Bruce Meyers, Creator of the Meyers Manx, Has Passed Away
Photo credit: Mark Vaughn
Bruce Meyers died of a blood disease called myelodysplasia at the age of 94.
Meyers was perhaps best known for the Meyers Manx, known worldwide as the Dune Buggy and copied over generations
He was also an off-road racing driver and one of the very few desert rats who created what is known as the Baja 1000.
Bruce Meyers, the creator of the Meyers Manx, a car known worldwide as "The Dune Buggy" that was copied and replicated over generations and who was originally a racing pioneer in Baja, has passed away at the age of 94.
Meyers died of a blood disease called myelodysplasia, which is similar to leukemia.
"You know, it was just his time," said his wife, Winnie Meyers, who helped run the business Bruce had started for many years.
Bruce and Winnie had sold their company to a company called Trousdale Ventures just a few months ago. The announcement of the sale was made at this time by the company's new chairman, Phillip Sarofim. Sarofim is a venture capitalist, car collector, and racing driver with a passion for cool cars. Sarofim appointed former VW, Audi and Porsche designer Freeman Thomas as CEO and Chief Creative Officer.
"We recently sold our business," said Winnie. “And that was wonderful. So that it could really close some doors. "
To say Bruce Meyers was a Renaissance man would limit him. Yes, he was trained in fine arts at the Chouinard Art Institute, with a specialty in drawing in life, but the traditional Renaissance man never surfed, raced the Baja 1000, or sailed to Tahiti on a trading schooner.
If you've taken everything that is pure Southern California - surfing, sailing, the beach, some guitar playing, blonde hair, the Laguna Beach Arts Festival, even large swaths of neighboring Baja, California, Mexico - and pouring it all into one giant cultural cuisinart, Bruce Meyers would drive a Manx.
He was equal parts Raymond Loewy, Carroll Shelby and Degas rolled into one, rolling on a surfboard. And we, the drivers, are better for it.
"There are no retired artists," Meyers once said on a day at the beach that we spent with him 21 years ago.
Trying to quantify Meyers is an enormous undertaking.
He was a war hero who gave his life jacket to a seaman who didn't have one and then dragged an injured pilot through burning oil spills for two hours after his ship, the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill, was hit by two Kamikazes in Okinawa.
He was a pioneer surfer from the days of hollow wooden boards; As such, he served as a mentor for budding surfing legends Greg Noll and Bing Copeland. He was a sailor who was one of the first to mass-produce fiberglass boats (followed by surfboards and later his car). He was an off-road racing driver and one of the very few desert rats who created the so-called Baja 1000. The list could go on and on.
Perhaps the two easiest ways to quantify Bruce Meyers are his most famous creation, the Meyers Manx, mistakenly recorded in history as the "dune buggy".
According to conservative estimates, there are around 300,000 dune buggies worldwide today. Most of them are imitations (or more precisely, rip-offs) of the first fiberglass Volkswagen parts bin Manx, which Meyers designed and built himself in a garage in Newport Beach 40 years ago. When he built the first, he didn't intend to build an icon of surf culture. He figured he'd build no more than 20 of these just so he and his friends would have something to take them and their boards to distant breaks in the pavement-free Baja.
"I didn't think of buggies," said Meyers. "I just thought, 'What would work well down there [in Baja] and is cheap to drive? "
If necessity was the Manx's mother, Meyers was the father. He put the first 12 manxes in fiberglass and slid the stuff over a wooden trestle he had made. Since a car with a fiberglass tub (as opposed to steel-chassis and fiberglass-bodied Corvettes) was such a new, untested idea, he kept a gallon of resin and a few feet of woven glass mat with him for the first few months he drove it in case the body breaks open and he, as he said, "rides my ass". He didn't have to worry about it as this original car flipped the odometer a few times and has never cracked it.
"I can imagine having a few hundred thousand miles on this thing, mostly in Baja. We were there three weeks a month. And we did that for several years. So the car is used a lot."
On that day many years ago, Meyers let me drive the original Manx called Big Red. It was my second time behind the wheel, the first time during Baja 2000 two years earlier (Autoweek, December 11, 2000). Old Red, as it is called, was still lively and fun to drive, as fun to drive as it looked. Even though I had sanded the gears, all the old Volkswagen parts came to life and the car jumped forward.
The most durable things are usually the simplest, and the original Manx is simple. After the first 12 years, he stopped using the large fiberglass tubs for the bodies and built the rest on the Volkswagen Beetles' shortened chassis because he was so impressed with the Beetle's technology.
"It's a wonderful basic thing. I've weighed aftermarket frames for buggies and they're never as light as a Volkswagen base plate. Old Ferdinand [Porsche] was really a hot guy."
In order to preserve the shape of this original Manx body, Meyers relied on his life experience and tried to provide it with what he calls “gesture” and “feeling of movement”, which is retained even when the car is stationary.
Meyers had more to offer than technical expertise.
"Here I was a former hot rodder who raced along the dry seas in my 32 Ford roadsters, building fiberglass sailboats and beach boy hiring ... So you have such an attitude of loose madness. I spent a year doing this thing building without knowing whether it would be profitable or not. That tells you right there that I'm crazy. "
But it was profitable. From 1966 on, he made 7,000 of them until he lost the battle for copyright protection he'd fought in court for years and stopped making Manxes in 1970.
Then there was a 30-year gap in his automobile production, which is too bad for us. During this time he made some boat and car tools, did some convertible conversions, and built a house in Baja. But the Manx was always in the back of my mind. So he came back and built the Manxter 2 + 2, a four-seater.
The Manxter 2 + 2 is the natural evolution of the first Manx. Like the original, it is based on a VW Beetle base plate, but this has not been shortened. Instead of taking out the 14 inch base plate that was needed by the first Manxes, he just left everything for this one.
You can still buy a Manx through the company that still builds and sells the kits. And when you do, take a moment to thank the original surfer who created the design.
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