My Family's Dune Buggies Over the Years: 50's, 60's, 70's

My father, Bob Forgnone, got involved in off-road recreation in the late 50's.  Pop liked to go clamming at Moss Landing Beach, California, which is halfway around Monterey Bay towards Santa Cruz, right at the location of the large power plant.  In order to get to the best clamming spots, they needed some transportation, and this came in the form of "Beach Buggies," which he differentiated from "Dune Buggies" because the Beach Buggies only had enough power and traction for the flat parts of the beach.  The early buggies were stripped down cars, sometimes shortened for weight reduction and handling.

This first beach buggy is an early 50's flathead Chrysler 6 cylinder-powered machine, built in the mid to late 50's.  They called it "8-Ball."

Back in the old days, we didn't even use trailers, electing to attach a towbar to the front.  This was probably because the drive to Marina from Salinas was only 15 miles, and motor vehicle laws were different back then.  This one actually had a roll bar, an unusual addition for the day.  My older brother, Fred, tells me this was just a grab bar for the passengers who stood on the back.  Fred told me this thing would go about 60 on the flats near the water, so it was no slouch.  There wasn't much traction with the smooth tires, though.

Pop's second buggy used a flathead Ford V8.

This photo is dated on the back, October 1962.  No roll bar, and definitely no seat belts!

The little kid getting out of the buggy is me!  I was born in 1961, so this is probably 1962-63.  The photo above was taken at Pop's Chevron station.  If you look closely in the background, there is another dune buggy we called, "Big Daddy," which was for my mother to carry the rest of the clan around in.

Below is a color photo, taken in 1965 at Marina Beach, at the base of "Big Hill."

Mom is driving Big Daddy, my brother Fred is standing on the left, and my sister Cindy and I are on a fiberglass sled being towed behind.

The photo above was sent to me by Bonnie McIntosh, sister of Alice Deupser, who is sitting on the passenger side of this dune buggy, holding my friend, Kevin.  That's Kevin's late father, Don Deupser, who was the chief fabricator of nearly every dune buggy we ever owned.  My father always praised Don for his fabrication skills, telling us that Don was a genius with a welder.  Don sold us Big Daddy, and built at least two of our dune buggies, probably both red ones.

Anyhow, the significance of this photo is that nobody in my family took it, yet it shows important things.  Bonnie managed to capture the exact same white GMC truck in the exact same location on the exact same day in 1965 as the photo of us in Big Daddy just above.  Amazing!

Neither of the dune buggies in the background is ours, but this is just such a wonderful photo of my father and mother, that I had to include it here.  Again, they are at the base of "Big Hill" in Marina Beach. We really made duning a family outing.  Cool hat, Mom!  I believe this to be the same day as the other two photos above.

Above is a photo of an Easter egg hunt put on by our dune buggy club.  I think that I'm in blue, near the center of the photo.  Again, probably the same day as the three photos above.

The article above was in the December 1965 issue of Four Wheeler Magazine.  I'm not sure, but it seems like the event mentioned is the one where my Mom and Dad are cooking, because I have other photos of people winning prizes, and old 8mm movies of the sack races mentioned in this story.

Pretty amazing to see snippets of your own life being mentioned in a 37 year-old magazine that you find in an old box!

While we're on the subject of club publications, this was the cover of our dune buggy club's monthly newsletter, Sand Tracks.  The club's address was our gas station in Salinas, and the mailto address was our home, where I lived from infancy to adulthood.  My mother wrote the newsletter from 1964 through 1973, with a short break during 1969 while attending barber school.  I had a chance to read most of them, and I gotta say I'm VERY impressed by my mother's abilities to write a funny, informative newsletter.  She got some real zingers in there on a lot of the other club members!


This was our club patch.  If I remember correctly, my brother, Fred, drew this dune buggy and the one on the Sand Tracks cover.

Above is a photo of "Big Hill" at Marina Beach.  Most of our club events occured at the bottom of this hill.

Pop took the frame rails from his earlier dune buggy to make the one above, which used his first overhead valve engine, a Ford 352 Police Interceptor.  This was the first buggy of ours to use grooved implement tires and dual rear wheels.  I think Don Deupser did the welding on this one.

We are on top of "Big Hill," and the dune buggy in the background is where we camped and barbequed all the time.  My brother Fred is on the left, I'm in the middle, and Pop is on the right.  Note the polished aluminum Mickey Thompson valve covers.  These have stayed with all the Ford powered dune buggies and cars in the family since this photo was taken in 1966-67.  The gold colored ignition coil is on my pickup today, and the valve covers were on my Fairlane, and are now on the rebuilt dune buggy shown on more of my dune buggy pages.

The photo below is a dune buggy that our club built and used for to benefit a local charity.

The photo below is a publicity shot taken for the local newspaper.  Our dune buggy club regularly donated proceeds from raffles to charities around the Salinas area.  This photo is dated September 24, 1968.

