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						Empi Sportster 3
Buggy Beginnings

EMPI Sportster for sale

By Dean Larson

Photos: Seller, Craigslist

When you’re setting out to build a car for the masses, the two most predominant guidelines should be affordability and simplicity. Volkswagen accomplished these goals in a big way with the VW Beetle, of which some 21,000,000 were built over seven decades. But those same factors catapulted the Beetle into its next life as the most versatile mechanical platform ever created, with countless adaptations and a whole air-cooled hobby segment to its credit. Most synonymous with this trend is the Meyers Manx buggy, but the iconic Manx was far from the first stab at a simple VW-based off-roader.

What the Manx really did was put a trendy, fun-inspiring face on the VW platform for off-road use, something that hadn’t really been accomplished on a commercial scale. But chopped up air-cooled creations had actually been making fools of big 4x4s on the West Coast off-road scene for many years for their ability to effortlessly float across difficult terrain. The earliest of these we would probably liken to tube-frame sand rails today, rather then the silky smooth fiberglass buggies that eventually dominated the scene. They were usually crafted for personal use in home garages and backyards from rolled over, rusted out or otherwise dirt-cheap VW Beetles. But it was actually the EMPI corporation that first caught the drift to create a mail-order DIY body for the air-cooled platform.

If the Meyers Manx is fun and tasty summer shandy, then the EMPI Sportster is more of a thick and dark home brew in a clear anonymous bottle. It had more of a barnyard-build appearance than the homogenous Manx, and the body was actually constructed from steel rather than fiberglass. Squared-off fenders and a few flat planes up front made up most of the Sportster’s appearance, with a small pickup-style bed worked in out back. A shortened VW pan allowed for a simple two-seat cockpit, while some four-seaters were built from standard length pans.

The EMPI Sportster really got the jump on the off-road scene, built from the early 1950s through the mid ’60s, and in fact, a pair of Sportsters was on the cover of Motor Trend’s July 1963 issue. The Sportster was seen in many different configurations over the years, all with stoic antiquated looks that are more reminiscent with WWII German transports than other buggies, in fact, the term doodle bug comes to mind.

EMPI’s Sportster is a fairly uncommon sight today, and honestly values haven’t seen the spike that Manx-style buggies have. But with our office crystal ball, I’m predicting a jump in the value of these quirky off-roaders in coming years, meaning now is time to buy. Offered on Long Beach Craigslist, this EMPI is a running and driving example that’s ripe for the picking.

Rolling out of the EMPI factory in 1966, this Sportster kit was completed on an early Beetle pan and holds a California black plate with registration stickers from ’66 and ’67. It appears to be in nicely original condition today with just a light bar on the hood as the sole unfortunate modification. The seller relays that the engine was rebuilt prior to his ownership, and that he’s replaced a whole laundry list of maintenance and wear items. The Sportster is reported to be in good condition, besides a little rust on the right front fender and worn paintwork. Other valuable additions in the sale include a tow bar and towing lights.

Asking just $5,500, you’d be hard-pressed to go wrong with this one as a fun hobby vehicle and investment opportunity a few years down the line. Check it out here on Long Beach Craigslist.

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Buggy EMPI Off Road