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Bruce Meyers, creator of the original dune buggy, dies at 94

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Bruce Meyers in a recent photo with the original Meyers Manx | Volkswagen

Bruce Meyers, who turned a simple hand-laid fiberglass body melded to a shortened Volkswagen chassis into a worldwide sensation known as the dune buggy, has died at the age of 94. The cause of death was myelodysplasia, a blood disease similar to leukemia.

Meyers was the creator of the original Meyers Manx, named Big Red, which he built and rolled out of his small Newport Beach, California, garage in 1964. Meyers and his wife, Winnie, just recently sold the Meyers Manx brand and business to Trousdale Ventures, an investment firm that vows to produce a new generation of the beach cruisers.

Bruce Meyers in a recent photo with the original Meyers Manx | Volkswagen

The Meyers’ sale of the company capped off a uniquely American story of skill and innovation about a California surfer, artist, boat builder and off-road racer, among his many activities, who found fame in the creation of a new kind of fun-fueled vehicle that has been loved by millions during the past half century.

Big Red was honored on its 50th anniversary in 2014 as the second vehicle inducted by the Historic Vehicle Association to the National Historic Vehicle Register, gaining permanent recognition in the archives of the Library of Congress. The first car named to the register was the 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe race car, putting the original dune buggy in esteemed company.

Meyers was present on the Capitol Mall in Washington, DC, where the first Manx was put on temporary display to mark the celebration.

The Meyers Manx on display at the Capitol Mall | Historic Vehicle Association

The Meyers Manx on display at the Capitol Mall | Historic Vehicle Association

“Dune buggies have a message: fun,” Meyers said at the time. “They’re playful to drive and should look like it. Nothing did that at the time.”

As well as being fun, the Manx was found to be a formidable off-road competitor. Meyers and his dune buggy are credited with launching the start of organized off-road racing when he and his driving partner, Tom Mangels, set the first trans-Baja 4-wheel record by beating the motorcycle times in Big Red in 1967.

That victory sparked the beginning of the National Off Road Racing Association’s Mexican 1000 that year on the Baja peninsula, which Mangels and Vic Wilson won in a Manx.

Bruce Meyers hand-building the first Manx, Old Red, at his Newport Beach shop in 1964

Bruce Meyers hand-building the first Manx, Old Red, at his Newport Beach shop in 1964

Meyers first drove his Manx, powered by the air-cooled VW boxer-4 engine, in May 1964, and he was soon besieged by those who wanted dune buggies of their own; Meyers never called Big Red a dune buggy, but it was a name that came into popular usage and it stuck.

Meyers also never set out to create an icon, but that’s how it turned out. The dune buggy craze went into high gear as the Manx became known as the most fun on four wheels, a sports car that could be driven on the beach, and emblematic of the West Coast lifestyle.

Soon, Meyers launched his business of making and selling Manxes, taking orders for duplicates and eventually producing them by the hundreds.

The dune buggy’s distinctive style set it apart | Historic Vehicle association

The dune buggy’s distinctive style set it apart | Historic Vehicle association

Part of the appeal was the Manx’s striking appearance, the stylish one-piece fiberglass bodies fitted with large wheels and flat, upright windshields. They were extremely lightweight, quick and maneuverable, plus they were street legal so they could be driven anywhere, from the highway right onto the beach, sand dunes and forest roads.

Steve McQueen was shown driving a Manx with gusto on a beach in the popular 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair, which gave the brand a boost. The next year, a cover story in Car and Driver magazine stirred up even more enthusiasm.

Unfortunately, that success became the downfall of the Meyers Manx business as dozens of copycat dune buggy competitors began selling their own knockoffs. The dune buggies were easy to build, and many handy hobbyists made their own using inexpensive copycat kits. Legal challenges failed, and by 1971, the company was pretty much out of business after producing about 7,000 Manx buggies.

Meyers helped launch Volkswagen’s electric dune buggy concept in 2019

Meyers helped launch Volkswagen’s electric dune buggy concept in 2019

Bruce and Winnie Meyers had actively managed the Meyers Manx company all these years, mainly selling their own kits, and there has been renewed interest in dune buggies in recent years. Meyers was back in the news in 2019 when he attended the unveiling of Volkswagen’s electric-powered dune-buggy concept styled after the Meyers Manx.

