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Beach Buggies

The Beach Boys Published: 24th May 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Beach BuggiesNormal buggy style has remained the same over the decades. This is rarer four-seater; swb needs chassis cutting
Heart of a buggy is VW chassis in short or long wheelbase form; former handles better, latter can seat four Heart of a buggy is VW chassis in short or long wheelbase form; former handles better, latter can seat four
Interiors are basic but can be customised like this car Interiors are basic but can be customised like this car
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Pros & Cons

Looks, carefree image, fun factor, Beetle mechanicals, healthy club and social scene
Scant refi nement and weather gear, modest performance and handling, tired, badly made examples

Take a rusty VW Beetle, ditch the rotten fuddy-duddy body and replace it with a something from the swinging 60s made of plastic and you have a Beach Buggy. Unmistakable in shape and form from virtually any other vehicle and hardly practical or civilised, the beach buggy nevertheless offers massive classic fun in the extreme motoring from spring through to autumn and beyond, depending upon how hardy you are! And they are still trendy – want one?


Why you’re never too old to enjoy a bug’s life!

Californian designer Bruce Meyers is generally considered to be the daddy of the beach buggy as we know it today. With his experience in boatbuilding, Bruce decided to design and build a lightweight version of the dune buggy and used fi breglass for the body. The fi rst batch of buggies incorporated monococque bodies which subsequently proved expensive and diffi cult to produce, so the problem was solved by using a shortened Volkswagen Beetle fl oorpan. By mounting a fl at-four air-cooled Volkswagen at the rear of the buggy, this not only simplifi ed the overall running gear but also any need for the additional complexities of water cooling, plus also helped with weight distribution once the bodywork of the donor Beetle had been discarded. The power to weight ratio with a rear mounted engine also enhanced traction and power. By shortening the original VW Beetle fl oorpan, this aided ground clearance and overall agility too. Bruce Meyers called his creation the Meyers Manx which made its competition debut at Fountain Valley, California, in 1964. The Manx proved to be a fi ne handling and fast off roader. It went on to achieve worldwide recognition when it won the Baja 1000 and won its class in the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. Bruce Meyers went on to produce around 5000 Meyers Manx buggies, which were then followed by several hundred Manx II models. The Manx was universally copied in one form or another by over 300 producers around the world. The beach buggy had defi nitely arrived! In 1967 the Meyers Manx secured class wins and fi rst and second placings in the Mexican 1000 Race and also took the time record for travelling the length of Baja (34 hours and 45 minutes), driven by Bruce Meyers and Ted Mangels. The 1960’s and early 1970’s were very much the heyday of the buggy, but as with many automotive ‘crazes’ they gradually drifted off into relative obscurity. However, nowadays there’s still a vibrant if much smaller following for them. Enthusiasts continue to build their own and many companies are engaged in producing fully fi nished ‘turn-key’ cars. Many early buggies have transcended into being of classic status.


Not a great deal has changed in the evolution of the beach buggy. They remain extremely basic, lacking virtually any creature comforts and so are a tad unrefi ned, but that’s their appeal! With a SWB chassis and GRP body, this equates to a very low AUW of around 600 – 700kgs, and with a potent tuned fl at-four VW engine with twin carburettors, performance can be indecently decent. Engines can start off with a lowly 1200cc, and rise to around 2200cc with further tuning easily carried out. Many enthusiasts opt for the popular middle of the road 1641cc which gives more than adequate performance and economy; perhaps nudging 40mpg driven normally. With big wheels and fat tyres at the back for plenty of traction (in their heyday Formula One Wet tyres were used – quite illegally!), a good buggy drives well although thanks to the low weight, minor road imperfections, ruts and pot holes tend to be amplifi ed through the chassis and steering column. The ride can be bloody uncouth too, but smooth surfaces are just fi ne. It is important that the buggy has been properly set-up. Investing in good quality adjustable dampers can pay dividends in the suspension department. Depending on your wheel and tyre fi tment, it’s worth experimenting with tyre pressures to get the optimum ride comfort. Pressures as low as 15 – 20psi are quite normal. While basic buggies may still have all round drum brakes these are adequate for the weight and performance provided although, many sport discs at the front for optimum stopping power. The driver and passenger tend to be more exposed to the elements than in an open top sports car, and buffeting from side winds can prove tiresome on a long run. However, buggies are really more suited for fun, often noisy, wind in the hair motoring days – just as they did more than 45 years ago.


Older buggies requiring restoration range from around £1500 upwards. On the road and ready to go examples will be from £2500. Buggies in well maintained mint condition and with a high specifi cation build such as alloy wheels, chromed engines etc will be £4500-£7500. High spec newer builds in concours condition will be £8000 ten grand. Not bad for something that could be built from as little as £300 back in the 60s!

