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CATEGORIES (articles) > Kit Cars > Buggies and Utilility > Dune buggy

Dune buggy

Dune buggy

A dune buggy is a recreational vehicle with big wheels and tires designed for use on sand dunes or beaches, especially a light vehicle with a modified engine mounted on an open chassis. Also called beach buggy or a sand rail.


VW based dune buggy in Cozumel, Mexico

Dune buggies are created using two different methods. The first involves alteration of an existing vehicle, most notable the older Volkswagen Type One (Beetle, or Bug). The VW Bug was preferred for a variety of reasons. Most notable are that the rear mounted engine and removal of bodywork transfers a high proportion of the remaining weight to the rear drive wheels for extra traction, the engine is air cooled simplifying engine modification and the elimination of the radiator as a source of engine failure, the extremely cheap price, and the sizable quantity of spare parts from other VW Bugs and buses. This is a likely candidate for where the term "buggy" originated.

The second method involves construction of a vehicle frame from steel tubing bent and welded together. The advantage of this method is the fabricator can change various fundamental parts of the vehicle (usually the suspension and a built-in roll cage). However, the cost is the extra time taken. Buggies of this type are called sandrail because of the rail frame. Rails, like the VW bug typically have the engine located behind the driver and engine sizes vary depending on the intended function (see below). Sizes can vary from a one seat ATV sized go-cart to a 4 seat, 8+ cylinder sized vehicle. Sandrails can have panels or custom shaped body coverings over the rails and tubing that compose the vehicle, though many are left bare.

Some dune buggies represent mixes of the two design philosophies above. This is typical when a converted vehicle sustains damage from age, hard use, or accidents and spare parts are not available or affordable.


Initially dune buggies were designed for navigating desert or beaches (hence the word "dune"). However, dune buggies have become more diversified in terms of the terrain they can handle. Dune buggies are being built for more generic off road tasks, such as CORR / SCORE indoor track racing. Some are even built for and used as on-road vehicles. Typically the function is determined before the buggy is created in order to maximize the comfort or abilities of the vehicle.

Building a dune buggy

Although dune buggies can just be bought (as a kit), most drivers make their own buggy.This is done by separately buying chassis, engine, tires, steering wheel, and axles.Some builders even make their own chassis, which creates a special, customized vehicle.

Military buggies

Because of the obvious advantages a buggy can afford on certain terrain, they are also used by the military. The buggies built for the US military are called Desert Patrol Vehicles (or DPV); they were previously called Fast Attack Vehicles or FAV. They are used by US Navy Seals. The DPVs are built by Chenowth Racing Products Inc., which is a San Diego based company. Like most military material, it is not sold to people outside the army.

Tube Framed Buggies

Over time Buggies have been altered to allow maximum recreational use. They are now available in varying sizes to compensate for lack of large amounts of land. The most common form of non-racing buggy consists of a 'tube frame'. This design is simple to construct and sturdy. If the frame bends or breaks then it is very simple to fix. Most Mechanics will have the equipment to fix the broken parts. Steel tubing is preferred to "pipe". The distinction is that pipe is rolled and welded, tubing is mandrel drawn, making it stronger and closer to consistent tolerences.

The engine size varies depending on the suspension, frame strength, requirements and performance needs. Most buggies are equipped with a 4-stroke engine to allow large amounts of torque to propel the heavy frames. Very few are equipped with 2-stroke engines because they can not produce large amounts of torque. Dune buggies may be equipped with automatic or manual transmissions, but manual transmissions are the norm in the buggy world.

Engine sizes vary anywhere between 50 cc for small light buggies to Large V8 engines designed to race professionaly..

Dune buggies in fiction/movies

Dune buggies were especially made popular by movies such as Mad Max.

A dune buggy also appears in a lengthy sequence in the video game Half-Life 2.

A buggy is used on the animated Lilo and Stitch: The Series.

For a brief time in the mid-1970s, Spider-Man used a modified dune buggy as his "Spider-Mobile".

The 1973 cartoon series Speed Buggy featured an anthopomorphic dune buggy, voiced by Mel Blanc.

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