Bruce Meyers will go down in history as a one-off automotive great, akin to such individualistic legends as Carroll Shelby and Preston Tucker. Meyers created something simple and unique that took the world by storm and became a true icon for all time.

This article, written by Bob Golfen, was originally published on ClassicCars.com, an editorial partner of Motor Authority.

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The NHRA is preparing for an electric drag racing future

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Ford Mustang Cobra Jet 1400 prototype

The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) is the latest racing sanctioning body to take a serious look at electric cars. Organizers are asking for input on how to make electric cars a bigger part of drag racing, the association announced on Monday.

The NHRA plans to host a series of meetings on the topic, beginning with one during the Gatornationals at Florida’s Gainesville Raceway later this month. It’s an “open invitation to interested parties to participate in an open dialogue on the topic,” the organization said in a press release Tuesday.

That invitation, includes, but is not limited to, automakers, aftermarket parts suppliers, race-car builders, and safety-equipment manufacturers, the NHRA said. The organization hopes to gauge interest in electric drag racing, and discuss safety protocols for electric race cars.

“When it comes to drag racing electric vehicles, we want NHRA to be the leader, not a follower,” Ned Walliser, NHRA vice president of competition, said in a statement.

Ford Mustang Cobra Jet 1400 prototype

Electric drag racing is nothing new. The NHRA noted that electric cars and motorcycles have been included in its rulebook “for many years,” and YouTube is full of videos of Teslas humiliating internal-combustion cars at the dragstrip. Long before Tesla, drag racing was a major outlet for homebuilt EVs, with cars like the “White Zombie” 1972 Datsun 1200 showing the potential of electric power.

However, the NHRA believes now is the time to get more invested in EVs, hoping it will bring in a younger demographic and dovetail with automaker efforts to electrify road cars. While this might make room for a class of cars like the Chevrolet eCOPO Camaro and Ford Mustang Cobra Jet 1400 prototypes, don’t expect electric cars to replace traditional dragsters anytime soon.

“We certainly have no intentions of abandoning our current platform, which has proven to be extremely popular with racers and fans alike,” Walliser said.

Like road cars, race cars are slowly getting greener. Formula E has carved out a niche for electric single-seater racing, and is adding the Extreme E off-road racing series. Formula One already uses hybrid powertrains, and IndyCar plans to follow suit in 2023 (one year later than planned due to coronavirus delays). NASCAR is also considering hybrid powertrains.

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Alfa Romeo, Alpine, McLaren and Mercedes-Benz AMG show 2021 Formula One cars

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2021 Alpine A521 Formula One race car

The 2021 Formula One World Championship is almost upon us and competing teams are showing off their new race cars.

Of the actual automakers competing this season, Mercedes-Benz AMG (W12 E Performance), McLaren (MCL35M), Alpine (A521) and Alfa Romeo (C41) have all shown their contenders. Still to go is Aston Martin which will reveal its car on Wednesday and Ferrari which plans to reveal its car on March 10.

Aston Martin and Alpine are new names this season. Aston Martin, which will use a Mercedes power unit, is basically a rebranded Racing Point. Alpine, too, is simply a rebranding of the previous Renault team, and as a result will use a Renault power unit also rebranded as an Alpine.

2021 Alpine A521 Formula One race car

F1 was due to introduce major changes to the car design for 2021 but organizers last year decided to delay this until the 2022 season due to the hardship experienced by many teams from the Covid-19 situation. Instead, teams were allowed to carry over the 2020 design into 2021.

There have been some key changes in the regulations surrounding the aerodynamics, though. In particular are the rules for the outer floor design, which have been implemented to reduce downforce and in turn reduce lap times. Overcoming this has been the main challenge for teams in designing their 2021 cars.

In addition, Pirelli is supplying tires with a tougher but heavier compound. As a result, organizers have increased the minimum weight for the cars by about 13 pounds.

