Fifty years ago, in the heyday of American surf culture, Californian Bruce Meyers created one of the most important off-road vehicles of all time. The lightweight fiberglass Meyers Manx helped to cement the dune buggy trend of the 1960s and inspire competitive off-road racing. The original Manx became just the second vehicle to find a place on the newly formed U.S. National Historic Vehicle Register this year, and it celebrates its 50th anniversary this month. As part of the ongoing celebration, Meyers has introduced the Manx V, an electric-powered dune buggy optimized for the 21st century.
In the early 1960s, Bruce Meyers built the original Meyers Manx, eventually nicknamed Old Red, in his Southern California garage. Finding dune buggies of the time to be too large and inefficient, Meyers had set out to combine his love for beach culture with his experience in fiberglass boatbuilding, creating a lighter dune buggy for sandy beaches and fiery deserts. He planted a fiberglass tub on top of VW suspension, powered it with a rear-mounted Beetle 1.2-liter flat-four, and the light, lithe Manx – the world's first fiberglass dune buggy – was born.
"I'm an artist and I wanted to bring a sense of movement and gesture to the Manx," Meyers explained to Top Gear in an interview last year. "Dune buggies have a message: fun. They're playful to drive and should look like it. Nothing did at the time. So I looked at it and took care of the knowns. The top of the front fenders had to be flat to hold a couple of beers, the sides had to come up high enough to keep the mud and sand out of your eyes, it had to be compatible with Beetle mechanicals and you had to be able to build it yourself. Then I added all the line and feminine form and Mickey Mouse adventure I could."
Meyers completed 12 of the original Manx builds before adjusting the design around a shortened Volkswagen floor plan. During the years that immediately followed the 1964 launch, his company B.F. Meyers & Co. built nearly 7,000 Manx models and related vehicles. The buggy revolutionized off-road performance, and a record-setting Baja run by Meyers in the Manx helped kickstart the world-famous Baja 1000 event.
Meyers' dune buggy design proved quite popular, which was both a blessing and a curse for Meyers and his company. Meyers estimates that 300 companies around the globe combined to create more than 250,000 Manx imitations and derivatives. He spent much time and effort battling those other off-roaders, including a failed patent infringement lawsuit. Eventually the expense, along with other business and personal turmoil, led to the 1971 demise of B.F. Meyers, marking the end of a short but spirited run.
In 1999, Bruce Meyers and his wife Winnie revived the Meyers nameplate and began building VW-based fiberglass dune buggies once again. Models like the Manxter 2+2 and Kick-Out are offered as body kits, starting around US$5K.
May is the official birthday month of the original Meyers Manx, and the man and his current company, Meyers Manx Inc., have a lot to celebrate. Earlier this month, the Manx was welcomed onto the National Historic Vehicle Register, a joint effort started last year by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Historic Vehicle Association. The car was just the second vehicle to find its way onto the register, following the 1964 Shelby Daytona Coupe CSX2287.
A couple days after the Washington event, Meyers had a 50th anniversary celebration of its own in Newport Beach, California, just a short distance from where the original Manx was created. It was here that the company revealed the all-new Manx V prototype, a modern Manx built around a rear electric driveline supplied by Las Vegas-based Rev-TEC. A 10-kWh lithium-iron manganese battery feeds the 84-hp electric motor, pushing the 1,714-lb (777.5-kg) buggy up to 62 mph (100 km/h).
The open-top Manx V is quite clearly a direct descendant of the original Old Red, with some modernization of the structure and equipment. It was sculpted to exude the very same "pure, simple, emotional, lovable, functional, hug-me styling." The bright-red body is mounted to a welded steel frame, and the design includes unequal length A-arm front and rear suspension with coilover shocks, rack and pinion steering, an 8.55:1 rear axle ratio, a rear regenerative braking system, and economy and power driving modes. It rides on 205/45-17 tires in front and 255/45-18s in back.
The Manx V measures 125 in (3,175 mm) in length, has an 81-in (2,057.4-mm) wheelbase and 6 in (152.4 mm) of ground clearance. It stands 48 in (1,219.2 mm) tall, measures 67 in (1701.8 mm) across, and has 53- and 56-in (1,346.2- and 1,422.4-mm) front and rear tracks, respectively.
Meyers says that the Manx V will be classified as either a kit car or Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV), depending upon spec and jurisdiction. The latter is allowed to drive at speeds up to 25 or 35 mph (40 or 56 km/h) on certain local roads. Meyers is still working to finalize the V design and has not released pricing or full package details. It says that the new model represents the first of several environmentally friendly models that it will release with Rev-TEC.