This week, a Southern California man named Bruce Meyers turned 90. While that’s a feat in itself, Meyers has filled those 90 years with several lifetimes worth of living. He served on the USS Bunker Hill in World War II, surviving a kamikaze attack, and saved the life of a pilot who went overboard. After the war, he dabbled in fine art and spent two years in Tahiti. Then he got a job at Jensen Marine, where he learned to work in fiberglass, building some of the first fiberglass surfboards (he’s a life-long surfer) and boats. In the 1970s, he invented the Can-Am race car bed, and created the first fiberglass hot tub. But Meyer’s biggest achievement, the one you know him for even if you didn’t know his name until right now, is the dune buggy. From 1964 to 1971, Meyers built the Manx, the icon that sparked an off-roading revolution, spawned thousands of imitators, and seemingly embodies the California beach lifestyle.
If there’s an automotive universal truth out there, it could be this: Everybody likes dune buggies. What’s more, everybody knows them. You probably had a toy one growing up, and if you were born after 1985 or so, chances are your parents had one too — maybe Dad had Matchbox’s Baja Bandit, and Mom had the Barbie buggy.
Steve McQueen drove one in The Thomas Crown Affair, and Elvis drove a few in his ’60s-era movies. Mel Blanc (the voice of Bugs Bunny) even lent his voice to one in the Saturday morning cartoon Speed Buggy in the ’70s. With Chrome wheels, a roll bar, and a surfboard mounted up top, they embody the flashy yet easy-going life everyone east of the Sierras imagines Californians have. But despite the Manx’s iconic status, it was quickly overshadowed by imitators and, after a brief seven-year production run, disappeared.