James Hale has been a devotee of Dune Buggies from an early age, and has driven, built, manufactured, photographed and written about them in the years since. He is the leading authority on Buggies for many British and American magazines, and his most recent features have appeared in TKC under the title ‘The Buggy Guru.’ He is also a member of the Society of Automotive Historians in Britain, and contributes to their publications.
Long before James could drive, he had a great interest in all forms of vehicles, including traction engines, veteran and vintage cars, and marketingmobiles (vehicles shaped like the product they advertise). The quality of engineering was the thing that captured his imagination, but, other than that, he had no strong opinions regarding different makes and models of vehicle.
In 1970, at the tender age of 13, the day came that changed everything. James was watching a local news programme on TV, called Scene South East, when they ran a feature on beach buggies, and showed two wildly outlandish (to a teenager) GP buggies being driven across a sandy beach somewhere in Kent. The rather fusty presented concluded the piece with the comment: “Cars on the beach; whatever next?!” For James, ‘next’ was already decided. He wanted a buggy, and wanted to know how to build a buggy as soon as possible. He started finding out more about these fun vehicles, collected magazines and requested manufacturer’s brochures, visited workshop premises to see them being made, and even got a few free rides in demonstration vehicles through sheer persistence.
Years later, having passed his driving test, James finally acquired his first car – an EPC Hustler buggy, bought for the princely sum of £250. It had an asthmatic 1200cc VW Beetle engine, 6-volt electrics, balding tyres, and tired brakes. Having got the buggy properly roadworthy, James ventured much further from home to take part in national buggy conventions (the furthest journey was from the south coast up to Middlesbrough, during which the engine grenaded itself, sending hot oily piston and crankcase bits across the road, and necessitating an engine transplant at a friend’s house en-route). At most of the events James took a Pentax camera, and this resulted in him building up an unrivalled photographic archive of the 1970s and 1980s British buggy scene. It also led to him contributing photos to magazines and publications of the day – the first being The Fun Car Explosion by Peter Filby.
Besides the buggies and VWs, James has also researched and written the only book ever produced on marketingmobiles. This was launched at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu in 2005, with the museum itself holding a major exhibition of promotional vehicles (called ProMotion) in 2010, opened by Lord Montague’s son, Ralph. The exhibition featured vehicles including the Outspan Orange car, the Cadbury’s Creme Egg car, the Duckhams Q car, and the Worthington’s bottle lorry.
As well as writing his original and revised editions of The Dune Buggy Handbook, which has become the bible for buggy devotees, James has also acted as a consultant on Top Gear, built promotional buggies for Coca-Cola and Liptons Iced Tea, and been interviewed in magazines and on radio in England and abroad to talk about his involvement with the buggy scene. His unique and extensive collection of toy buggies was also featured on a TV programme hosted by Sarah Greene.
James has owned a number of VW Beetles throughout his motoring career, plus a few VW Variants, a split-screen VW Bus, and a few more mundane foreign saloons. But it is the buggies that have always mattered most, and his friendship with the buggy originator, Bruce Meyers, resulted in James owning an exact replica of the Corvair-powered buggy driven by Steve McQueen in the 1968 film, The Thomas Crown Affair. Bruce Meyers also wrote the foreword for The Dune Buggy Handbook, in acknowledgement of the work James has done to document and preserve the history of his own most famous creation – the Meyers Manx buggy.