I think one of the draws of vintage automobiles is that each car has it’s very own personality-much like a person honestly. Nationality, heritage, social status, year built-these all play into the personality mix when these cars are “birthed” off of the assembly line. But, just like our own children, sometimes offspring can be led astray. This is what I think of when smiling at the site of a Volkswagen powered Meyers Manx. I imagine a young and sensible German lad who was supposed to go read books at a coffee shop, but instead bumps into this guy named Bruce Meyers. After some time with Bruce, this book nerd is now the funnest guy you’ve ever hung out with. There are fewer cars more fun to look at, talk about, and of course drive, than the Meyers Manx. Take a few minutes from your busy schedule and check out a few videos we dug up below as we honor a car that is cut from metal (and fiberglass) and the incredible man who designed it, Bruce Meyers.
Our first video pick comes courtesy of the Historic Vehicle Association as part of their “This Car Matters” series. In the video, Bruce discusses his first Manx, affectionately known as “Old Red.”
This video, titled the “Meyers Manx Story,” is a comprehensive look at Bruce and his legacy in the off-road world. It’s a bit dated, but a wealth of information.
Here’s a classic episode of Jay Leno’s Garage with Bruce Meyers.
Bruce’s Life Story
Bruce Meyers grew up in Southern California during the early days of surfing, drag racing, and hanging out at the beach. It was at Pismo Beach that Bruce first became acquainted with “dune buggies”. These “water pumpers” were crude and heavy, so Bruce took it upon himself to design a lightweight version that would be fun on the beach or in the wilderness of Baja. After modifying a VW Kombi bus with wide rims, called “Little Red Riding Bus”, Bruce used his expertise in boat building to design the first fiberglass-bodied dune buggy, theMeyers Manx.
The first 12 buggies produced beginning in 1964 were all-fiberglass Monocoque bodies that had a steel structural frame within the fiberglass that attached to the VW suspension and running gear; Old Red, the #1 buggy, now resides with Bruce. These cars were expensive for their time and Bruce felt that their build was redundant. Bruce redesigned the body to fit on a shortened VW floorpan, 14 1/4″, which ultimately reduced the price as well. As a result, the Meyers Manx took off. In subsequent years B.F. Meyers & Co. built 5,280 Meyers Manx kits, several hundred Manx II’s, about 1,000 Meyers Tow’ds, a couple of hundred Manx SR’s and 75 Resorters/Turista’s – a total of nearly 7,000 kits. The Manx took the country by storm when magazines like Hot Rod and Car & Driver featured the fiberglass car on their covers. Not able to immediately fill the orders that flooded in, other manufacturers sprang up overnight and ended up producing over 350,000 copies and look-alikes. Eventually over 300 companies worldwide copied the Meyers Manx in one form or another. Bruce tried to stop the floodgate of imitations with patent infringement laws but was unsuccessful.
The performance of the Meyers Manx was amazing, especially off-road! It handled better than any other off-road vehicle ever had, and was so fun to drive due to its supple suspension and light weight. A pair of Meyers Manx’s won 39 out of 41 Slalom races and won its class in the Pike’s Peak Hill Climb beating Corvettes, Cobras, and most open wheel sprint cars! The very first Meyers Manx, “Old Red”, driven by Bruce and Ted Mangels, and beat the standing Tiajuana to La Paz motorcyce record by over five hours, culminating in the first Baja off-road races. Meyers Manxes came in first overall and second in their class in the first official race, the Mexican 1000 in 1967. This started the off-road revolution and eventually Score’s Baja 1,000 off-road race.
TheMeyers Tow’d was originally produced for off-road use only. It was an effort to diversify and expand the B. F. Meyers & Co. product base. The original Tow’d, named because it was to be towed, had no hood or fenders. People thought it was so cute that they demanded it also become street-legal. Eventually the Tow’d evolved, adorned with hood, fenders, and engine cover – even a soft-top for weather protection. It became known as the “Tow’dster”, as the street legal version imitated a Roadster. The Tow’d was fraught with production problems, and though the body was smaller and lighter than the Meyers Manx and was built on a custom tube frame, it was not able to gain as much traction as the original Meyers Manx. In the second Baja 1,000, Bruce drove a Tow’d with a Ford motor. Ford supplied three motors for three different Tow’ds that raced. After passing Parnelli Jones in an effort to keep the lead, Bruce drove into a dust cloud and hit a bank. His injuries were so severe that he had to be airlifted out, and could not finish the race.
The Company also produced the Manx SR (Street Roadster). Penned by Stewart Reed, a student fresh out of Art Center College of Design, it was intended for the street only and possessed a sleek, aerodynamic, and contemporary shape. It was built to fit on the same shortened VW floorpan as the original Manx. The car was complex, with thirteen fiberglass pieces and many metal pieces, making it much more of a challenge for the average mechanic to complete. A few more than 200 were sold by B.F. Meyers & Co. Though not a buggy, the Manx SR is allowed in the Manx Club because it was produced by Bruce.
Bruce did not design the Resorter/Turista, but it was produced by B.F. Meyers & Co as a resort/tour vehicle. The Resorter had lower sides for easier entry/egress. The car was originally produced and sold to hotel chains in Puerto Rico, Acapulco and Hawaii. Bruce was not fond of its shape and claimed the sight of it gave him the “turistas”, also called “Montezuma’s Revenge”, an illness that can be contracted south of the border.
B. F. Meyers produced three utility cars, two of which were sold as Lifeguard buggies for Los Angeles County. The last buggy was designated for the California Forestry Service. These buggies were equipped with a covered rear bed for hauling life-saving gear and required a VW “pancake” engine. The third utility buggy never made it to the Forestry Service as it was stolen from the company before it could be delivered. It was rediscovered, but its history is still clouded in mystery.
The last vehicle in the Manx fleet was the Kubelwagen. This car was a replica of the German Desert Staff car of WWII and was built on a full-length floor pan. Sadly, there was only one of these cars built; it now belongs to Andy Felix. Now totally restored. The Kubelwagen is notable because it is the only fiberglass car that Bruce Meyers ever made in imitation of another, preexisting car. Though not a buggy, the Kubelwagen is allowed in the Manx Club because it was produced at B.F. Meyers & Co.
In 1970, with the burden of fighting the cheap imitations of the copiers, cross-country shipping difficulties, and the loss of the patent infringement case, Bruce left B.F. Meyers & Co. Under the direction of John Blick, B.F. Meyers & Co. closed its doors in 1971 with a public auction; sadly, Bruce’s dream was sold at less than ten cents on the dollar.