Hey, Texas, what the hell did a dune buggy ever do to you? Dune buggies like the legendary Meyers Manx have been happily and legally driving America’s (and Texas’) streets for decades, but now the Texas DMV has started to revoke titles, according to Hemmings, even for vehicles that have been legally driving for decades. What’s going on?
The whole mess seems to have started back in 2013, stopped issuing registrations for newly-built dune buggies and kit cars, though existing cars were grandfathered in. That policy seems to have tightened in recent months, with people who have had their dune buggies for years and years starting to get letters from the Texas DMV stating that their registrations were revoked.
The rationale for this seems to come from 2015, when the Texas DMV adopted Texas Administrative Rule §217.3, specifically, section (6):
(6) Not Eligible for Title. The following are not eligible for a Texas title regardless of the vehicle’s previous title and/or registration in this or any other jurisdiction:
(A) vehicles that are missing or are stripped of their motor, frame, or body, to the extent that it materially alters the manufacturer’s original design or makes the vehicle unsafe for on-road operation as determined by the department;
(B) vehicles designed or determined by the department to be a dune buggy;
(C) vehicles designed or determined by the department to be for on-track racing, unless such vehicles meet Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) for on-road use and are reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration;
The rationale seems to be that dune buggies, sand rails, and other kit cars are too “stripped down” (as the letter says) to be considered safe, which doesn’t make any sense to anyone familiar with dune buggies like the famous Meyers Manx.
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A great many Volkswagen-based Manx-style dune buggies are essentially just VW-based roadsters, and if they’re already meeting the state inspection requirements, aren’t really any less safe than almost any vintage car out there.
Sand rails, while they may look much more rudimentary, are constructed with a tube-cage body, and are likely more safe than the original cars. Besides, if motorcycles are still legal in Texas, which I believe they are, then it seems sort of insane to single out dune buggies for safety reasons related to their relative lack of bodywork.
Also, I’d like to point out that while Texas is taking away titles from people who own and enjoy well-maintained and loved dune buggies, it’s still completely legal for adults over 18 to ride unsecured in the open bed of a pickup truck. So don’t give me that hand-wringing concern for safety, Texas. I’m not buying it.
Because Texas is a big, influential state, what happens there could potentially affect more states, and that’s very bad news for dune buggy and kit car owners and builders everywhere. These laws could be interpreted to affect not just traditional dune buggies, but replicas like Porsche 356 kits or perhaps kit-assembled Ariel Atoms or even hand-built creations like Christopher Runge’s beautiful beasts.
It’s bad news for anyone who appreciates a person’s right to register and drive a safe, well-made DIY car, something that’s been part of the rich carscape of America for decades.
Texas dune buggy owners are taking a stand; there’s a Save the Texas Dune Buggy Sandrail and Kit Car Facebook group, and they’ve started a GoFundMe to raise money to help pay for their fight to keep their wonderful little cars legal.
I hope this can get resolved in a way that allows for backyard mechanics to still be able to make unique, road-legal cars, like people have been doing all over America since there’s been old cars to re-work.
Keep up the good fight.