When a single car changes your whole life

By Tim Suddard
May 25, 2024 | Volkswagen, Meyers Manx, Column | Posted in Columns | From the May 2021 issue | Never miss an article

Photograph Courtesy Volkswagen

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Some cars you simply own. Some cars change everything. 

Let me explain. 

About 20 years ago, I had a hankering for a small, pit-type vehicle that could go off road. I first looked at Mini Mokes and VW Things. While both are cool, they’re objectively quite unattractive. Plus, they’re somewhat complicated, and each one that I looked at was rusty.

I didn’t really want to get into an elaborate, expensive restoration, so I kept hunting. I soon discovered the Meyers Manx dune buggy. They were simple, cheap–at least back then–and could go just about anywhere and do just about anything, except offer new-car civility. I found an original Meyers Manx up in Long Island, New York. (I knew even then that I didn’t want one of the myriad copies.) 

And that’s where the most interesting car adventure of my life started. As Long Island sits more than 1000 miles from here, we timed our visit to help my parents move south from Massachusetts. So, I borrowed a trailer from my buddy J.K. and started driving.

We were able to get the Manx first. Then we fit my parents’ furniture in and around the Manx parts–a bit unorthodox, but we got home, barely. The weight of the Manx plus all the home furnishings literally tore the frame off my tow vehicle. Thank you, roads of the Northeast. 

Once home, we immediately started assembling our Manx. Shorty, our local air-cooled VW guru at the time, built an engine for us. I guess I expected the price to be higher: I will never forget when he told me that a 1600cc dual-port engine would cost too much for a buggy, so $600 for a single-port engine made more sense–and would make more torque, too, he added. (Despite all of the abuse it’s endured over the years–including being filled with water, mud and sand–that engine still purrs away.)

Three months and $3000 later, we had a beautifully restored, period-correct Meyers Manx. My buddy Rennie and I thrashed to get it done in time for the Turkey Rod Run, the annual pilgrimage of the automobile that’s held every Thanksgiving here in the Daytona Beach area. We had an unusual cold snap that year, but despite the 40-degree weather, Rennie, Margie and my then-little kids piled in the Manx to show off our new toy.

[How to tell the difference between an authentic Manx and a replica.]

We’d later take the Manx off-roading through the wilds. We’ve crossed water so deep that it flowed around the windshield. The Manx once set FTD at a local autocross. 

Next time you visit Road Atlanta or VIR, look at the hills: Our Meyers Manx has climbed up all of them. We stopped doing this, however, when we came up over a hill one night and landed in someone’s campsite. No one was hurt, but we realized that we needed to ease up on the night prowling a bit. And then there’s that time the Manx got permanently banned from Daytona International Speedway. 

Another memorable time with the Manx: running the Blue Ridge Parkway with the kids. We would get to the top of a hill, turn off the engine, and see how far we could coast. As I remember, we once went 5 miles in one stretch without firing up the engine. 

Over the years, I have been lucky to meet a lot of the icons in our industry. I was so enamored with the Manx that I sought out Bruce Meyers, the car’s designer.

When I walked into the backyard of his Southern California home and found him covered with fiberglass dust, I knew I had met my kindred spirit. From his modest shop, he was still churning out Manxes.

Over dinner that night, Bruce and his amazing wife, Winnie, shared countless stories. One that perfectly captures his spirit: He shaped the Manx’s front fender to hold a beer. And despite experiencing some serious adversity, he still had a gleam in his eye.

Bruce and Winnie sold the company late last year, and sadly Bruce passed away this past February. He was truly an automotive icon, and I thank him for creating a seemingly simple car that has added so much to my life.

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Tom1200 SuperDork
6/10/21 10:33 a.m.

Some high school friends had one. They used to go bombing down sections of old Mint 400 course (it's 8 miles from our house) and they once stuffed it in a ditch. The four of them got out and lifted up the front end and pushed it back out.

They are gloriously fun vehicles that seem to turn even the most mild manner drivers into fun loving hooligans.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
6/10/21 12:11 p.m.

My first car was a Miata. Look at how that turned out.

buzzboy Dork
6/10/21 12:30 p.m.

One summer in highschool I worked for a VW dunebuggy rental shop from whom I'd purchased my first car, a 1974 Beetle, the prior year. Living at the beach with 45mph speedlimits they really are just a lot of fun. I don't need another car, but I would be pretty happy to own a tub buggy. My old boss had a Manta Ray body that I really liked as well as a Meyers Tow'd. Both of which I'd happily have as my "going for pizza on friday night" car.

noddaz GRM+ Memberand UberDork
10/12/21 9:27 a.m.

 And then there’s that time the Manx got permanently banned from Daytona International Speedway. 

Do tell.  You don't get off that easy around here mister!  smiley



Rodan SuperDork
10/12/21 12:19 p.m.
Keith Tanner said:

My first car was a Miata. Look at how that turned out.

Our NA Miata changed our lives, drawing us down a path of many adventures, great experiences and a lot of fun.  I've owned a lot of vehicles, but none had the impact of our first Miata.

stylngle2003 GRM+ Memberand Reader
10/15/21 9:42 a.m.

If you think about it, like...in the grand scheme of everything, that Manx has changed a bunch of people's lives. 

Here's three more (third, behind the camera). 

Shout out to Nancy.  The boys promised her they'd be careful.  She laughed at my car joke (it's when it stops leaking that you have a problem)

Appleseed MegaDork
10/15/21 12:00 p.m.

My FR-S got me a house.  I bought it when times were good. Then they became not so good. Like tough, every dollar spent, not sure I'm going g to make it tough. A lot of people said to let the car go. Let it be repo'd. 

I almost bought into it. But I stuck it out. Skrimped and saved.  Paid the bill on time and on target. 

That phenomenal credit I got by taking on and being able to handle debt proved to the bank that I could handle it. And that credit got me the house I'm in today.  The bad credit from a repo would have submarined any chance of that happening. 

DavyZ New Reader
9/29/23 1:29 p.m.

A Meyers Manx would have been fun, but my brother and I together bought a tricked-out Datsun 510 while in high school.  We learned to drive the 4-speed manual only after buying the car--great memories and a great car.  Owned a myriad of Datsuns ever since.  I would look at other makes, but the Datsun brand made cars that were so basic, easy to repair and work on, plus they were just plain fun to drive.

timcking New Reader
9/30/23 6:21 p.m.

I've owned a fair number of cars.  A couple of years ago, since I live on the edge of the desert, I became interested in off-road vehicles.  Discovering ATVs and UTVs, I was disheartened by their cost.  Then, I remembered the dune buggies from the '60s and '70s.  What attracted me is the prices and availability of VW parts.  And, not needing a trailer since they're street legal.  It turned out it's also my wife's favorite of all the cars I've owned.  A win-win.

Feedyurhed UltraDork
3/24/24 7:20 a.m.

Here's my Cox dune buggy, complete with .049 gas powered engine.





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