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History Hits: EMPI Imp Dune Buggy Sportster (It Gets Weird)

2nd HeaderThis weekend, the local law enforcement agencies put on a car show in my in-law’s neighborhood, which they called Cops and Rodders. While the name is pretty dang awesome, the show itself was even better, as my in-laws live in an airplane-friendly neighborhood. What this means, is that the two-lane streets are about 5 times larger than normal, to allow for planes to travel from the homes—most of which have hangers—to the communities connected airport.

These wide roads were not only perfect for staging a car show with plenty of space to move around, but also allowed the show to be a Show ‘n Shine & Fly-in. The show was filled not only with cool cars and trucks—including historical and modern police vehicles—but also some fantastic flying machines. While all of the pictures I shot will be edited and posted by Wednesday, the one vehicle that really caught my eye, that I knew nothing about, was a non-descript little dune buggy.

I could tell at a glance that this wasn’t a Manx. I actually thought it might have been a Mini Moke before I got close.

Now, I assumed this dune buggy was like all of the others I see prowling the streets of California, and were some assembly of VW parts with a Meyers Manx buggy kit. For those of you who aren’t up to snuff with your Buggy trivia, Meyers Manx kits are what you think of when you think of 60’s and 70’s dune buggy’s. They utilized VW parts for the most part, and were bodied in the characteristic fiberglass body we are now familiar with.

For those that car, this is what can be expected to be found in such a vehicle. This isn’t the unit in the car I pictured, but is similar enough. It’s about open-top beach cruising, not speed, anyways…

However, the Manx was not the first VW based dune buggy. That honor goes to the subject of today’s History Hits, pictured above in the header, which was conveniently labeled as an EMPI Sportster. Further research showed that many people would better recognize this car as an EMPI Imp. Order of production is not the only thing that separates this EMPI product from the Meyers creation; the EMPI kit cars are made out of sheet metal, compared to the fiberglass common on other buggy’s.

Beyond this, much is the same between the EMPI product and the rest of the VW buggy world; a VW chassis was shortened 14”, fitted with axles off of a Transporter, and fitted with whatever air-cooled VW engine and transmission the owner decided to throw in the rear of their creation. And it would be the owner building his car—for better or worse—because while EMPI did sell some cars complete from their Riverside, CA facility, for the most part they shipped out ‘do-it-yourself’ kits.

While that essentially concludes the history of the EMPI, the info blurb the owners of the specific car I saw included one almost forcefully optimistic line, “One even appeared in a movie!”

I’m a sucker for info blurbs. I stop for them all.

Well? What movie? You can’t just leave me hanging like that!

So, I researched. And I found it.

The American edited movie poster. In the German poster they are topless, and merely waving, rather than throwing some painted-on bikini bottoms.


The owners, presumably a nice old couple who takes it out on sunny days as the info blurb says, didn’t include the actual movie because it was a German soft-core pornographic movie released to American theaters in the 1970’s. The Meyers Manx starred in movies with Steve McQueen, Elvis Presley, and Paul Newman, while the EMPI gets saddled with Ready, Willing, and Able (1971) as its silver screen lineage.

I suppose now, the only question that remains, is why did they include the movie fact at all?

Like the article? Want to read more like it? Check out my website, for weekly history articles and more besides. If I missed something or if you have a question, feel free to leave a comment below, and don’t forget to hit the like button.

Stephen Hyden View All

I recently recieved a degree in History from the University of Nevada, Reno.

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