Alex Dearborn

Dune buggy history, 1965-2005

The history of Volkswagen-derived dune buggies is a wild one. From the metal-clad homebuilts of the early sixties to the well-engineered cars and kits of the late sixties and seventies, the genre grew in sophistication and popularity.

Denise McCluggage, the noted sportscar racer and automotive writer, said in a 1968 article about Deserters for Town & Country magazine “………..Man the Driver has become bored enough to – ugh – walk! Now something else has appeared to alleviate driving boredom - the Anti-Car, the raw-vehicle side of cardom.” Just as the USA anti-pollution and crash-safety organizations EPA & DOT were gearing up to standardize, dumb-down and emasculate regular production cars, along came the little fiberglass wonder called Dune Buggy, saving the day for car enthusiasts.

The freedom of expression implicit in the molded body on VW platform ignited a sleeping market for car enthusiasts with moderate mechanical skills. Engineers and entrepreneurs dreamed of ways of improving on the genius of Bruce Meyers’ fiberglass body design. At Dearborn Automobile Co., we tapped a pool of racing-car designers from Autodynamics to produce mid-engined dune buggy-like street machines, and went racing at Pikes Peak and on paved circuits. Others developed VW powerplants to make double their original power, and sand rails got intense development, as races such as the Baja 1000 proliferated. Small accessory makers became big corporations with worldwide dealer networks, and, as in real life, fortunes were made and lost.

Today we see a resurgence of interest in buggies. The rise in values of sixties sportscars has enthusiasts paying $60,000 for Austin Healeys and $100,000 for Porsche Speedsters, so its no wonder that some brand-name dune buggies are becoming collectable. The restoration parts market is also ready. Back in the sixties, we struggled to achieve 90 bhp from a VW Type 1 engine in our dynamometer-equipped engine shop. Now, one can order such an engine as a turnkey product for about $4,000, a fraction of the 1968 cost, adjusted for inflation. A rebuilt transmission in a crate is a mail-order item at $450. Bruce Meyers has recently introduced a new buggy kit. I have restored a 1969 Deserter GT 912. (Not for production).

.... Alex Dearborn
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