The Meyers Manx is one of the most recognizable shapes in automobiledom, but the Manx recently featured on “Jay Leno’s Garage” hides a surprise underneath the familiar bodywork.
As a refresher, the Meyers Manx dune buggy was created by Bruce Meyers, marrying a fiberglass body with a Volkswagen Beetle platform and flat-4 engine. Before his death in 2021, Meyers sold the company to venture capitalist Phillip Sarofim and automotive designer Freeman Thomas—whose résumé includes the VW New Beetle and the original Audi TT—and they have worked to bring the Manx back.
This Manx is one of the newly minted versions, but the engine in the back has no VW DNA. It’s a 2.0-liter radial engine, with the cylinders arranged in a circle around the crankshaft. This configuration is popular in aircraft, and has been used in some terrestrial military vehicles, but is rarely seen in cars. Designed for gyrocopters and bush planes, this engine makes 200 hp in its naturally aspirated stock configuration (and 300 hp with a supercharger), but is detuned to 130 hp and 130 lb-ft of torque here.
How did this engine end up in a Manx? The company that builds it, Australian firm Radial Motion, is staffed with VW fans, Sarofim explains in the video. Looking to test the engine on the ground, they decided to install it in a Beetle dubbed “Zombie Bug.” It turned out to be a pretty good replacement for the original flat engine, and even couples to the stock VW transmission.
Unlike the VW engines traditionally used in Manx dune buggies, this one is also water-cooled (the coolant is refilled through a hole in one of the twilight housings). The engine was also designed to be smokeless, not always the case with aircraft piston engines, but a must for road use, Sarofim noted.
It’s unclear if the radial-engine Manx will become a regular production model, but the company is launching an electric version. A full production ramp-up is scheduled for 2024.