Rebuilding Our Late Father's Dune Buggy

After locating and purchasing what was left of our late father's dune buggy, which was originally built for our father, Bob Forgnone, by the late Don Deupser of Salinas, Ca, we started on a rebuilding project in January 2002.  We were lucky to have the original trailer, rear dual wheels, front wheels and axle, steering gear and wheel, and turning brakes, as seen on the linked page below.  If you haven't seen it, please read it first.  It will give you a lot of background.

Page 1: Found!  Our Late Father's Dune Buggy

We were very fortunate that the previous owner never washed the trailer, because the tires had left imprints on the trailer rails, which we used to determine the wheelbase, which was between 106 and 108 inches.  This measurement allowed us to use old photographs for scaling to recreate the frame.  My brother, Fred, also found an interesting tidbit of information:  Muffler shops use 10 ft. pieces of tubing called "sticks" for making exhaust pipes.  The wheelbase was determined in 1966 by the fact that a 10 ft piece of muffler tubing bent to form a frame would make it only one size: Whatever a full 10 ft section with two bends will do!

By scaling the old photos and remembering what the chassis "felt" like, we were able to determine that the tubing used was 1-3/4 inch diameter.  We knew that the original chassis was built by a muffler shop in Grover City (now called Grover Beach, near the Oceano Dunes SVRA), and that the bends indicated the use of muffler tubing, not chrome moly tubing.  So, here is the frame after we attached the front axle.  Just before this point, Fred told me to lift up the frame, and I was astonished that it weighed about 40 pounds.  It is basically just 5 "sticks" of muffler tubing.

Below is a photo of the frame from behind.  The square pieces of metal are supports used during the buildup process.  That's my brother Fred and his daughter Lexi.  Fred has his hand on one of the fiberglass seats I bought on eBay.

Below is a photo of the system we figured out to hold the rear end in place.

This was designed by my brother and me as we were looking at the frame and rearend.  The way it works, it will allow us to remove the rearend from one side.  Both rearend support tabs are on the right side, so the rearend will slide out to the passenger side of the frame.

Here is a photo of the rolling chassis:

Next, we installed a dummy engine and transmission assembly to get the motor and transmission mounts welded in.  We used a very scientific method to adjust the frame and engine to each other:

Yep, a calibrated eyeball and tape measure were the tools of choice here.  We thought about it for a minute, and realized that the first time this thing was built, the level of accuracy was eyeball and tape measure.  Since the dune buggy worked well the last time using those methods, there was no reason to be any more precise this time!  We sat the engine down on blocks and got the angle close to what we could measure off the old photos and what looked "right."  Then, we moved the frame (since it was lighter than the engine) to align with the engine and transmission.  Since we were looking for relative measurements, moving the frame is just the same as moving the engine, only easier!

At the end of two full days of cutting, grinding, and welding, here is our rolling dune buggy:

Notice that with just a mockup engine that the front suspension has compressed considerably.

And, here it is with a loose nut behind the steering wheel:

The real, true test of our measurement methods came at a critical moment when we put the rolling chassis on the trailer for the first time.  If it fit too loosely, it would have meant that we made the frame too short.  If the ramps in the rear did not close off the dune buggy from behind, it would be too long.

Here is the result:

A perfect fit!  Just as we remember!

Yes, we got it right, even when the head fabricator is working with his eyes shut!

Next, we will start installing the seats, clutch actuation, steering, and other assorted items needed for a dune buggy to move on its own!

February 2002 Progress

Just got this photo from Fred:

As you can see, he's got the seats, brakes, and steering mounted up, and those big honkin' rear implement tires are ready for grooving!

He's working on the clutch linkage, battery holder, and tool box right now.


Looking good, Fred!

This photo shows the 60's vintage (thank goodness for Ebay!) fiberglass bucket seats, the turning brakes, and the start of the scattershield.

What is really of interest, though, is the shifter knob.  Fred made one for Pop's dune buggy when he was a freshman in high school, back in 1966.  The original was lost with the transmission, so Fred made a replacement, using old photographs.  Looks GREAT!!!

