The father of the Dune Buggy, Bruce Meyers, passed away recently at the age of 94. You may not recognize his name, but his legacy to the world is undoubtedly the iconic Dune Buggy. Meyers used the VW Beetle sub-frame as the basis for his fiberglass body and rear-mounted engine on the Meyers Manx, as the first dune buggies were known.
The dune buggy is a hobbyist car built on a Beetle chassis. Listing the top shock brands in the world will not help you choose the correct shocks for your buggy. You need to consult with a suspension expert to recommend the best solution for keeping your bug’s wheels in good contact with the sand.
Shock manufacturers like Monroe, KYB, Bilstein, Fox Racing, and Gabriel all make excellent products. I could rank them and create a debate amongst the experts that will make you none the wiser. I would instead explore why a visit to an expert in suspension setup and tuning would be in your best interest.
The VW Based Dune Buggy Suspension Design
Bruce Meyers, recognized as the father of the dune buggy, was a fascinating man. Living in Southern California, he was a trained artist, surfer, and hippy. He worked as crew on a schooner in Tahiti, where he started to mass-produce surfboards and small sailboats using fiberglass. The Meyers used his creativity and skill with fiberglass to create the Manx, as his fiberglass dune buggy was named in the dunes of Baja, California.
The front-end suspension of the VW Beetle was such a design success that it is still widely used in modern off-road racing. The suspension design uses compact torsion bars instead of coil or leaf springs. Under the supervision of the legendary Ferdinand Porsche, the VW Beetle was developed for use by the German Afrika Korp in the deserts of North Africa.
The dune buggy has excellent credentials as a light and maneuverable vehicle. The early adopters were the surfing and fishing communities all over the world. The dune buggy is a conversion and has many combinations of powertrain, tires, brakes, and suspension settings. Establishing the best combination and brand of shocks for your dune buggy will require some analysis.
What You Need To Know – Fitting Shocks On Your Dune Buggy
Replacing the much heavier VW Beetle body with a lightweight fiberglass body will result in a very hard suspension. Your dune buggy will be prone to bouncing up when hitting the dunes at speed. I asked the Manx Club members for their recommendation to counter this problem, and the feedback was quite surprising.
The front end has torsion bars and is designed for a heavy Beetle body. As you no longer have the weight of the body to contend with, you only need soft front shocks. Some members have fitted cheap low-cost shocks. Gas or coil-over shocks on the front suspension will result in a hard ride. For the rear of the buggy, the most recommended low-cost coil-over shocks that are adjustable. For a low cool stance, the lowest setting on the rear shocks is advised. The spring plates on the rear swing axle can adjust the rear ride height.
For great advice, the book “Baja Bugs & Buggies” by Jeff Hibbard and Ron Sessions comes highly recommended by the Manx enthusiasts.
VW phased out the kingpin front end with the Type I sedans in 1965 and introduced a ball joint design from 1966 models onwards. The ball joint can swivel and rotate with the wheel travel up and down and the steering angle. The ball-joint front ends are connected to the torsion tubes, leaves, and trailing arms. The challenge for off-roaders with this design is the lack of a built-in front-end rebound.
The role of the shock is to slow the momentum of the rebounding suspension. The shock has to dampen the rebound. Lack of travel on the shocks that are too stiff exacerbates this problem. The solution is a good quality off-road shock with reinforced shock towers. It would be best to consider replacing the tie rods as the standard components will not be strong enough for off-road use.
Don’t attempt these fitments on your own. These dune bugs have been around for more than fifty years, and others have already made all the mistakes. Consult with your nearest enthusiast club or local suspension expert on how best to set up your suspension for what you want to do with your dune buggy.
Top Brands To Consider When Replacing Your Buggies Shocks
Consult with a knowledgeable suspension expert when deciding which brand of shocks to purchase for your dune buggy. This decision does not have to break the bank but must suit the application for which your dune buggy is set up.
The German brand Bilstein has been around since 1873. The company’s technical capabilities have been gained over the course of 140 years and are grounded on the advances from their involvement with motorsport. From off-road rally car championships to Formula 1 and 24-hour endurance races, they have perfected their craft.
B6 Performance for Front Ball Joint Suspension
B6 Performance for Rear Swing Axle
Also, consider the off-road motorsport B8 series or the M7100 Coil-over series. The Bilstein 4600 series also received good reviews from some on the Manxclub forum.
Fox Racing was born in 1974 when Dr. Geoff Fox, a physics teacher at the University of Santa Clara, launched Moto-X Fox, producing high-performance suspension components for the racing fraternity. With a strong racing heritage and development base, Fox has developed components for all off-road racing classes.
Their experience in motorcycle racing made the transition into other formats easy, and they have applied their expertise in developing top-quality shocks.
The Fox Racing Shocks 2.0 with compression adjustment can be considered for your buggy. Coil-over shocks are heavier and less costly, but air compression or nitrogen shocks are lighter and more expensive.
