Bruce Meyers, who used his boatbuilding skills to invent the first fiberglass dune buggy, who sparked off-road driving in the late 1960s and grew to the point where imitators imitated the market, died on February 19 at his home in Valley Center He was 94 years old.
The cause was myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood cancer, said his wife Winnifred (Baxter) Meyers.
Mr. Meyers’ invention received a big publicity boost after he and a friend drove the Meyers Manx (named for the cat with a tail stub) on a time record nearly 1,000 miles of the bumpy roads of the Baja California Peninsula in 1967. The victory proved the vehicle’s viability and made an aging beach boy a favorite of off-road enthusiasts.
“Get back to the lifestyle I was living when I came up with this thing,” he said in a 2017 interview with Motorward, an automotive website. “It wasn’t about higher education or education, it was just about having fun.”
Mr. Meyers was a fine art surfer in Southern California who, in the late 1950s and early 60s, watched four-wheel drive jeeps compete for traction on sand dunes.
But he saw better expressions of the freedom of off-road driving in modified Volkswagen Beetles that were more effective at navigating dunes because their engine weight was in the rear. At the time, enthusiasts retrofitted the Beetles by cutting off the body to make it even lighter and adding wide tires.
There was something about these vehicles that reminded Mr. Meyers of his childhood.
“All of these characters – Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse – were driving little dinky cars with big, fat tires in 2012,” he told The National, an Abu Dhabi newspaper, in 2012. “
He worked in his small garage in Newport Beach for 18 months creating the Meyers Manx. He removed the body of a beetle, shortened its bottom section, and then screwed on a one-piece fiberglass shell (with fenders, sides, and a front hood area) that was malleable and lightweight but sturdy.
He graduated from the Beetle-Turned-Manx in 1964 and made it light and fast, with a shorter turning radius and greater traction than the dune buggies that preceded it. He named his creation Old Red for its paintwork.
He started selling kits that others could use to rebuild their Beetles. However, sales only rose in 1967 when he and a friend, Ted Mangels, an engineer, drove the Meyers Manx north to Tijuana from La Paz, Mexico, in just 34 hours and 45 minutes – breaking the previous record of two motorcyclists held to about five hours.
A cover article in Road & Track recording the wild Baja adventure kicked off orders for the kits. But demand eventually overwhelmed Mr. Meyers’ company’s ability to produce the kits – he insisted he wasn’t a businessman – and rivals made counterfeits of his design.
Mr. Meyers made over 5,000 kits, but it was estimated that at least 20 times as many artificial Meyers Manxes were made. He lost a lawsuit against a copycat manufacturer to maintain his patent on a “sand vehicle”. In 1971 he joined BF Meyers & Company.
“It took me 10 years to hear the words ‘dune buggy’ and not get angry,” he told Car and Driver in 2006.
And almost three decades before he returned to business.
Bruce Franklin Meyers was born on March 12, 1926 in Los Angeles. His father John helped set up car dealerships for Henry Ford. His mother Peggy was a song plugger.
Mr. Meyers dropped out of high school to join the Merchant Navy and volunteered for the Navy during World War II. He was serving on board the aircraft carrier Bunker Hill when it was attacked by two Japanese kamikaze aircraft near Okinawa on May 11, 1945. He remembered jumping into the water when the burning girder began to sink; He gave his life jacket to a sailor and helped a badly burned pilot until they were rescued by a destroyer hours later.
346 sailors and airmen died in the slaughter, 264 were wounded and 43 were missing.
“I spent almost a month coming back with a skeleton crew and pulling the dead out of the ship,” Meyers told The National.
After the war, he returned to the merchant navy and spent time in Tahiti. He then attended art schools in San Francisco and Los Angeles for six years, specializing in portraiture.
He worked for Jensen Marine for several years on fiberglass sailboats – an experience that helped him build his revolutionary dune buggy.
In the almost 30 years after he closed his company, Mr. Meyers had various jobs, including with a boat manufacturer.
Then, in the late 1990s, he completely returned to the world of dune buggies. He founded the Manx Club with Winnie Meyers, his sixth wife, and then produced a limited edition Meyers Manx kit that was identical to the original. He also developed several other kits, such as the Manx 2 + 2 and the Manx SR.
The couple sold the company to Trousdale Ventures, an investment firm, in November.
“He was 94,” said Winnie Meyers on the phone, “and I had to quit.”
In addition to his wife, Mr. Meyers survived a daughter, Julie Meyers; five grandchildren; and a brother, Richard. Another daughter, Georgia Meyers, and son, Tim, died in recent years.
In 2014, the Meyers Manx was the second significant car, motorcycle, or truck (after the 1964 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupé CSX2287) to be included in the National Historic Vehicle Register, an eight-year-old project that describes the historical and cultural significance of American vehicles . The register is a collaboration between the Historic Vehicle Association, an owner group, and the Home Office.
Alluding to Mr. Meyer’s ingenuity and business troubles, the register said the Meyers Manx was “the inspiration for over 250,000 similar cars made by other companies, making it the most recreated car in history.”