Bruce Meyers, who turned a simple hand-laid fiberglass body melded to a shortened Volkswagen chassis into a worldwide sensation known as the dune buggy, has died at the age of 94. The cause of death was myelodysplasia, a blood disease similar to leukemia.
Meyers was the creator of the original Meyers Manx, named Big Red, which he built and rolled out of his small Newport Beach, California, garage in 1964. Meyers and his wife, Winnie, just recently sold the Meyers Manx brand and business to Trousdale Ventures, an investment firm that vows to produce a new generation of the beach cruisers.
The Meyers’ sale of the company capped off a uniquely American story of skill and innovation about a California surfer, artist, boat builder and off-road racer, among his many activities, who found fame in the creation of a new kind of fun-fueled vehicle that has been loved by millions during the past half century.
Big Red was honored on its 50th anniversary in 2014 as the second vehicle inducted by the Historic Vehicle Association to the National Historic Vehicle Register, gaining permanent recognition in the archives of the Library of Congress. The first car named to the register was the 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe race car, putting the original dune buggy in esteemed company.
Meyers was present on the Capitol Mall in Washington, DC, where the first Manx was put on temporary display to mark the celebration.
“Dune buggies have a message: fun,” Meyers said at the time. “They’re playful to drive and should look like it. Nothing did that at the time.”
As well as being fun, the Manx was found to be a formidable off-road competitor. Meyers and his dune buggy are credited with launching the start of organized off-road racing when he and his driving partner, Tom Mangels, set the first trans-Baja 4-wheel record by beating the motorcycle times in Big Red in 1967.
That victory sparked the beginning of the National Off Road Racing Association’s Mexican 1000 that year on the Baja peninsula, which Mangels and Vic Wilson won in a Manx.
Meyers first drove his Manx, powered by the air-cooled VW boxer-4 engine, in May 1964, and he was soon besieged by those who wanted dune buggies of their own; Meyers never called Big Red a dune buggy, but it was a name that came into popular usage and it stuck.
Meyers also never set out to create an icon, but that’s how it turned out. The dune buggy craze went into high gear as the Manx became known as the most fun on four wheels, a sports car that could be driven on the beach, and emblematic of the West Coast lifestyle.
Soon, Meyers launched his business of making and selling Manxes, taking orders for duplicates and eventually producing them by the hundreds.
Part of the appeal was the Manx’s striking appearance, the stylish one-piece fiberglass bodies fitted with large wheels and flat, upright windshields. They were extremely lightweight, quick and maneuverable, plus they were street legal so they could be driven anywhere, from the highway right onto the beach, sand dunes and forest roads.
Steve McQueen was shown driving a Manx with gusto on a beach in the popular 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair, which gave the brand a boost. The next year, a cover story in Car and Driver magazine stirred up even more enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, that success became the downfall of the Meyers Manx business as dozens of copycat dune buggy competitors began selling their own knockoffs. The dune buggies were easy to build, and many handy hobbyists made their own using inexpensive copycat kits. Legal challenges failed, and by 1971, the company was pretty much out of business after producing about 7,000 Manx buggies.
Bruce and Winnie Meyers had actively managed the Meyers Manx company all these years, mainly selling their own kits, and there has been renewed interest in dune buggies in recent years. Meyers was back in the news in 2019 when he attended the unveiling of Volkswagen’s electric-powered dune-buggy concept styled after the Meyers Manx.
Bruce Meyers will go down in history as a one-off automotive great, akin to such individualistic legends as Carroll Shelby and Preston Tucker. Meyers created something simple and unique that took the world by storm and became a true icon for all time.