Old School Dune Buggy Reunion, Fuel Curve

Old School Dune Buggy Reunion – Party at Pismo

At the 2018 Old School Dune Buggy Reunion, Bruce Meyers was talking about art. “A car is a mix between art and engineering,” he told me. “For most people, a car is just the engineering,” he continued, and waved his hand out over the crowds of campers surrounding us at Pismo Beach in San Luis Obispo County, California. “For me, it is about the art.”

Old School Dune Buggy Reunion, Fuel Curve

Someone once told Bruce that everything he touches is pretty, and he laughed and said it was very much on purpose. He makes his choices of cars and companions based on if he wants to draw them. We get interrupted when in another campsite, someone fired up a big V8-powered buggy and revved it enthusiastically. “Must be a young person,” said Bruce, who is 92. “Young people like loud engines.”

I’d have found Bruce an entertaining dinner companion even if he was just a fellow dune buggy enthusiast at the biennial beach meet by the Oceano dunes, but Meyers isn’t just a chatty artist by the campfire, he’s a war hero—not kidding, he saved a shipmate during World War II after their aircraft carrier was hit by kamikaze pilots. He’s a musician—talented on both guitar and ukulele with a lovely singing voice, he’s an off-road racer, and most importantly for this story, Bruce Meyers is the creator of the fiberglass dune buggy.

Old School Dune Buggy Reunion, Fuel Curve

Leaping from a burning ship didn’t dull his love of the beach and the sea, and after the war he made boats, learning to work with the up-and-coming material of fiberglass. With all his free time spent at beaches, he saw the stripped-down hot rods called “Water Pumpers,” that were cruising around on the sand, and he also saw the rising popularity of the VW Beetle.

Old School Dune Buggy Reunion, Fuel Curve

The two vehicles came together in his head, and then under his hand as he sketched out a swoopy little shape—he says on a napkin in a bar—and then put his boat-building skills to use, creating a bright gel-coated tub that fit neatly to a Volkswagen engine and running gear. The Meyers Manx was so popular and so easy to make that everyone started making them, eventually putting Bruce out of business. That should have been the end of the story; Bruce bitter and broke, fiberglass buggies replaced by tube chassis and purpose-built ATVs, and everyone from the early days forgotten in the sand, but as the Old School Dune Buggy Reunion highlighted, there is something about the early buggies that just can’t be replicated with a Can-Am Maverick or a Polaris RZR.

Old School Dune Buggy Reunion, Fuel Curve


Old School Dune Buggy Reunion, Fuel CurveBruce doesn’t like the early buggies as much as he likes his pretty Manxes, because he thinks they are ugly, and the early guys, they don’t like the Manxes as much as they like their rough-and-tumble V8 water pumpers because they think they are “cruising beach buggies,” but in the end they are all there doing the same thing. “This is about making something in your garage,” said Bruce, referring not just to the fiberglass buggies but to everything on the beach that day. “Everyone here is passionate. Honestly, I don’t know what people do who don’t do this.”

Early dune buggies were bodiless hot rods. They were often made on a Model A chassis, and generally used whatever engine was convenient. They were called water pumpers because of their need for a radiator. This is a later buggy, but made in the old school fashion. It’s powered by a Toyota 22R and owned by Marty and David Mleynek.

Old School Dune Buggy Reunion, Fuel Curve

Once the Volkswagen came on the scene, it quickly became a favorite for dune buggying. “Tunnel Buggies,” made use of the center spine of a VW bug and powerplant, but stripped away everything that wasn’t absolutely crucial.

Old School Dune Buggy Reunion, Fuel Curve

The organizer of the Old School Dune Buggy Reunion, Cort Elgar (below right), says that Bruce Meyer’s Manx really opened up the hobby. Because they were street legal with fenders and a family-friendly appearance, the Manx attracted a whole new audience to the dune buggy scene.

Old School Dune Buggy Reunion, Fuel Curve

Copies of the Manx-style buggy put Bruce Meyers out of business, but he’s come to terms with the non-Manxes now. “I made the idea, and the idea makes people happy, and that makes me happy,” he says. You can, by the way, still get a new Manx kit from Meyers Manx, if you’re so inspired. Bruce is still making them at age 92!

The appeal of the Manx, or any of the dune buggies, is the personalization. Each one is different, in colors like a bag of Skittles, with whatever engine you can shove in the frame, and whatever seats, shifter, steering wheel, and prideful flags you want to fly.

Old School Dune Buggy Reunion, Fuel Curve

Of course, cruising the beach and camping by the waves is fun, but the real point of a dune buggy is to bug up some dunes, man! The highlight of the Dune Buggy Reunion was watching the dune climbs.

Old School Dune Buggy Reunion, Fuel CurveOld School Dune Buggy Reunion, Fuel Curve

The Old School Dune Buggy Reunion happens every two years, so you have time to start building your water pumper, tunnel buggy, or Meyers Manx – ya better do it now. Or just put some paddle tires on whatever is in your driveway. The dunes are open to all. For more dune buggy info go to oldschoolbuggies.com

Old School Dune Buggy Reunion, Fuel Curve

Old School Dune Buggy Reunion Photo Extra!

Photos by the author and Mike Morgan

Elana Scherr grew up in Southern California and majored in Art and English at UCLA. After graduating she worked as a carbon fiber fabricator, then at HOT ROD Magazine, and then the Roadkill Show. She currently owns and regularly wrenches on a 505ci 1970 Dodge Challenger and a 1971 Opel GT, as well as an unreasonable amount of trucks.

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