Bruce Meyers lived the life most people only read about. A surfer, inventor, artist, war hero and racecar driver, Meyers distilled the essence of 1960s Southern California car culture with the invention of his Meyers Manx, a Volkswagen Beetle-based buggy that went where the pavement ended.
Last week, Meyers passed away at the age of 94. A creator of the race which would come to be known as the famed Baja 1000, Bruce was an energizing soul of car culture until the very end, living and celebrating the freedom that off-roading creates. While his firm only built about 7,000 of the original fiberglass-bodied Meyers Manx vehicles, the design became synonymous with the idea of a “dune buggy” and driving to the surf and sand.
“My life has been full of adventures,” Meyers told us in 2017. ““I want people to have an adventure in life.”
Born in Los Angeles, Meyers grew up around beaches, surfing and vehicles; his father a prominent car dealer. When World War II called the nation to duty, Meyers first enlisted in the Merchant Marines, then the Navy. In 1945, he was aboard the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill when the ship was hit by two kamikaze bombers. Nearly 400 of the crew perished, but Meyers survived, and swam through the wreckage to rescue his fellow shipmen.
After the war, Meyers returned home and went to art school. He spent much time on a surfboard and learned how to build sail boats using what was, at the time, a new material known as fiberglass. Spending ample time off the beaten path, Meyers noticed many of his fellow Californians using Volkswagen Beetles – minus many of their body panels – to traverse the dunes traditional four-wheel-drive vehicles had trouble navigating.
In 1964, Meyers set about to create a better way around the sand. Using the Beetle’s floorplan and running gear, he hand-built a fiberglass tub on top, with chrome surrounded “bug-eye” style headlamps. Rather than cobble together a collection of other vehicles, his vision was to create something that came across as fun and artistic; with a touch of hotrod inspired flare. The result was dubbed “Old Red,” and its look would spark an entire culture of affordable and lightweight Beetle-based buggies.
“It was a phenomenal success,” said Meyers. “Suddenly everybody wanted this happy little car. It’s a visualization of friendship and love.”
A few years later, Meyers and friends decided to take their buggy to Mexico, where motorcyclists had been running long-distance races through the desert terrain. On just a few days preparation, Meyers and a co-driver won the race which would later become the Baja 1000, one of the world’s most popular off-road races.
Though Meyers founded his own buggy building operation, now known as Meyers Manx, his design proved too coveted to control. While nearly 7,000 Manx units were produced, countless copycat versions also flooded the market, ultimately forcing Meyers to close shop. Estimates vary, but sources agree more than 250,000 Meyers-inspired buggies have been built worldwide.
Only in recent years did Meyers re-start production of a new buggy – still built on the Beetle chassis – now with two seats instead of four. The original “Old Red” was added to the National Historic Vehicle Register in 2014, and represents a design cherished by countless fans worldwide.
“I was just a character who lived a lifestyle of breaking traditions,” said Meyers, “and the dune buggy did that.”
Rest in peace, friend. Thank you for being the character you were. We will dearly miss you.