What you see: A Bounty Hunter dune buggy, completed in 1969. It has 45,000 miles on its odometer, and it has a manual transmission. Los Angeles Modern Auctions estimates it at $30,000 to $50,000.
What is a dune buggy? It’s a recreational off-road vehicle designed for use on beaches, deserts, and dunes, hence the name ‘dune buggy.’ It descends from the VW Beetle, a car with a chassis that was light enough to drive on sand. Dune buggies were primarily kit cars, which means that someone would buy the kit and build the car themselves or have other people do it for them. The cars had their heyday from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, when lawmakers realized it probably wasn’t a good idea to let drivers tear across delicate shoreline ecosystems with abandon.
Why is this one called a Bounty Hunter dune buggy? The name is a nod to Steve McQueen’s Western show, Wanted: Dead or Alive, which ran in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He played a bounty hunter. Apparently, one of the dune buggy’s designers met McQueen and helped him when the star ran out of gas.
LAMA primarily handles art and design. Why offer a motor vehicle? “We’ve sold a couple of cars, as a matter of fact,” says Peter Loughrey, founder of LAMA, citing, among other things, a supercharged 1963 model 63R2 Avanti Studebaker that belonged to design god Raymond Loewy. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) acquired it.
How do you choose the cars that you auction at LAMA? “We’re looking for something special,” he says. “It’s not necessary to sell it to a car person, but it’s important that a car person looks at it and gets it. It has to do both–it has to excite the design people and a car person can’t look at it and say, ‘Why this one?”
Dune buggies were kit cars, which means the people who bought them built the car or had someone else do it. Why does this example stand out? “The original owner is a figure in the custom car world,” Loughrey says. “When he built it in 1968, he knew what he was doing. This really is the ultimate dune buggy. He custom-built the best example that could be built around this body.”
I also understand that the car is street-legal, while most dune buggies are not? “Because he’s a professional builder and wanted to build the ultimate dune buggy, he wanted to drive it to the dunes and drive it back [instead of towing it],” he says. “He had the headlamps built into the body. The turn signals and rear lamps are from a 1964 Corvette body. He never liked the Jeep-style windshield on other dune buggies, so he took the windshield from a 1964 Renault. He knew every detail was going to make a good, fun vehicle to drive.”
This car is described as being ‘mint.’ What does that mean in this context? “Maybe that’s not the right word. It’s more like a flawless survivor,” he says, explaining that the only parts that aren’t original are the radio and a set of speakers that were installed in the 1980s. “It shows very little wear. The original [fiber] glass body was gel-coated. It has its original gel coat. It has all-original pin-striping that hasn’t been touched since 1968. He [its creator] knew it was a special car, and not a daily driver. It was a work of art, always.”
Is it drivable? Have you driven it? Yes, and no. “These things have to be usable,” he says. “A Picasso vase–you can use it. I won’t, but I can use it. An Eames chair–you can sit on it. If you say oh, it’s not functional anymore, you cut out a large reason for buying it.” But Loughrey had yet to drive the dune buggy during the week that he did this interview–the brakes were being replaced. “If I sell it to a museum, I’ll be the last one to drive it,” he says.
What else stands out about the dune buggy? “Anytime we have a car, it always stands out. The little kid in me loves that we’ve got a dune buggy in our showroom,” he says. “People have asked me for years what our next car will be, and I’d said, ‘maybe a dune buggy.’ I’ve been beating the bushes for several years. When I saw it, it was love at first sight. It was exactly what I wanted–not restored, not repainted. It was 100 percent original.”
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Los Angeles Modern Auctions.