2021 McLaren MCL35M Formula One race car

2021 McLaren MCL35M Formula One race car

2021 McLaren MCL35M Formula One race car

2021 McLaren MCL35M Formula One race car

2021 McLaren MCL35M Formula One race car

2021 McLaren MCL35M Formula One race car

All cars feature a similar power unit configuration. It consists of a 1.6-liter turbocharged V-6 working with two motor-generators, one integrated with the turbocharger and the other with the engine in the main driveline. Power unit suppliers this season include Alpine, Ferrari, Honda and Mercedes.

The pre-season tests are scheduled for Mar. 12-14 in Bahrain ahead of the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on Mar. 28. The season was meant to start as always with the Australian Grand Prix but due to Covid-19 restrictions the Australian race has been delayed until November.

Despite the ongoing Covid-19 situation, F1 organizers are still hopeful of holding a record 23 rounds this season, with a new Saudi Arabian Grand Prix joining the calendar, as well as the Dutch Grand Prix making a return. The Chinese Grand Prix and a proposed Vietnamese Grand Prix are no longer happening this season, with special Emilia Romagna Grand Prix and Portuguese Grand Prix rounds set to fill in.

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Take it apart, rebuild, repeat

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2021 Ford Bronco

The 2021 Ford Bronco isn’t constructed like most other cars. Instead, it’s like a life-size Lego car as every body panel can bolt on or off. The process isn’t quick and easy, but it should make the Bronco cheaper and quicker to repair, and easier to modify with the bolt-on aftermarket parts that are sure to come.

The Jeep Wrangler is similar, but it’s rear quarter panels don’t bolt on and off, and its fender flares are harder to remove.

Should a shopping cart at Target roll into your shiny new Bronco a replacement can’t simply be ordered from a local Ford dealership and bolted on. Bronco’s Chief Designer Paul Wraith told Motor Authority owners will still need to call a body shop to order replacement panels.

A body shop will also be needed to paint the new panels as they won’t come painted in the color of your vehicle. DIYers might try to paint the panels with a can spray paint, but a body shop will be needed to properly blend the paint to match the new panels.

2021 Ford Bronco

The bolt-on body panels will make life easier should a Bronco get into a fender bender. Shop foreman Mike Gelakoski (known as Jelly) of 38 years at Sears Imported Autos Body Shop in Minneapolis, told Motor Authority “if a car went and got damaged, you’re talking the difference between a couple weeks and a couple days.” Shorter repair times will also mean fewer labor hours and less-expensive repairs.

Jelly explained that, other than a Saturn Ion and BMW Z3, rear quarter panel replacements require you to “screw, glue, and rivet it. Some cars you have to weld and you can burn it (the metal).”

BMW Z3s have rear quarter panels that simply bolt on making replacement a simple process that doesn’t take 20 hours, according to Jelly. The Bronco is like the BMW Z3 and that will make replacing panels “quicker, simpler, and easier,” Jelly said.

Ford’s new Bronco is sure to be the darling of the aftermarket scene and the next superstar at the SEMA show. President and founder of American Expedition Vehicles (AEV), David Harriton told Motor Authority the Bronco’s construction “opens a lot of opportunities for the aftermarket.” AEV is an outfitter specializing in Jeep Wranglers, Ram Power Wagons, and Chevrolet Colorados.

“The ability to take these vehicles off road, have an accident, and then replace the body panel is critical,” Harriton said.

2021 Ford Bronco

2021 Ford Bronco

Some Bronco fans will also buy aftermarket panels and add them to their Broncos. Again, a body shop will be needed to paint these panels to match the rest of the Bronco. However, some owners may choose to wrap their panels or paint them themselves, eliminating the need for a body shop.

It’s not just the body panels. The fender flares pop on and off with the simple twist of a few fasteners in about 30 seconds. “That’s pretty cool that you can be legal driving to and from the trail and then pop off the flares for the trail to keep them looking nice. That’s a pretty great idea,” Harriton said.

From the aftermarket and modification scene to repairing a Bronco dented at the local Starbucks, the way Ford’s latest SUV’s screwed together could be a boon for consumers and the aftermarket alike.

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