Busseys Beach Buggy

Buying guide author Paul Bussey puts his money where his PC is! I purchased my Sidewinder as fully fi nished, on the button and ready to go. It was professionally built by Mark Dryden at Flatlands Engineering, near Kings Lynn, around six years ago to a very high standard and specifi cation. It’s a SWB with two seats, as the rear is taken up with the stainless steel cylindrical petrol tank. I particularly like the GRP side pods which give the body much cleaner lines. It cost me around half of the original build price and had seen little use, having covered a mere 2000 miles. Just a year prior to my purchase it had been fi tted with a brand new fully chromed VW 1641cc Remtec engine and the body had been resprayed in blue with a silver fl eck. Fitted with twin carburettors the performance is quite lively and the cacophony from the Lightening Megaphone quad exhaust system is always ringing in your ears, but that’s all part of the fun! Indeed, getting behind the wheel of the buggy always brings on the feel good factor. It’s as far removed from being cosseted in a modern Eurobox saloon as you can possibly get. You sit quite low down in the body, the only protection from the elements is the windscreen. Sure there are jolts, rattles and vibrations, but then there’s really little weight to the body and the whole car feels alive. On a fi ne sunny day, buggies really come into their own, they are great fun to drive, the exhaust is ‘blatting’ away merrily, and all is well with the world.

What To Look For

  • Short wheelbase buggy or long wheel base? The SWB is defi nitely more aesthetically pleasing with that classic buggy profi le plus they handle better with better rigidity. Seating will be 2+2 or LWB will accommodate four people. Overall weight is greater and the body is longer.
  • The stance and downwards rake is important, a buggy has to sit right to look correct. This is done by having larger wheels and tyres at the back. So many buggies have the same wheels and tyres all round so they don’t sit correctly.
  • A buggy is only as good as the person that built it. Was it their fi rst build? Are they a professional mechanic or an enthusiastic amateur? Whoshortened the chassis? Is it a good job, can you see any bad weld marks? Make sure you are happy with the overall integrity of the build…
  • Volkswagen air-cooled engines give good service, if regularly serviced. The oil not only lubricates but helps cools the engine as well and works harder than in water-cooled engines.
  • Does the steering column wobble, does it feel fi rm? Is it correctly clamped to the body and chassis? If it fl exes too much then it’s a bad installation job.
  • Is the windscreen firmly in position? When sitting in the driver’s seat does your head protrude over the top of the screen which will make driving uncomfortable. The seat may need lowering for optimum vision and comfort.
  • Some buggies are fi tted with weather protection with a hood and sidescreens. Does the hood fi t, is the rear plastic window faded or cracked?
  • Newer build buggies tend to be much better quality of fi breglass. Check for stress cracks, ‘microblistering’ of the paint and previous accident damage. Buggies built in the 1960’s and ‘70’s will almost certainly have been repainted, so check out the respray quality.
  • Is the wiring a mass of spaghetti under the dashboard? Have electrical contacts in the engine bay been protected (with shrinkwrap) from water? Check all electrics are working properly as there’s unlikely to be a wiring diagram for problem solving.
  • Some buggies sport Q plate registration which says Kit Car, hence it may be more diffi cult to resell as some buyers don’t like Q plates. Buggies with chassis dating before 1973 can be taxed as a classic with no annual road tax.
  • Check that the vehicle description in the log book is a Volkswagen or Beach Buggy, or convertible and not a VW Beetle.
  • Larger wheels and tyres can put extra strain on wheel bearings and king pins. Too much free play could indicate that the bearings and or king pins/ball joints may need replacing.
  • English buggy guru James Hale has written books on the subject and published by Veloce.
  • One of the largest clubs is in California, the Manx Dune Buggy Club, run by Bruce and Winnie Meyers. There’s also a very active buggy following in Europe, particularly in Holland. In France things are buoyant via the French Super VW Magazine. In the UK the Southern Dune Buggy Club hold meets, website, forum etc.
  • Several companies in the UK currently produce buggy bodies and Flatlands Engineering are agents for the Meyers Manxter. There’s little point in sourcing a buggy from the USA as there’s plenty around – or build one yourself!
  • Thanks to Mel Baker, Southern Dune Buggy Club and Mark Dryden at Flatlands Engineering (Buggy specialists) for their help.


Beach buggies are ostensibly a summer fun thing and offer an exhilarating driving experience for the young at heart – whatever their age. Add typical VW Beetle durability ease of DIY plus a great fan base and let the sands of time roll back.

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