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A sandrail, or sand rail, or rail, is a lightweight off-road motor vehicle specifically built for traveling in sandy terrain. Similar in some respects but often mistakenly referred to as a dune buggy or sand car, a sandrail is a different type of speciality vehicle. Sandrails are popularly operated on actual sand dunes. Sandrails can be driven on other types of terrain but are designed specifically for sand.

At the end of World War II thousands of soldiers returning from the war had spent years driving Jeeps, tanks, and half-tracks with few or no roads. Having an increased disposable income, these GIs formed the original core of off-road enthusiast. Initially, they used surplus Jeeps and cut-up cars to build their off-road vehicles. Soon these "off-roaders" discovered that with little more than a skid plate, they could get a stock air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle to go almost anywhere. Throughout the 1950s the sport continued to develop.

In 1958 Pete Beiring of Oceano, CA took the body frame or "pan" from a damaged Volkswagen and shortened it into a new machine that eventually became the precursor to the dune buggy. This eventually led to the first production dune buggy called the "Sportster" which was developed around 1960 by the EMPI Imp Company. It was an angular sheet metal vehicle built on a stripped-down Volkswagen chassis. Many others followed including the ever popular Meyers Manx. design. Dune buggies had a style all their own with fiberglass siding and other "heavy" body features.

As the late 1960s and early '70s approached, enthusiasts saw the need for lighter and more powerful sand vehicles, easily capable of ascending steeper and higher dunes. Many started experimenting at home by building super light weight vehicle frames from metal tubing, often without a roll cage. Many were nothing more than a frame, engine, transmission, wheels and one or two seats. Because of their versatility, light weight and simplicity the air-cooled Volkswagen engine and transmission were the power plant of choice for many owners. It also offered the perfect body arrangement. By placing the motor and transmission in the rear of the frame it allowed the front of the sandrail to remain extremely light and thus able to "float" over the sand dunes. An added value of placing the engine in the rear of the vehicle was that heat created by the motor did not blow into the face of the driver and passengers. From the 1970s forward, sandrail builders continued to develop the delicate balance between weight and power.



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