Cort kicks up a little sand during his very first outing in the freshly completed Pour Bird, a name derived from the Old Crow Whiskey bar trophy mounted on the front.


Preserving a vintage VW sand rail from a bygone era
By Bruce Simurda | July 7, 2015

Photos by Bruce Simurda

If you’re an old time sand duner, then you may be familiar with the term “Pan Buggy.” For may of us discovering the sport in the early 1970s, building a “Tunnel Buggy” or “Pan Buggy” was a relatively inexpensive way to get involved with the sport. But … it took a lot of work to convert a VW Beetle floorpan into a dune buggy. Personally, I built two before becoming involved in the VW street scene, and greatly enjoyed cruising the sand at Glamis several times a month. I say cruising because, unlike today’s high-powered rails, most Pan Buggies didn’t have full cages, were built with smaller engines, and were more for leisurely outing than jumping and jamming. That’s not to say that they couldn’t be ridden hard, but with the main structure of these vehicles being the floorpan’s tunnel, you certainly didn’t want to abuse them!
The sand rail featured here was restored by Cort Elgar of Mountain View, California, and is actually his father’s original car. According to Cort, “It was one of the original VW powered Pan Buggies that emerged on West Coast beaches during the 1960s. That was a time of great experimentation through custom, one-off design and fabrication, much like the pioneers of the hot rod genre. Let's face it, a dune buggy of the past took the hot rod approach to an extreme, modifying a stock vehicle into a high performance, ultra light weight car. Unlike the original hot rods that were fabricated for top speed runs on Southern California’s dry lakes, this car was build for climbing the dunes of Northern California. From the creation of the car in 1968 through its final form in 1972, this buggy underwent constant change year-to-year. From April 2006 to May 2011, I completely disassembly and then fully restored this car to bring it back to its peak performance years of 1970/1971. It has been a fantastic journey of story telling and treasure hunting.
Unique front suspension uses articulation leaf spring, a design developed by Dave Rocha in 1970.
140/90-15-inch motorcycle tires are mounted on Austin Healy 48-spoke wheels
“It all started in the mid-1960’s when my father, Jim Elgar of Eureka California, visited the dunes of Coos Bay Oregon. ‘I saw a Corvair powered buggy, and I thought this is really an impressive machine,’ recalls Jim. Back in Eureka, Jim met Bud Ritchie and Dave Rocha through the Humboldt Buggy Association, a local club for dune buggy enthusiasts. Bud had developed a VW powered sand rail based on a modified Type 1 pan. According to Dave, ‘Bud was the godfather of VW sand rails in our area.’ Jim and Dave set out to build a couple of VW-powered sandrails similar to Bud’s buggy, but with some of their creativity added to the mix.
Customized VW pedal assembly components.
The 120-horsepower 2180cc engine, buillt by Dave Rocha in Eureka, CA, really packs a punch, especially when you consider the pan was shortened 25 inches! Check out those custom billet aluminum air filter tops with clear plastic and Moon Eyes tri-spinner nuts — cool!
“The foundation of the car is a 1958 VW Type 1 swingaxle pan. The length is reduced by 25 inches. The floorpan halves have been replaced with expanded metal that is framed by 1-inch square steel tubing. One of Bud’s innovations was a custom front suspension system to reduce weight and improve rear wheel traction. With the stock suspension, when one side of the front beam reached maximum travel it would twist the pan, thus unweighting the rear of the buggy, and that resulted in reduced traction. Bud’s design called for replacing the VW Type 1 front beam. Specifically, the frame head was cut from the pan just forward of the front chassis support panel where a new custom frame head was fabricated. Attached to the new frame head was a center mounted transverse leaf spring connected to a custom solid front axle utilizing stock Type 1 link-pin spindles. Rocha took the design a bit further to better control the leaf spring rebound by incorporating dual VW bump stops and dual shocks, which were center mounted at the frame head while the lower portion of the shock was attached to the axle. The modifications netted a total front wheel travel of 19 inches. Rather than reincorporate the heavy VW Type 1 steering box, Bud’s design called for a Ford Model T planetarium. Rocha implemented the steering and suspension system on both his buggy and Jim’s."
Do you think Cort is having fun?
Cort's father, Jim Elgar, in an early 1970's photo.
The most distinguishing aspect the car was the overall design, fit, and finish for a sand rail of this period. The dual hoop roll bars were originally based on stainless steel swimming pool ladder hand rails. Today, the roll bars have been completely fabricated from mild steel to improve safety. Sitting between the Austin Healey tucked-androlled vinyl seats is a custom console made from curly Maple. The console hosts the starter button, oil pressure and oil temp gauges, and a custom fabricated switch plate for the fuel pump/ ignition, electric fan for remote oil cooler, and lights. Fuel is delivered through an original 1960s Moon Eyes aluminum fuel tank and electronic fuel pump. The original 1969 Sun Super Tach has been repaired with VDO internals and keeps track of the engine RPM.

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