Remember when you and Dad slapped together that go-kart with some metal tubing and an old lawnmower engine? Yeah, neither do we. But the kid down the street, he and his dad had that one-seater with the roll cage, and damn it, someday, you said, you’d outman him and have something bigger and better. Fast forward to today, and it’s time to beat the Joneses.
Dune buggies — also called sand rails — come in many shapes and sizes, with a myriad of powertrain options. Some are fabricated from old Volkswagen Beatles, others are custom built from America’s premier off-road racing teams. Whether you’re looking for a relatively affordable toy for the weekend, or you have the means to really get into it at a near-professional level, driving dune buggies provide the best sand-slinging, dirt-tromping fun you can have on four wheels.
BMS V-Twin Buggy 800
44 horsepower may not seem like a lot, but because the BMS V-Twin is so light, it can still hit a top speed capable of sending you back to the future. The V-Twin also has sensible features like a roof-mounted light pod, a cargo rack and even a snorkel attachment. It may not have the same grunt as the high-end buggies or performance side-by-sides, but it’s a great affordable option if you’re just getting acquainted with the dunes.
Polaris RZR XP 1000
Thanks to its 107 horsepower engine and its long-travel suspension, Polaris’s RZR XP 1000 transforms the traditional role of the UTV from putzy workhorse to off-road warrior. Built from the ground up with performance in mind, the RZR also features a special AWD system that responds immediately to terrain changes, as well as electric power steering to achieve that nimble cornering.
Can-Am Maverick X DS
If the Polaris doesn’t have enough power for your dune shenanigans, Can-Am has gone and installed a turbo in their Maverick side-by-side, making it a first in the industry. This makes it good for 121 horsepower and 97 lb-ft of torque, perfect for steep grades and getting airborne. When what goes up eventually comes down, the Maverick’s Fox 2.5 Podium shocks reduce the risk of bottoming out in your new desert toy.
If you’re ready to graduate to a more hard-core, purpose-built buggy without cashing out your 401K, Drakart has you covered with the audaciously named Intimidator. Power comes from a 1300cc Hayabusa engine (an even more powerful 1340cc unit is available) linked to a six-speed sequential manual, so the Intimidator has plenty of power to propel its lightweight tube frame through dirt and sand. Up front, the Tornado’s 23 inches of suspension travel keep things in check when you inevitably get airborne.
The Meyers Manx is the original off-road hot rod. Fabricated from VW’s Type-1 platform, the original Manx took the world by storm by winning off-road races, setting records and contributing to ’60s SoCal beach culture. Shameless ripoffs have made genuine original Manxes difficult to come by, but if you have the know-how, you can still buy brand-new kits today. The classic Manx kit is great for Beach Boy-esque trips to the ocean and solving mysteries, but if you want maximum dune-ripping chops the new Manxster Dual Sport is best suited for the job.
Tatum Motorsports Black Widow
If you subscribe to the notion that “bigger is better”, then perhaps a V8-powered, four-seat sand rail is up your ally. Using a rear-mounted LS3 engine connected to a Mendeola sequential transmission, the Black Widow cranks out 500 horsepower and kicks up a hell of a lot of sand. Tatum Motorsports is also an experienced builder of SCORE-compliant buggies and trucks, so they know a thing or two about speed.
If you’re a dune expert, or you simply don’t understand the meaning of restraint, the $175,000 Buckshot X2-R is your sand-storming ride. With a dry weight of 2,950 pounds and a big-block V8 sending 1300 horsepower to the wheels via an Albins sequential gearbox, wheelies and air time practically come standard. The XR-2 is also one of the most well-appointed buggies you can buy, with a fully upholstered interior, 7-inch display, a PCI radio and even cup holders — though good luck keeping that Big Gulp secured when you lay into the throttle.