Story and Photos by Joe Greeves

Building the ultimate buggy takes time, careful planning and a talented team. Especially a ride bristling with more hot stuff than most folks would believe any buggy could ever hold. That didn’t deter Terence Burtin, though, who owns a facility maintenance business in Atlanta and is a longtime auto enthusiast. He was looking for an exciting addition to his garage, and it needed to be fast — really fast.

A motorcycle was his first consideration, but as the father of five, he decided that a dune buggy might be a safer alternative. Finding someone to bring his buggy to life was the next task. Turns out that part was easy. Terence and Alvin Lawrence have been friends for 35 years, growing up on the island of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, and sharing a passion for fast cars and booming sound systems. Alvin owns Auto Fanatik and has been building magazine-worthy custom vehicles in Sanford, Florida, since 1995. The two sat down to discuss the details and came up with a plan. Naturally, a high-performance engine and a quality sound system were top priorities.

They didn’t stop there, however, and before long the spec list was overflowing with extra features. The challenge was to squeeze 10 pounds of fun into a 5-pound bucket, a version of the legendary Meyers Manx in this case, but reimagined in every way.

Nothing happens without a firm foundation, so Alvin created a full 2-by-2-inch, square-tube chassis rather than using the traditional Volkswagen floor pan. The new frame is 18 inches shorter than stock, and a full roll cage was incorporated to ensure rigidity for the surprising power plant, but more on that shortly.

Further upgrades to the chassis included Airkewld’s Ultimate Pro Adjustable Beam front suspension with chromed details and 1.5-inch drop spindles. Next up were new trailing arms for the rear, along with strengthened transmission mounts. A 10-gallon stainless fuel tank was then squeezed in above the transmission.

To achieve an adjustable ride height, the front end was fitted with air shocks from Airkewld and a set of 2,500-pound Air Lift bags in the rear. The system is activated by a pair of VIAIR 380 compressors, a pair of 3-gallon reserve tanks and 1/4-inch lines. An Air Lift AutoPilot controller allows for multiple programmed ride heights.

The team settled on Forgeline SC3C wheels sized 18 x 7.5 up front and 20 x 9.5 in the rear, wrapped in 30- and 35-series rubber, respectively. For stopping power, Alvin installed Wilwood 12-inch, cross-drilled disc brakes on all four corners, choosing four-piston calipers up front and single-piston units in the rear. All the buggy needed now was motivation, and both men agreed the traditional 40 hp VW engine was not the answer.

For the transformation from crude to cool, Alvin contacted Outfront Motorsports in California, who are specialists in high-performance Subaru mills designed for sand rails running the West Coast dunes. The shop assembled a custom 2.5-liter turbocharged Subaru STI boxer engine, delivering a whopping 425 hp, way more power than most buggies ever see.

To achieve this level of output, Outfront Motorsports installed H-beam rods and forged pistons, a hot cam, oversized injectors, an HKS blow-off valve, Stinger electronic ignition and a T3/T4 57 trim precision turbo. The resulting boost in power spins a Wright IRS transaxle, strengthened with Porsche axles and CV joints. A Black Mamba shifter with reverse lockout controls the four-speed transmission.

Choosing a water-cooled engine for the buggy necessitated several custom items. These included a CBR Performance radiator up front and aluminum ductwork to get cooling to the rear. The intercooler was mounted horizontally below the louvered rear spoiler to ensure a denser air charge to the turbocharged mill.

In addition, since the engine hangs out the back for all the world to see, it had to look good. So Outfront Motorsports removed many of the exterior components and shipped them to Alvin. After highlighting them in red and black paint and powder coating, he then shipped them back for reassembly.

With the elaborate buggy chassis and mechanicals completed, this mini monster was finally ready for its body. Although the legendary Manx look was the original goal, the team obtained a close facsimile from Fisher Buggies in Tampa. The company’s Nostalgic model features styling similar to the original Manx.

Never one to leave anything stock, Alvin began tweaking the buggy by adjusting the fiberglass body to fit the new chassis. To accommodate the wider wheels, he created widened side skirts and widened the rear fenders 5 inches on each side. He then extended each of the front fenders by 2 inches.

The innovative features continue in the cockpit as well. Since space was at a premium, motorcycle controls were used for the horn and turn signals. Comfortable Corbeau racing seats feature five-point harnesses for safety, along with an adjustable lumbar cushion for comfort. The weatherproof interior floor came from SeaDek, creating a nonskid, nonporous surface that’s perfect for the hose-down maintenance after a day on the sand dunes in a full-time convertible.

When it came time for entertainment, elaborate stereos are Alvin’s specialty. The buggy has no head unit; instead Bluetooth connectivity uses smartphones as the source. Four Rockford Fosgate marine amps are lined up behind the seats with one amp for each 12-inch sub. The second pair of four-channel amps energizes the front and rear collection of 6.5-inch coaxials.

Alvin designed custom enclosures for every speaker, with the rear speakers exposed for all to see. But out of sight, there’s a subtle four-pack hidden under the dash. An AudioControl processor with electronic crossover separates the frequencies, while three AGM batteries from XS Power Batteries and an upgraded alternator provide power. All the wiring runs through a custom chase to keep it protected from the salty elements. The complex 10-speaker package produces a level of sound quality unheard of in a buggy.

Wrapping up the two-year build, the dozens of subtle details were worth the extra time, especially when you see spectators mesmerized by all the intricate and impressive treatments. Terence chose a Corvette shade called Shark Metallic Gray as the perfect finishing touch. All told, this build took a basic buggy to a whole new level, creating a dream ride that only Mr. Sandman could bring.