You know the often-botched phrase: "Imitation is the sincerest of flattery"? (Thanks, Charles Caleb Colton.) It doesn't just apply to hair metal, prop comics and energy drinks. It's also prevalent in the automotive world. What car inspired the most imitators?

In the early 1960s, Bruce Meyers employed his experience building catamarans to create a simple, lightweight vehicle for leaping over sand dunes. He whipped up a purpose-built fiberglass body, whose beguiling, petlike form was punctuated by a pair of bugeyed headlamps, giving it the facial expression of an eager puppy. Underneath, Meyers installed the virtually bulletproof VW Beetle running gear. The result was a surprisingly tough machine ‚ÄĒ Meyers would eventually win the Mexico 1000 desert race in one.

Indeed, the sun-kissed California lifestyle had a new automotive ambassador. The Meyers Manx buggy became so popular, it spawned an industry comprising upward of 300 companies, which would produce more than one million "dune buggies." After a long battle, Meyers was unable to convince the courts to recognize his patent, so while similar machines flooded the market, Meyers's company sold only 6,000 units. (Meyers restarted the company in 2000.)

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