Electric Meyers Manx designed at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

“Round like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel. Never ending or beginning on an ever spinning reel … .”

The words are from “Windmills of Your Mind,” a song composed by Michel Legrand with English lyrics written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman. The composition was commissioned as a theme song for “The Thomas Crowne Affair,” a 1968 movie starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway.

During one scene in the movie, McQueen gave Dunaway a thrill ride in a “sand dune buggy” that could perform jumps, doughnuts and vertical sideways climbs over the sandy dunes on a California beach. As in many of his movies, McQueen enjoyed elevating the profile of off-road motor sports and high-performance vehicles. He enlisted Bruce Meyers, a boat builder, surfboard artist, and dune buggy pioneer, to help him design the off-road vehicle used in “The Thomas Crowne Affair.” The sand dune buggy featured a Fiberglas body overlaid on a Volkswagen Beetle chassis, a 230-horsepower Corvair engine, suspension components from a truck, and oversized wide wheels. Details of the building experience were explained by McQueen in a vintage Hollywood video preserved at an Internet fan site: http://www.mcqueenonline.com/tcadunebuggyvid.htm

Last month, Meyers celebrated the 50th anniversary of his first sand dune buggy, “Old Red.” After building a few prototypes in his boat shop in Newport Beach, Calif., he formed B.F. Meyers &Co. in 1964 to produce the “Manx.” The name was modeled on the concept of a stubby tailed, but long-legged Manx cat that could outmaneuver its prey by turning quickly, because of its compact shape and size.

Meyers reduced his production costs by creating a kit from surplus Volkswagen Beetle parts, that were cheap and plentiful in Southern California at that time. He cut 14 inches out of the standard VW frame, then welded the two halves back together to create a platform with an 80-inch wheelbase. A Volkswagen engine and transmission behind the driver provided power to oversized wheels and tires on the stubby wheelbase. A customized Fiberglas body from the Meyers Manx kit was bolted on top of the shortened VW chassis along with an external windscreen, headlights and manufactured trim.

Meyers began racing his sand dune buggy during the early days of the Mexican 1000, the predecessor to the Baja 1000, from Tijuana to La Paz. Mexico. The Meyers Manx outperformed other off-road vehicles during these early endurance races. As a result, his Manx design became widely copied and enhanced by other competing companies, as well as do-it-yourself hobbyists. Meyers Manx kit cars could also be built as street-legal vehicles, expanding the platform’s adoption by Southern California’s car culture and the rest of the world.

During last month’s 50th-anniversary celebration in Newport Beach, Las Vegas designer Bob Anderson unveiled an electric version of the Manx kit car to Meyers, now 88.

Anderson is a systems designer at Rev-Tec Corp., whose production and research facilities are at Las Vegas Motor Speedway: www.rev-teccorp.com

Meyers has partnered with Rev-Tec to produce a 21st-century version of “Old Red” that now features a lithium-ion battery pack, electronic control system and compact AC induction motor to drive the oversized wheels of the dune buggy with lots of torque. The vehicle platform is a lightweight metal frame with integrated suspension, topped by a Fiberglas shell and custom bucket seats.

Rev-Tec also develops innovative equipment for niche industries that employ specialty lithium-ion battery cells, renewable energy systems, automated greenhouse monitoring equipment, and portable power sources for the motion picture industry.

During 2009, Anderson and two other designers were recognized by the TV and movie industry with an Emmy Award in the engineering category, for the team’s creation of the Grip Trix electric motorized camera dolly. The quiet precision of the dolly’s electrified wheel motors allow the mobile platform to be loaded with multiple cameramen, cameras and lighting equipment in flexible configurations that can quickly capture moving scenes at remote location sites. This platform is more agile and flexible than stationary track systems traditionally used in the motion picture industry.

During his career in the automotive industry, Anderson has been fortunate to work alongside several influential mentors while developing his customized electric vehicle designs, including Lee Iacocca, Carroll Shelby, Don Petersen, and Stewart Reed. Shelby encouraged Anderson to move to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway complex from Los Angeles, while also helping provide factory space near Shelby American, Inc. The two men collaborated on the development of electric vehicle platforms that were based on Shelby’s chassis designs, until he died in May 2012.

Stan Hanel has worked in the electronics industry for more than 30 years and is a longtime member of the Electric Auto Association and the Las Vegas Electric Vehicle Association. Hanel writes and edits for EAA’s “Current Events” and LVEVA’s “Watts Happening” newsletters. Contact him at stanhanel@aol.com.