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Bruce Meyers to lend support to opponents of Texas dune buggy ban

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Photo by Casey Maxon, courtesy Historic Vehicle Association.

Bruce Meyers sees the Texas DMV’s ban on homebuilt cars as far more than just a threat to the Meyers Manx and fiberglass-bodied dune buggies that he created and popularized half a century ago. “The whole business of creativity is at stake here,” he said. That’s why, next month, he plans to travel to Austin to protest the ban alongside the activists pushing to re-legalize dune buggies there.

“Each buggy is different because people are different,” Myers said. “And they’re a part of our culture because it’s not about cars, it’s about people — (the cars) are something they built with their own hands.”

Over the last year or so, as dune-buggy owners in Texas, led by Faron Smith, have started to organize against the ban, Meyers said he has kept abreast of the situation but largely held back, “waiting to see what was happening.” As best as Meyers can recall, this is the first time dune buggies have faced such a distinct legal threat.

“When I created the Manx, I wanted to make sure it was legal, and I carefully made sure to include in the instructions what people needed to do to make it street legal — put the headlights at a certain height, include windshields, yadda yadda,” he said, acknowledging that he mainly researched how to make dune buggies street legal in California, his home state. “Everybody was happy at the time, so now why is this happening?”

As early as 2014, the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles began to revoke titles for dune buggies, sand rails, and kit cars, citing Texas Administrative Rule 217.3, which explicitly made any vehicle “designed or determined by the department to be a dune buggy” ineligible for title “regardless of the vehicle’s previous title and/or registration.” Texas DMV officials have admitted that the state does not define what a dune buggy is, however.

In response, Smith formed the Assembled Vehicle Coalition of Texas to lobby against the ban, initially at meetings of the Texas DMV board of directors and at working group meetings the board set up to discuss the issue. Representatives from the Specialty Equipment Market Association, which keeps tabs on such state laws and regulations, attended those meetings as well.

While the DMV has floated amendments to the ban that would have effectively kept it in place for all but a minority of dune buggies — those built on full-length Volkswagen pans rather than the traditional shortened pans — the board of directors in August tabled those amendments in favor of turning the entire issue of titling assembled vehicles over to the state legislature.

“It seems (the DMV officials) either just don’t understand the laws or they’re just being unfair,” Meyers said.

Smith said passing legislation to protect assembled vehicles has been one of the coalition’s goals all along.

“We did everything we could to work with the TxDMV in order to get a ‘Band-Aid Fix,’ that would get us legally on the streets until we passed a Bill that the TxDMV does not have the ability to change,” Smith recently wrote on the Save the Texas Dune Buggy, Sandrail & Kit Car Facebook page.

In part to get the attention of state legislators, the Assembled Vehicle Coalition of Texas has organized a rally on the south lawn of the state capitol building later this month. “Legislators will be invited to come down to hear us speak, look at Assembled Vehicles to see that they are not ‘Frankencars’ as (DMV officials) tells them they are,” Smith wrote.

Photo courtesy Historic Vehicle Association.

Meyers, along with Manx Club President Mike Dario, will speak at the rally in support of the coalition’s efforts. This will be far from the first time Meyers has had to contend with legal difficulties related to the dune buggy. Despite the patent awarded to him in February 1966 for the dune-buggy’s design, a federal judge in Sacramento rejected his bid to stop the copycats coming out of the woodwork at the height of the dune-buggy’s popularity. The decision led him to turn his back on the dune buggy for nearly 25 years, until dune-buggy fans in the 1990s showed him how much joy his creation brought to them.

“They’re creating something for happiness and love,” Meyers said. “the dune-buggy events we put on, I like to call them a huge love affair.”

While Meyers isn’t sure whether he’ll also bring Old Red, the first dune buggy he built in May 1964, to the rally, he said that “if it makes a difference, if it’ll change the balance, of course I’ll bring it.”

The rally will take place from 10 to 11 a.m. October 25, with fun runs scheduled for October 26 and 27. For more information, visit the Save the Texas Dune Buggy, Sandrail & Kit Car Facebook page.

The next session of the Texas state legislature will begin in January 2019.