Americans are mourning the passing of a key figure in US car culture, Bruce Meyers, creator of the original dune buggy and father of what we know today as the Baja 1000 off-road race.
Surfer, inventor, artist, war hero and racecar driver, Meyers’ Volkswagen-based Manx gave young, adventure-seeking 1960s Southern Californians the perfect automotive accompaniment for a life of sun, surf and sand.
Meyers, who died last week aged 94, only built around 7,000 of the original fiberglass-bodied Manx models. But such was its impact – and the ease with which it could be replicated – the idea inspired what is estimated to be a quarter of a million copies around the world.
Meyers said he got the idea when he saw his fellow Californians modifying their Volkswagen Beetles by removing body panels so it was easier to drive them across sand dunes. Meyers went a stage further by removing all the body and just using the Beetle’s floorplan and running gear, topped off by a vestigial fibreglass tub with signature chrome “bug-eye” headlamps.
His first buggy, glammed up with hotrod touches, was called Old Red and sparked an entire culture of affordable and lightweight Beetle-based buggies. Meyers called it a visualization of friendship and love, but it was also a machine at home in desert racing. That was proven later in Mexico when Meyers beat the motorcycles in an off-road race that would become the Baja 1000.
You can see Bruce Meyers talking about the race, and the genesis of his buggy, in the short VW-produced video.
“I was just a character who lived a lifestyle of breaking traditions,” said Meyers in 2017. “My life has been full of adventures. I want people to have an adventure in life.”
Old Red might have been the first Meyers dune buggy but another equally famous Manx is the one-off model Steve McQueen specced up as his set of wheels for the 1968 movie, The Thomas Crown Affair. McQueen had rejected the Jeep originally suggested in favour of Bruce Meyers’ creation after he saw a picture of one airborne on the cover of a 1966 issue of Hot Rod magazine.
Bruce Meyers’ era-defining machine, plus iconic images like McQueen and Faye Dunaway in the Manx splashing through the surf in the film, have ensured any genuine Meyers Manx is now highly collectible. Bonhams sold the Thomas Crown Manx last March at its Amelia Island auction for $456,000, or almost £351,000.