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Bruce Meyers

Bruce Meyers

Bruce Meyers created the Meyers Manx Dune Buggy, which became the most copied vehicle in history. The youngest of five children, Meyers was born in Los Angeles on March 12, 1926. Henry Ford sent his father west to set up the first Ford dealerships in California. Meyers grew up in Hermosa and Manhattan Beach, spending his early days surfing, drag racing, and hanging out at the beach. As a beach boy Meyers loved the ocean. He enlisted with the Merchant Marines before serving his country in the Navy during World War II. In 1944 the Navy assigned him to the Bunker Hill, an Essex-class Air Craft Carrier and in May of 1945 at the battle of Okinawa two Kamikazes hit the ship killing 389 men almost sinking his ship. During the attack Meyers was ordered to jump ship and while swimming to safety was able to save a burned pilot from drowning. Once rescued Meyers volunteered to the skeleton crew who went back aboard the smoking ship to get it back to port.

After the war Meyers attended art schools in San Francisco and Los Angeles, developing his talent for drawing. In the 1950s he also shaped surfboards, designed and built sailing catamarans and raced cars at the dry lakes. Bruce sailed on a square-rigged ship to the South Pacific and volunteered to build a trading post in the Cook Islands on the coral atoll of Tongereva. After five months on Tongereva, he spent an additional six months in Tahiti before returning to the States. On his return to California he worked for several years with Jensen Marine building the tooling for the first fiberglass sail boats. With the beach still a passion, Pismo Beach was exceptional for its sand dunes. At Pismo Beach Meyers saw that Jeeps had a hard time maneuvering over the sand. There he also saw a VW bug with its body removed and the idea for the dune buggy was born. He knew that he could improve upon the Beetle for beach driving as well as for the rough sandy roads of Baja. He wanted to build something that didn’t look like a used Jeep, a good design and an aesthetically pleasing vehicle that could “take you wherever you wanted to go.” And so, the first 12 cars produced were all-fiberglass, monocoque bodies that had a steel structural frame within the fiberglass that attached to the VW suspension and running gear. Unfortunately this car cost more to build than Meyers could realistically sell it for. This forced him to redesign the body to fit on a shortened VW floor pan, which ultimately reduced the price. Bruce began producing the revised kit car in numbers. Early on he had an offer to become partners with Joe Vittone, a VW dealer and the creator of Empi. With ample orders Meyers chose to go forward without him, which in hindsight may not have been the best choice. John Crean and John Cummings in January of 1967 decided that they should make an attempt to drive “the Baja”. Driving John Crean’s Meyers Manx they made the first recorded trip in a four-wheeled car of over 58 hours. Ted Mangels and Bruce felt that the time had come to challenge the Baja record time, set by the motorcycles in 1966. They then put forth the idea that a four-wheeled vehicle could actually beat the time of the motorcycles which Crean had not. The following year in April, Meyers and Mangels tested this idea with the first monocoque buggy, fondly named “Old Red”. The two completed this documented run on the unpaved 832-mile route of Mexico’s Baja peninsula from La Paz north to Tijuana in a record 34 hours and 45 minutes besting the Ekins brothers motorcycle record by five hours. Meyers, with the help of Road & Track magazine publishers John and Elaine Bond, created a press kit about the feat with the headline “Buggy Beats Bikes in Baja.” The press release went out to over 100 automotive publications.

Meyers with the fastest LaPaz to Tijuana record run was instrumental in the formation of NORRA (National Off Road Racing Association), which organized the first off-road race, the Mexican 1000 in November of 1967. He entered five Team Manx buggies into the race. Vic Wilson and Ted Mangels managed to win the race with a new record time of 27 hours and 38 minutes. In 1968 Meyers returned to the event with three vehicles and the introduction of the Meyers Tow’d. Meyers’ luck ran a bit short when attempting to keep his lead ahead of Parnelli Jones and he crashed in an arroyo breaking both of his legs. It would be over 22 hours before he got back to the US for proper medical attention. The Manx also found success in slalom racing and at the Pikes Peak Hill Climb due to Ted Trevor and Don Wilcox’s efforts using Corvair power.

The lower price, amazing race results, great style, light weight, easy driving as well as lots of good press in magazines such as Hot Rod and Car & Driver resulted in the birth of a great American fad and a huge demand for the Meyers Manx. Meyers found himself suddenly faced with many more orders than he could meet. Unable to fill the orders over 70 copiers sprang up to fill the void easily making fiberglass molds. Meyers attempted to stop the imitators in court citing patent infringement laws. He was not able convince the judge and his patent was then revoked. Eventually over 300 companies Internationally have copied in one form or another, some absolute clones of the Meyers Manx.

By 1970 B.F. Meyers & Co. built 5,280 Manx kits, several hundred Manx 2s, about 1,000 Meyers Tow’ds, a couple of hundred Manx SR’s (Street Roadster) 75 Resorters, three Utility kits were made for Lifeguards and the U.S. Forest Service, and one Kuebelwagen was made, a replica of the German Desert Staff car of WWII. Meyers sold but did not design the Resorters and actually found them very unappealing, renaming them the Turista. In all, the company built over 7,000 kits. However the competitors had made well over 300,000 kits worldwide as business became increasingly complicated. With fighting the cheap imitations, cross-country shipping difficulties, the loss of the patent infringement case, demands of the rule-changing Excise Tax Board, conflict within the company and an impending divorce, Meyers left his company in 1970 for a less stressful life. Under the direction of John Blick, B.F. Meyers & Co. closed its doors in 1971. Through the 1970s and 1980s Meyers tooled boats and cars splitting his time between Mexico and California. He spent some time designing and tooling custom convertibles for a company called Solaire and then spent several years tooling and restoring a Rolls Royce limousine, changing its roof to a sedanka. In the mid eighties Bruce married Winnie and they moved to Valley Center California.

In 1994 Bruce once again became involved with dune buggies. He accepted an invitation to an International VW show, the Super VW Nationals in Le Mans, France. There he found he had great fans of his work and began to think about a future including buggies again. Once back home he and his wife started the Manx Dune Buggy Club. Besides offering replacement parts for the old Classic Manx, they hoped that it would help to gauge interest in the possibility of producing a new style Manx. Finding that there was a great interest in the ownership of a genuine Manx, they decided to sell 100 limited edition, signature series kits and surprisingly sold them out within a month or two in 1999. Bruce then designed the new Manxter 2+2 which seats four people and began production in 2003. As a promotional arrangement Vic Wilson and Meyers had the opportunity to race again at the 2003 Baja 1,000 in Bruce’s Manxter racecar, the BFG poster car and prototype to the new Manxter DualSport.

Today Winnie and Bruce are on the Manx Club ‘Board of Directors’. They participate in all sanctioned Manx Club events in California and even across the country in Nags Head NC, Buffalo NY, and now St Louis MO. Although the Club is open to all makes of buggies, they authenticate genuine Meyers Manxes for the official Registry. It has been said that at a gathering of 100 buggies only about 10% are the genuine article. Meyers Manx Inc. is currently offering four models of street-legal buggy kits; the Manxter 2+2, Manxter DualSport, Kick-Out Traditional and Kick-Out S.S.

Sources: Fiolka, Marty. 2005. 1000 Miles to Glory, The History of the Baja 1000. Phoenix, AZ.: David Bull Publishing. Bedard, Patrick. June 2006. Segal, Morgan J. June 2006.