A Tribute to Bruce Meyers – Father of the Fiberglass Dune Buggy

A life well lived never seemed more fitting than for the man that brought a smile to endless car enthusiasts the world over. Bruce Meyers, the creative genius behind the Meyers Manx, the first fiberglass dune buggy, passed away at 94 last week.

 

Born in Los Angeles, CA March 12, 1926, he grew up to become, in his words, a true “beach bum” and lead a life that would make him the archetypical father of the famed dune buggy. At 17 he joined the Merchant Marines then the Navy and served during WWII on an aircraft carrier. Surviving a kamikaze attack that took out 389 of his fellow crewmen, he discharged from the service and then bopped around the ocean on schooners and catamarans for years. At one point, piloting a square rig schooner to Tahiti where he lived for some time and ran a trading post he built on a coral atoll. Upon returning stateside in the 1960s, Meyers began living in Newport Beach, California hanging out at the beach where he built surfboards and boats of all types and sizes.

 

While skimming the beaches on sand-sailers he built, Meyers started to notice the “water pumpers” or early “dune buggies” crudely fabricated from stripped car chassis. Meyers thought they looked fun and decided to build his own but would use his fiberglass boat building skills to craft one of his own aesthetic. He observed the most capable vehicles on the sand were the rear-engine Volkswagens, including his own Volkswagen Bus. Fitted with oversized flotation tires, he used his “Little Red Riding Bus” to frequent the beaches of Baja and put it into action on the sand pulling friends across the wake on water skis. With these experiences in mind, he decided he would base his fiberglass buggy off of the air-cooled German vehicles and set out to make a few for himself and friends.

Starting with a scale clay model designed around the basic architecture of a Volkswagen Beetle, Meyers built his buggy from scratch and hand fabricated the fiberglass monocoque tub. He finished the first one for himself in 1964, nicknamed “Old Red.” He went on to construct a handful of models for friends and upon seeing them, others began clamoring for Meyers to start selling his fiberglass wonder car. His wife at the time, Shirley, worked for Road & Track magazine and with the help of editors of the publication, they came up with the name for the buggies – the “Manx” and launched B.F. Meyers & Company in 1967. The Meyers Manx was available as a kit car – first using a monocoque body and later as a fiberglass tub mated to a customer-sourced shortened Volkswagen Beetle chassis and running gear.

 

Coverage in Road & Track, Hot Rod Magazine and other media attention such as Steve McQueen using one in the film, The Thomas Crown Affair, helped propel the little kit car to instant fame. Unfortunately, success brought out the worst in some unscrupulous competitors that took advantage of the simple body design to mold their own copies of the kit and undercut Meyers’ business. Toy and model companies abound also took the design, copied it and never gave credit to the inventor of the beloved dune buggy. Despite building some 7,000 cars and recording over $1.5 million in sales in 1969, Meyers was never able to protect and patent his design and eventually was forced out of business in 1971 by the tidal wave of competitors looking to cash in on the trend this SoCal surfer launched.

In the midst of launching the company, Meyers continued to explore the Baja peninsula. Throughout the early 1960s, motorcyclists began setting records traveling from Baja’s northern to southern cities. Honda and then later, Triumph, sponsored the Ekins brothers who set some of the earliest recorded elapsed time runs in promotional stunts on motorcycles. Inspired by a friend’s attempt at beating the motorcycles in a Manx and a bet with the publisher of Cycle World magazine, Meyers teamed up with Ted Mangels, fitted Old Red with auxiliary fuel tanks, and proceeded to set a record run in the spring of 1967. Meyers quickly parlayed the event into a publicity opportunity for B.F. Meyers & Company with a press release that read, “Buggy Beats Bikes in Baja.” Just months later Ed Pearlman formed the National Off-Road Racing Association and held the inaugural Mexican 1000 (now known as the Baja 1000). Mangels clinched the first win in a “production” Manx.

 

For its emblematic status as the quintessential representation of 1960s California beach culture, the launch of essentially an entirely new genre of vehicles, and its pioneering role in the development of off-road racing in the United States, the HVA inducted the first ever Manx, Old Red, into the National Historic Vehicle Register in 2014.  This honor coincided with the inaugural Cars at the Capital event where Old Red was displayed on the National Mall in Washington D.C. Meyers with his wife Winnie, were on hand to present to enthusiastic crowds the story as to how the little beach buggy came to be. The documentation of the first ever Meyers Manx, Old Red, has been entered into the Library of Congress and can be viewed here.

The couple re-started the Manx brand in the 1999 and continued to sell kits and complete cars built by none other than Meyers himself until just recently. Trousdale Ventures purchased the company in 2020 from the Meyers to carry on the Manx legacy.

 

The world has been left a more “smiley” place because of the impact of Bruce Meyers. Meyers liked to say of his little creation, it delivers “more smiles-per-mile” than anything else on four-wheels and it is hard to argue with that.

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