March/April 2002 Progress

Well, the little things that you can't really see, THE DETAILS, are starting to take up a lot of time and cause big headaches.  Since we aren't using a real engine for the mock up work, I had to bring the real intake manifold and carburetor up from Santa Maria for trial fitting and carburetor linkage fabrication.  That diesel truck air filter makes for a tall engine, doesn't it!

We sent the front tires off to get the tread removed, but the only place that can remove tread from 12 inch tires is in Portland, Oregon.  We specifically told them on the phone and on the work order that we wanted ALL the tread removed.  We didn't get what we wanted.  The tread on the front tires is removed to the tread wear indicators. (I'm thinking that they may not be legally able to render a tire treadless, for safety reasons.)  It's close, but no cigar.  I guess our first trip to the dunes will tell us if we need to search out some real baldies for the front, or if we can somehow wear off the rest of the tread on these front tires.

This was a REAL CLOSE CALL!  We got lucky!  We positioned the engine and transmission by eyeball and by scaling old photos.  With some ingenious (yeah, Fred, don't let it go to your head) shortening of the transmission output shaft and a short differential companion flange, we were able to get a stock double-cardan joint to act as a driveshaft...a very short driveshaft.

We had a real scare when we rolled it for the first time with the driveshaft.  It went "thunk-thunk-thunk."  Not good.  We thought the worst, that we had placed the engine, transmission, and driveshaft so poorly that the double cardan joint would not work.  But, Fred was looking at the thing, trying to move metal with his brain, and noticed, "Hey, isn't there supposed to be light between the pinion threads and the rear u-joint?"


Our shorter rear yoke for some reason fit further into the splines of the pinion, making the centerline of the rear u-joint too close to the end of the pinion.   It wasn't rotating in that one axis, so every time it came around, it was pushing the whole works all over the place.  We cut off an additional 1/4 inch of the end of the pinion, and it all works now!  It sure is tough to install it, though.

Here is Leadfoot McSnarf contemplating the complexities of the angle of the dangle.

Feels good to put the pedal to the metal, doesn't it!

Here is our throttle linkage, using the original gas pedal.  This time around, it's a LOT easier to use.  I remember the worst cramps in my leg from trying to give the old buggy throttle.  This time, we moved the trottle to a better location.

A little tidbit of information here: The yellow mark on the back of the carb was Pop's way of keeping track of the primary and secondary sides of the carb.  I never removed the mark while I used the carb in the early 80's, and it will remain!

Here is the battery installed and the locator tray for the MSD box and starter solenoid.

April 27 & 28, 2002 (427 & 428 for you FE fans!) Progress

Headers In A Day

Here is the header building in process.  We purchased a "Sprint Car" header kit for a big block Chevy, because the tube spacing is even, and the exhaust ports are slightly angled down, just the way we wanted them to be. We sold the head flanges on ebay, and made our own for the FE from 3/8 inch flat steel.  At this point in the fabrication, we had discovered that we went about it in the wrong order.  See how #3 tucks in behind #2? Well, we didn't realize it when we started with #1, then did #2 next.  We nearly got ourselves in trouble, and barely squeaked past the upper frame rail with very little clearance.  We applied that lesson on the passenger side, and did #3 before #2.

And here is Powder Puff Champ Ada!  I can't tell if Bob is trying to push her, or hold her back...

Anyhow, mom won some prizes driving the original version of this dune buggy, and wants to drive this one too!

This thing looks fast just sitting there, doesn't it!

Looks like fun!

Room with a view!

May 2002 Progress

There it is, in all its glorious Fire Red paint!

It's finally becoming a reality for me, because of a simple thing: That oil pan.

The 13 quart oil pan on the engine is the very same one our father used in his first FE powered dune buggy in 1965.  It was a 352 engine in a truck-framed buggy, as shown below.  Fred is on the left, I am in the middle, and Pop is on the right:

In 1982, when I had purchased a 66 Fairlane with a blown engine, Pop gave me the buggy engine.  I removed the 13 quart oil pan, because it doesn't fit passenger car chassis.  We gave the oil pan to the new owner of the buggy, who took it to the local machine shop, which stripped the paint off it.  The other parts we gave to the new owner weren't enough to build an entire engine, so he returned the parts to us, including the 13 quart oil pan.  Having no use for it, I kept it filled with engine was kind of a parts crate, if you will.