This is Pop's first tube frame dune buggy.  I believe the engine is a 428 hydraulic cammed engine, probably from a 66 Thunderbird.  The header pipes were painted white at the time, and you may notice a cast iron intake manifold.  The air filter is from a fire truck.  Our local firemen would replace their truck air filters on a schedule, and since the trucks don't get driven very often, the filters are very clean.  This was just what we needed for the sand!

In the photo below, I am on the left, and my older sister is on the right.  This must have been the first time we saw Pop's new dune buggy, because we sure look interested!  Time frame is early 1968, probably on the buggy's first outing, because it appears that the old 352 PI motor (red generator, no alternator) is installed here.  I am 6-1/2 years old in this photo!

Below is the same dune buggy, about the same time frame, 1968.


The hill being climbed is one we called "Grape Vine."  I don't know why it was called that, but it was pretty big and steep!  Below is another look down the "Grape Vine" hill at Marina Beach.  Pop is going down the hill on the left.  This photo is dated February 1968 on the back.

The photo below is dated 1970.  By this time, the new 390 engine had been put in.  This engine is the one that I have now, which is highly modified 390, producing about 450 horsepower.  Note the height of the oil filler is the one that was used in Pop's Edelbrock aluminum intake. The exhaust pipes had been chromed, a very nice addition!

The tires are a bit bigger now, and the rearend had been moved back a bit to faciliate the usage of a Chrysler Imperial constant-velocity joint between the transmission and rearend.  The bigger tires and relocated rearend necessitated the installation of smaller front tires, to be able to put the buggy on the same trailer.  I think this was the trip we took the nuns from our local parochial school out for a spin.  This location is the parking lot of where we used to ride.  Now, this exact location is the on-ramp for southbound Highway 1 at Reservation Road.  You can still see some of the old trees in the background near the low spot of this area.

Now, can you imagine nuns in dark habits on a sled being towed behind a 450 horsepower big-block dune buggy?  I remember that they had a very good time that day.

Below is an action photo of Pop from about 1971, at Pismo, during a hill-climb competition.  By this time, roll cages were required.

 I think Pop won this competiton at Pismo, in the Trail & Dune class.

My brother Fred, instead of driving a car like everyone else, decided to build himself a fiberglass Myer's Manx dune buggy as regular transportation.  Below is a photo of the dune buggy, with me standing in front, at Pismo, about 1968.

And here's the little duner's CORVA membership card from about this time.  My parents signed me up!

At this time, Fred's bug was powered by a 4 cylinder Volkswagen engine.  Later, he put a 6 cylinder Corvair engine in it.  Fred wrecked this dune buggy on the street in front of the local college...ran into his best buddy playing "Chicken."  Real stupid.

Anyhow, he took the remains of the old dune buggy, and put a new body on it.  Here it is below:

That's Fred in the buggy, a "Glitter Bug," and his little Oxytrol prototype trailer behind.  I believe we were getting ready to go to Pismo.

The photo below is what Fred used his old VW engine for.  He made the entire machine!  That's Fred along with his girlfriend at the time.  The tires are a pair from an old dune buggy, the one with the 352 engine a few pics above.

Again, the photo is taken at the base of "Big Hill" in Marina Beach, probably about 1970-71.  Fred was still in high school, or just out.  Pretty good for a teenager!

The photo below was taken in 1972, at a hill-climb competition in Marina Beach.

In 1975, while Pop was in Italy with my sisters, Fred and I painted his dune buggy, and built tubular headers for it.  We needed something with a collector that would hold a muffler, as mufflers were required by then in the Oregon dunes.  The next two photos show our handiwork!

This next photo is the last one taken of Pop's dune buggy.  I believe it was the late 70's or early 80's, and our local dunes at Marina Beach had been closed.  We were finding more enjoyment in ATC's by then, and just weren't using the dune buggy any more.  The buggy was off its trailer, because we were using the trailer to haul lots of ATC's to Pismo, about three hours' drive south of Salinas.

The headers shown here are a Hooker set that Fred and I modified to fit, so that we could use mufflers in Coos Bay, Oregon.  The intake manifold is aluminum, and this whole basic engine ended up in my 66 Ford Fairlane.  The dune buggy and trailer were sold, minus engine, to a fellow dad knew.  I believe the buggy is still in the Salinas area, but has not been used since the early 80's.  If anyone has seen this dune buggy, let me know!

Thanks to an article in Sand Sports Magazine, we found Pop's old dune buggy and have rebuilt it to its former self.  Check it out by clicking the following link:

Dune Buggy FOUND!

My History of Pismo and Oceano Dunes
Lots more photos here!  Lots of graphics, so it takes a while to download, but it's worth it!

Friends of Oceano Dunes
A new non-profit organization to keep the dunes open to all uses.

Oceano Dunes Home Page
Maps of the dunes, tide, reservation, and towing information here!
Lots of dune buggies of all types at this all-inclusive site.
I HIGHLY recommend you visit this site if you like old dune buggies.  LOTS of photos and history here!

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!