KYB was founded in Japan in 1919 as the Kayaba Research Center. They have grown to the most significant automotive shock producer in the world. KYB has an excellent distribution footprint and is the biggest producer of shocks, serving both original equipment and aftermarket. They offer a great range of affordable shocks.
The KYB Excel-G range is very well priced and will offer you an affordable option to choose from. They are held in high regard by the Manx enthusiasts.
Founded in Monroe, Michigan, in 1916 by entrepreneur mechanic August Meyer, this brand is as strong as ever. Going toe to toe with KYB in the international market, Monroe offers a full range of products to the original equipment and aftermarket.
The Monro-Matic Plus range offers replacement front and rear shocks for VW Beetle-based dune buggies. They also provide shock-absorber air hose kits to complement their range. Their website is very informative and can direct you to their dealer base.
Gabriel was founded in 1900 by Claud Foster. Foster invented the multi-tone horn for automobile applications as an accomplished trombone player, calling it Gabriel’s Horn. Gabriel is also credited with developing the hydraulic shock absorber and the first air-adjustable shock absorber.
This groundbreaking American company is as solid and vibrant as ever. Their range of red-colored coil-overs is quite distinctive and should be considered an option for your dune buggy.
KONI was founded in 1857 in the Netherlands and boasted a motorsport pedigree with Ferrari dating back to 1958. KONI is a top manufacturer of adjustable shocks and focuses on the Sport & Tuning, Performance, Off-Road, and Racing segments. The KONI Raid range is specifically developed for the rigors of the off-road.
KONI has products developed for the VW Beetle range going back to 1952 models. The KONI Volkswagen Beetle Special RED range gets some great reviews from satisfied Dune Bug owners.
Rancho was founded in the 1950s in Long Beach, California, and became a supplier to Jeep. The company has developed as one of the top off-road and performance suspension specialists in the world.
The company was purchased by Tenneco Inc in 1990 and developed the first five-way adjustable shock absorber, the RSX. The RSX allowed off-road enthusiasts to adjust compression levels affecting rebound to suit the riding style of the vehicle.
Rancho offers an extensive range of products, and their intelligent adjustable design means that you can tune the shocks to suit your desired preferences.
Joe Vittone started the company in the 1960s. Vittone sold EMPI to Filter Dynamics in 1972, and it closed down in 1974, but EMPI still lives on today under new ownership. EMPI is an acronym for Engineered Motor Products Incorporated, recently acquired by Georgia based PPI.
They specialize in quality replacement parts for VW Beetles, VW A1 Golfs, and Porsche models. Their website is straightforward and will help you select all the parts needed for your dune buggy or a performance bug.
The eight shock brands are in no particular order, and you should consider all of them in your final selection. Consult with the local dune buggy enthusiast and local suspension experts before spending your money. You need to know where and how you want to use your dune bug. Do you want to get to the best surfing spots, go and enjoy some dune riding, use the bug as a street-legal run-about, or do you want to do some off-road racing?
What To Expect At A Suspension Tuning Specialist
Your suspension tuning expert will start by asking you many questions regarding where and how you will be driving your dune bug. The vehicle will then be weighed with a scale under each tire to determine laden and un-laden weight distribution.
With the expert, you will agree on the ride height you would require for your desired application. You will define the stance of the bug and the wheel rims and tires options selected. The selection of the type of shocks and which brand to purchase will follow next and could depend on your budget. Please start with the lowest cost option see how they perform. You can always upgrade later.
Decide which aspects of the work you feel capable of doing yourself and leave the specialized fitments and setting to the experts.
Enquire whether you may be allowed to assist the expert technician during the work. It would be best to learn how to do this work yourself the next time the shocks are replaced.
Go for a test drive with the suspension expert and determine whether you are happy with the way the dune buggy handles and looks.
The legendary VW Beetle suspension that spawned the Dune Buggy has become the basis for the modern tubular frame sand rails. The sand racing community has embraced this popular design, and newer suspension brands like King Off-Road Racing Shocks offer specially designed and adjustable shock and suspension products.
There is no better platform to learn on than the VW Beetle. Parts are readily available, and the big mistakes have all been made by the pioneers of the dune buggy. There is a wealth of information in the dune buggy enthusiast community and sand racing fraternity.
Consult the numerous discussion forms and learn from their experience. They are eager to share their hard-earned lessons and advice. If you already own a dune buggy and are looking to optimize the driving performance or just looking to replace worn-out shocks, consult with a suspension setup expert in your area. Get some recommendations on who best to consult with on the blogs.
Selecting the brand and type of shock that is perfect for your dune bug need not break your budget. You can start low and see whether you are satisfied. The front torsion bar and rear swing axle suspension of can offer you a significant number of settings. The shocks will assist in providing the required dampening and provide you with a smooth ride.
You can always upgrade to more expensive shocks if required. Far better than finding out the costly nitrogen-filled racing shocks are too hard on your kidneys. Keep your wheels in the sand and stay safe!