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Freeman Thomas, the designer of a popular electric dune buggy, talks about his inspiration for this design and more

Freeman Thomas demonstrates how your new battery-electric Meyers Manx 2.0 dune buggy can morph a ’60s icon into a modern EV.

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Many were unsure of what the new owners of Meyers Manx, known for its dune buggy kit cars built on a 60-year-old Volkswagen basis, would accomplish when Bruce and Winnie Meyers sold the firm to Phillip Sarofim and designer Freeman Thomas in 2020. Sarofim and Thomas could continue producing colorful miniature fiberglass bodies based on Bruce’s original, wonderful design, but they don’t seem like the type of men who would wish to operate a small-scale nostalgia business.

We just had a chance to check out Meyers Manx’s newest product. The most recent version of the traditional dune buggy is a total redesign that keeps the vintage styling of the original but is propelled by electric motors and offers considerable performance and comfort gains. The Manx 2.0 garnered positive reviews, and during The Quail (a gathering that, like the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, is a part of Monterey Car Week), we had the chance to sit down and speak with Thomas about the difficulties and thrills of redoing a car as storied as the Manx.

C/D: Right, the Manx 2.0 won’t be a kit car like the first Manx but a street-legal turn-key vehicle. What sort of testing is required?

Thomas, Freeman: Correct. It’ll be fully functional. This falls under the new low-volume vehicle legislation, an NHTSA regulation that permits small businesses to produce and market vehicles with a vintage aesthetic without having to undergo the same stringent testing requirements as a major OEM. It enables us to produce up to 325 of these cars per year.

But we want to confirm that the car is reliable and functional as a daily driver. We are creating a door system that has windows, heating, and cooling. Making sure the suspension handles properly is important. The roll bar and roll cage will integrate well with the lightweight aluminum monocoque, which is now the basis instead of the previous VW-based design.

C/D: Are you developing this internally or collaborating with a third party?

FT: A synthesis of the two. We’re working with a manufacturing partner while internally creating it.

C/D: Compared to the first dune buggy, would you say that this new one is more street-oriented?

FT: We want it to be just as capable as the original, but there will undoubtedly be more radical variants to suit different tastes. The initial one we start making will be a fantastic all-arounder.

C/D: Is there any VW-branded hardware on the new Manx?

The bucket for the headlights. We are now improving the front suspension on this design prototype, which is also a Volkswagen.

C/D: Is the body itself still made of fiberglass?

FT: The body of this design prototype is actually made of carbon fiber, but we are considering a variety of production methods, including thermoforming. We like that thermoforming is also recyclable and that color may be infused into the material. On a Manx, it’s crucial to offer a diverse color palette and large metal flakes. Accordingly, based on the customer’s preferred hue, we might use various materials or manufacturing techniques for the bodies.

Do you foresee special editions that might allude to other Manx variations, like a Mod Top or a Tow’d?

FT: Definitely. It actually is a canvas because of a Manx. It may be serious, lighthearted, silly, or vintage. We could create a version with a lively interior, white top, and wheels in a bright color. Actually, it’s a chameleon. Anybody’s taste can be catered for.

Do you intend to race one? Go to Baja as Bruce did?

FT: We’re looking at certain technology for racing, but that’s a separate topic right now. I do appreciate the concept of using racing to test your creations.

C/D: Was it challenging to attempt to reimagine the Manx in a way that made it an advancement rather than, you know, a downer?

It’s a high-wire act, says FT. In my career as a designer, this was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. First and foremost, it’s an icon, and we want to introduce this icon to a larger and larger audience without sacrificing the original’s enchantment and secret ingredient. We were aware that it would be severely condemned if we did it incorrectly. We feel quite confident that we are acting appropriately as a result of all the comments we have received since the revelation and today.

C/D: What aspect of the Manx redesign was the most difficult?

FT: The entire rear end is new. I didn’t want it to be a gaping hole or some fake engine because it doesn’t have an engine hanging out the rear. It concerns the integrity of the design. The body appears to be same, but every surface has additional volume at the radius and corner, which gives it a slight bit more animation.

Is there still a flat area on the fender where you may set your beer? C/D

Naturally, of course.

Do you have a favorite story by Bruce Meyers?

FT: A lot of them. One of my favorite aspects of this is how he created the beltline and shoulder height [Thomas pats the side of the Manx]. He had a piece of wood fixed on the mock-up that he could lift and lower to check the height and angle in his shed on the shore. He was friends with the local abalone divers, and they would stop by to hang out. He would get their opinion on his mock-up before they finally agreed on it. Later, he discovered that it was exactly the same height as a rowboat, just like the divers entering one. But it’s ideal, cozy, and elevated enough to feel secure. You don’t sense being exposed.

What do you believe contributed to Bruce’s design’s enduring appeal?

FT: Bruce had such a beautiful, enjoyable, vivacious, and humorous soul. I aimed to embed that in the car. It poses no hazard. It’s playful and entertaining while also being serious. You see, Old Red [the original Manx, in which Bruce Meyers established a record on the Baja peninsula in 1967] is significant because of the way it was engineered—its capacity, its successes. With this, we sought to use the same strategy, but everything is a contemporary addition to what was there.