Meyers Manx Dune Buggy: Inventing a niche

January 2, 2020
Atanas Nikolov

No matter how much people say they don’t care about cars, many gawk at the sight of a great vehicle. However, I have yet to find a proper definition of what constitutes such a car. It does not seem to be anything objective, but rather a matter of opinion.

One of the greatest things about the automotive world is the variety. Whether you are a classic vehicle enthusiast or you enjoy sports cars, you can find your niche. Yet, it does not stop there! Want some extravagance? What about unique car builds? Maybe sprinkle in some childhood joy? You got it!

We are about to explore something that you don’t get to see every day. It’s more than untraditional, as it breaks the mold in several ways. It shows us that greatness doesn’t necessarily come dressed in luxury, speed, or with a giant price tag. Let’s talk about dune buggies, kit cars, and the little things in life. Enter the Meyers Manx Dune Buggy!

Introducing the Meyers Manx Dune Buggy

Do you know what is one advantage of running a car shipping company? You get to see plenty of awesome vehicles. Here at Corsia Logistics, we’ve had the pleasure of transporting many such cars over the years. One of those was the Meyer Manx Dune Buggy.

At first glance, it may not seem like anything special. A buggy is a buggy. Wrong! This came as a surprise to me, but the very term “buggy” did not exist before the ’50s. The spread of its use was largely due to Mr. Meyers’ car.  So, we did not ship a buggy, but in a sense, we transported the buggy!

See, all buggies (including the Meyers Manx) were built on the platform of VW Beetle. Of course, we know from the history of the VW Beetle that it was called “the bug”. This is precisely why its sand-car descendants became known as “buggies”.

With that said, something did not square right with me. I had a very specific idea of what proper buggies looked like. Being somewhat interested in military stuff, I knew that the buggy was a military vehicle. On top of that, such buggies look a bit different. Not so… toy-like, for a lack of a better term.

It seems like there may be a serious misconception going around. Many people have the wrong idea of what a buggy is. So I figured we should clear that up real quick!

A bit of buggy history

It’s amazing how words can evolve, and all of a sudden they no longer carry their initial meaning. In our post on SUVs vs Jeeps, we explore just that. In short, some places around the world use the word “jeep” to refer to any kind of SUV. A similar thing happened with the buggy.

Bruce Meyers, the guy behind Meyers Manx, was not the first to consider sand-roaming vehicles. Those were already a fact. They were “invented” by veterans who were used to driving Jeeps off-road during World War II. Actually, that is pretty much how the whole off-roading craze started. It later split off to different kinds of vehicles, with sand buggies being one of the options.

But how did we get from Jeeps to buggies? In the beginning, this was not even an issue. With a lot of surplus Jeeps after the war and low off-roading demand, there were vehicles for everyone. That changed with time.

Fans of the hobby started experimenting with modifying cheaper vehicles, and the VW Beetle proved fantastic for the job. It was widely available, easy to maintain, and fairly simple to mod. The only issue was that the initial buggies were not all that nimble. Mr. Meyers fixed that with his version of the buggy, which used fiberglass for the body to make it lighter. It proved to be a huge success!

With the rising popularity of the Meyers Manx, the word “buggy” became associated with pretty much all sand cars. Unfortunately, that has robbed us of the nuance that exists with such vehicles. Because not all “buggies” are created equal.

Buggy vs. sandrail: What is what

As I mentioned, my idea of a buggy was tied more to the military than to cutesy modified Beetles. They do originate from the same place, but not in the same way. What ties them together is the so-called “sandrail”.

Unlike the buggy, the sandrail is not a modified car. It is a whole other vehicle. After seeing what buggies were capable of, enthusiasts decided to figure out an even better sand car. They wanted something light, modular, and powerful. Eventually, they came up with the sandrail.

Here is how this vehicle differs from the buggy:

  • Sandrails are “bare-bones”. They do not include any unnecessary parts, with many of them even ditching the roll cage. They also omit windows, fenders, and doors.
  • Buggies are tighter. Most buggies have a smaller footprint, while sandrails can be extended if necessary. Many are also wider to allow for better stability. On top of that, sandrails can be built for up to 8 people.
  • Sandrails have custom suspensions. While buggies are fitted to ride over dunes, sandrails are made to handle them in a much easier manner. They have a lower center of gravity, which allows climbing more serious dunes.

This utility of the sandrail has made it the perfect choice for military use. The latest iteration in that regard is called the Chenowth Advanced Light Strike Vehicle (ALSV). Additionally, sandrails are used for most hardcore sand dune events and competitions. Which is both a pro and a con. They may be more capable than buggies, sure, but accessibility is another topic.

Why the Meyers Manx Dune Buggy still prevails

Decades later the original Meyers Manx buggies still make for a fun ride. Even though considered a classic (since it was built in 1964), the buggy we transported is fully functional. Its brothers have won sand races, and it can still blow you away if you let it. Sure, modern-day sandrails may be more advanced, but the Dune Buggy is not that far behind!

Everyone can enjoy a buggy, even if they are not proficient off-road drivers. Mr. Meyers has developed a machine that extends well beyond the enthusiast market. Plus, many buggies are also street-oriented now. That means you can drive one around for fun (say in a warmer state like Alabama), then jump over to Cali or Nevada for some sand dune off-roading. If you want to do that, Corsia Logistics can always help you with shipping a car from Alabama to California or anywhere else in the US.

The interesting part is that the demand for such vehicles rose incredibly quickly. Bruce Meyers managed to produce around 6,000 buggies by the end of 1971. However, with other companies’ copies, there were over a quarter of a million buggies on the market at the time. All that happened in 7 or so years!

That being said, we have to note that the credit undoubtedly goes to the original Manx. It may have been copied to oblivion, but that is only because of how great it turned out to be. Should we check out what exactly made it tick?

Down to the nitty-gritty buggy tech specs

One of the reasons for the Manx’s popularity was its performance. It managed to blow away even motorcycles (among trucks and cars) at the 1967 Mexican 1000 off-road race. That was enough to draw everyone’s attention to the sand car.

As a VW Beetle kit car, the Manx nevertheless received plenty of changes. Though it used a Beetle frame, it was not a stock one. The Manx had a shorter wheelbase than the Beetle (by 14¼ inches), making it nimbler and quicker in sand dunes. Despite being a 4-speed rear-wheel-drive vehicle, it managed off-road conditions on par with many 4WD vehicles at the time. To power it, the Manx used a Beetle H4 Flat-four engine (up to 1.6L, depending on the model) at the rear.

The fiberglass unibody of the Manx made the car much lighter. Though there are no official numbers that I could find, the lighter versions came at about 1200 lbs. Talk about featherweight!

What do you think of the Dune Buggy and other kit cars?

In my opinion, kit cars are quite an interesting phenomenon. They blend several degrees of creativity into one cohesive product, which has little to do with the original platform. If you see a Meyers Manx Dune Buggy today, would you think of VW Beetle? Well, maybe after some contemplation you would, though I somewhat doubt it.

Corsia Logistics delivery of Meyer Manx Dune Buggy

Still, we have also shipped two other kit cars in the past. None of those look anything like the vehicles they were built upon. You can check out the story of Fiat TriVette if you want to learn more about that.

And honestly, I don’t know how to categorize kit cars. Could we say that it was the Manx that won those races, or just an upgraded VW Beetle? Or both?

Such questions are more philosophical than practical though. Regardless of any opinion, we have to admit that the Meyers Manx Dune Buggy is one interesting little car. Simple, yet with profound effects on the car market. That should make it special enough to consider it something unique.

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