a unique expression of their owner’s personality.
Though many, including Bruce’s initial build, used a dual-pipe trumpet exhaust, Meyers found this set up sapped the Manx of power. His solution was a twisting unified exhaust he dubbed the “sidewinder” that improved output.
Our Cool Car Find Volkswagen dune buggy is a direct descendent of the original Meyers Manx, but with some nice modern updates. Though the interior is still fairly spartan, this example features a Garmin infotainment system, sport seats, sport steering wheel, and exterior speakers. This version is done in the Manx Turista style that includes four seats and the traditional trumpet style exhaust.
The Meyers Manx is the ultimate blending of surfing and hot rod culture from mid-20th century California. What better way to channel your inner Beach Boy than a summer riding around in this Manx-style dune buggy?