What the hell is a Manx,
A brief history of the littlest
Way back in 1936, a young Ferry Porsche and his mates used
to spend their weekends bush-bashing in the remote parts of Fascist
Germany. Ferry's day job was running the VW factory at Wolfsberg, and
his choice of off-road gear was a Beetle floorpan and drivetrain. Ferry
sat on a folding chair to drive and his mates hung on as best they could.
According to Ferry, the stripped Bug was a truly awesome go-anywhere
vehicle, and the only thing that slowed it down was the constant backtracking
to pick up his mates after they flew off the back. Sadly, history does
not relate how much Schnapps they drank before, after and during these
expeditions, but the smart money is on “lots”. Ferry didn’t know it then,
but he was the vanguard of a long and illustrious tradition of making offroad
Beetles go very fast.
When Germany went to war in 1939, the Beetle was adapted to military
service. The Kubelwagen (literally "Bucket Car") served in every part
of Nazi-controlled Europe and North Africa. In 1945, the Allies tested
a captured Kubelwagen and a Willy's Jeep back-to-back. They concluded
that the Kubel matched the Jeep in every way except fuel consumption.
It could carry the same load, withstand the same abuse, reach the same
speed, go anywhere the Jeep could go, and used only half the fuel. Despite
the Jeep's size, power and legendary reputation, it was outclassed by a
puny 34bhp 1100cc two-wheel drive that was called a bucket even by the people
who designed and built it!
In the 1960s, VW Beetles from the rebuilt Wolfsberg factory were pouring
into the US market, and Bruce Meyers was building and sailing boats in
Southern California. As you'd expect (given his nautical inclination)
he spent a lot of time on the beach, where he observed the birth and infancy
of what is now known as the beach buggy. Most of these early buggies
were powered by small-block V8s. They had lots of grunt, but they also
weighed a lot and they didn't impress Bruce. He thought that a buggy should
be small, light and well balanced, so he designed and built a number of
VW-powered buggies. Eventually he settled on a configuration that was cheap,
easy to produce and went like stink - a shortened Beetle chassis, jacked
up and wearing custom fibreglass bodywork. The Meyers Manx.
History is silent as to how much Bruce knew about Ferry's drunken
weekends when he originally had the inspiration for the Manx. I'd like
to think that Ferry's antics had something to do with Bruce's creation.
If you look at a Manx, you can almost see a bunch of pissed German lunatics,
blasting through the Black Forest, hanging on for grim life, screaming
abuse at Ferry and occasionally falling off and bouncing through the scenery.
Well, I can. Yes, I'm also seeing a psychiatrist. Well, I'm actually seeing
his wife, but I reckon that's close enough. If you don't care for the Teutonic
connection, picture half a dozen bronzed hippie surfies, tanked to the
gills on tequila and hallucinogenic drugs, thrashing a Manx from one end
of Baja California to the other, dodging cactii, big rocks and the occasional
pink elephant, in search of groovy surf, hot chicks and, like, cosmic
harmony, dude... Same thing, just a few decades later and on the other
side of the world.
As it had in the searing Saharan desert and the frozen Russian steppes,
the VeeWee motor did it's thing quietly, efficiently and reliably on
the west coast of America. It was just like the Kubel and the Jeep all
over again. Bruce Meyers' little Manxes kicked sand in the faces of the
V8 buggies and set records left, right and centre. Bruce sold over 5,000
Manxes in kit form, and a lot of other people sold a whole heap of various
Well, that's my version of Bruce's story. If you prefer Bruce's
version (ie: the truth), it's here.
The idea behind the Manx is very simple and not too far removed from
Ferry's bush-basher. Take one cheap, basic, reliable small car. Cut all
the bodywork off it, 'coz it's heavy and boring and real Aryan supermen
don't need weather protection. (The Kubelwagen was completely open too!)
While you're wielding the angle grinder with skill and aplomb (and a blood
alcohol level off the measurable scale) chop about a foot out of the floorpan
as well. This reduces the wheelbase and makes it easier to wheelie (Jawohl!
Ist gut!). Slam down some more Schnapps, weld the floorpan back together,
jack up the suspension, bolt on a light fibreglass bodyshell, throw
in a couple of bucket seats and there you have it. Time to grab a bunch
of crazy mates and plenty of grog. Then head bush at full throttle. The
Manx is small, light, unbreakable and has heaps of ground clearance.
All the weight is over the driving wheels, so it has excellent traction
and will sit up and beg with anything more than 40bhp pushing it. Just
the thing for blasting down the beach, through the scrub, or up an Alpine
pass. Or maybe into Poland. No, on second thoughts, scratch that one.
The best part about a Manx is the fact that it uses a VW engine.
Whether you love them or hate them, you've got to admit that the little
air-cooled flat-four motor is well developed, reliable and dead easy
to hot up. There are countless aftermarket parts manufacturers making
all manner of go-fast bits for VeeDubs. You can buy everything and anything
you could possibly need, and it's usually dirt cheap. If you've got a
1600cc motor, 100bhp is easy, and four times that is possible with some
forced induction and a bit of effort. If you're a woose and you can't make
your VeeWee go, Porsche flat-six motors bolt straight in. With the addition
of an adaptor plate, so do modern Subaru motors. Anyone for a WRX-engined
twin-turbo 500bhp Manx?
Fast-forward to the near future. The location is a beach on sunny
Queensland's south-east coast. The vehicle - of course - is a cut down
Beetle wearing fibreglass, fully worked and going much faster than Herr
Doktor Ferdinand would ever have believed possible. It's full of drunken
idiots who are generally carrying on like pork chops, having a great time,
and occasionally falling out and hurting themselves. Yes, you've guessed
it - it's us. Hello!
Great minds thinking alike? Fools seldom differing? Or just some
things never going out of style? You decide. And when you do, tell us
what it is. We're too busy getting blasted and having fun to care. Pass