The pan stayed in Salinas at Pop's house for a few years, then made its way to Redondo Beach for a while.  Then, it moved up to Santa Maria for a while, then to Orcutt where we are now.  All this time, there never really was a use for just had sentimental value, so I kept it.  Well, now it's back on Pop's dune buggy engine, and it's RED again!  This thing is really becoming a reality for me.

Fred is nearly done with all the welding, and will soon begin the painting and tire grooving.  There are still some parts to put on the engine, but it should be ready soon.  We are shooting for completion before the June 15-16 2002 Pismo Car Show, for which we have a space near the pier.  If you're going to be there, be sure to say "Hi."

June 2002 Progress

Ok, here it is...the engine is finished!

Ready for gas and sparks!  I primed the oil system with a gear-less distributor and a drill motor.  70 psi at about 500 cam (1000 crank) rpm.

Fred has the frame painted, and is about 1/8 finished grooving the tires.  Lots of work to do this week and next weekend in order to make the Pismo Car Show on June 15 & 16, 2002.

June 8-9, 2002: Completion!

Wow, two marathon days of assembly, wiring, and troubleshooting (nothing's ever perfect the first try, is it?), we now have our late father's dune buggy back moving under its own power again!  Follow along below!

Fred got it unloaded Friday afternoon before I got home from work.  Empty chassis, with engine ready for clutch and trans.

Hey, who let the nuts out of the nuthouse?

Here is Fred Saturday afternoon about 4 pm.  We did good in one day, and it's not even over!  We worked all Saturday afternoon, until about midnight.  Then we started work again Sunday at about 10.  We had very few problems.  The starter drive on the starter I removed from the Fairlane was out.  (I think I remember it starting to give me trouble the last time I started it in 1998...shoulda fixed it then.)  A spare starter went in, and it cranked right over, thanks to Fred's tireless wiring of the thing.  Fred did all the wiring, about 8 hours' worth!  Thank you, big brother!

The wiring diagram I was using wasn't right, and we had no charging.  Diagnosis using the blue F250 in the background, and some searching for other methods to wire alternators, uncovered the fact that we didn't have the alternator and regulator hooked up correctly.  About an hour's worth of rework, and we were ready for a spin, just to make sure the transmission worked and that the brakes were ok.

Wooohoooo!  Here we go!

And here we come back.  Some of the neighbors came out when they heard us idling up the street...

Looks fast, doesn't it!

Lots of rubber in the rear!


Fred Forgnone

Thanks, big brother, for all you do for me!

Chief assistant and go-fer, Gerard Forgnone

As you can see, we still haven't cleaned up the steering wheel.  I really don't want to, because, as it sits, it is a testament to the excellent quality of American workmanship of the 1960's.  This steering wheel sat OUTSIDE for nearly 35 years, and it STILL looks very good!  There is very little rust, and no peeling at all.

We will have the dune buggy at the Pismo Car Show, June 15-16, 2002, in Pismo California. 


Car Show and Action Photos From Our First Trip to the Dunes!


Thank you to the following businesses for their assistance in helping us rebuild Pop's dune buggy:

Big Al at Valley Fabrication in Salinas (Steel tubing)

Matt at Lamar Brothers Tires in Salinas (Rear implement tires)

Lee at Salinas Muffler in Salinas (Muffler tubing)

Ron at Elmer's Auto Parts in Salinas (Bearings and other parts)

Dick Shultz of Auto Parts Service in Salinas (Trailer taillight lens and tire stems, and moral support)

Return to top of page
Return to G-Whiz main page

This page is sponsored by my company, Gerard's Car, ATV, Cycle Books & Videos, featuring all types of reading and viewing material for motorized transportation.

Click here to check it out!

Questions? Comments?

Click here to email Gerard

All photographs and content on this website are copyrighted by the author. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited!