There aren’t many 88-year-olds who would strap into a dune buggy and race across the Baja peninsula. But there aren’t many 88-year-olds like Bruce Meyers – a Southern California native who’s as original as his iconic Meyers Manx.
“I’ve raced (Baja) eight or nine times,” said Meyers, who crossed the finish line of the NORRA Mexican 1000 for the first time last week.
The dune buggy was totally broken by that point, he said. “All we had was third gear. I had to start on a dusty road, revving the engine, slipping the clutch. It was pretty crazy. It was lots of fun.”
Meyers is all about fun these days.
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Meyers Manx this year, the Historic Vehicle Association earlier this month honored Meyers with its National Automotive Heritage Stewardship Award. The U.S. Interior Department also added the original bug-eyed two-seater to the Historic American Engineering Record.
Meyers Manx Inc. then coordinated the only appropriate response for such achievements: It threw a party, inviting significant Meyers Manx buggies that have been built over the years, including an SR with scissor doors, a lifeguard buggy topped with a surfboard, a Manxter DualSport four-seater and the buggy that started it all – Old Red.
Meyers was 36 at the time and “living my life in shorts,” he said, surfing by day, playing guitar at night and supporting both habits with a job crafting sailboats out of fiberglass for a company in Newport Beach.
The idea for the dune buggy “was a subliminal push from childhood,” he said. “I loved the funnies – the Mickey Mouse, the Donald Duck cars. They all drove little cars with great big wheels, and there was no room for their feet. That stuck with me. I guess I mimicked some of that in the Manx.”
Its unique, curvaceous shape “comes out of a guy who spent his educational years in big city arts schools,” said Meyers, who taught figure drawing at Art League of San Francisco. “When you draw figures, there has to be a sense of movement.”
For the Manx, that movement was “leaning forward, looking like it’s ready to leap frog. It has a sense of urgency,” Meyers said.
Crafting the curved lines out of the same fiberglass he was using to make boats, he pieced the rest together from an old Volkswagen he tore apart and reassembled. “If I’d known a lot about car design, there wouldn’t be a dune buggy because I broke the rules,” he said. “You have to have freedom to break rules.”
A free spirit with “slightly hippie-ish” tendencies, he said, Meyers was a “pier punk” who grew up in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach. His mother was a song plugger who also performed on Broadway and traveled the Eastern U.S. before meeting his father, an engineer who worked for Henry Ford. After his parents married, they crisscrossed the country in a Model T setting up Ford dealerships before settling in Southern California.
Meyers recalls racing Ford street rods as a kid. Then he was drafted into World War II, where he served in the U.S. Navy as a gunner on the USS Bunker Hill. The ship was hit by kamikazes, he said, and he along with his shipmates were ordered to jump overboard. After rescuing a burned pilot, he was picked up by a destroyer.
Following his service, his love of water translated into world sailing trips. His affection for exploration stemmed from a book he read about Baja titled “Gerhard & Gulick.”
In addition to the dune buggy, Meyers is credited with triggering the National Off-Road Racing Association that has since given birth to a billion-dollar industry. In 1967, Meyers beat the motorcycle record, racing his dune buggy from LaPaz to Tijuana, Mexico – a time-elapsed record run that serves as the basis for “The Baja Social Club,” a movie being filmed by Manx owner and enthusiast Marty Fiolka.