The Brubaker Box is back, almost
Sixties nostalgia is like crude oil—all the easy milkshakes have been consumed, and now it’s time to go fracking. Volkswagen is bringing back the dune buggy with the ID Buggy EV—and now a couple of California entrepreneurs, Tomo Bullum and Dale Davis, have told Hemmings that they are relaunching another vehicle inspired by 1960s surfing culture, the Brubaker Box.
In the mid 1960s, Californian Bruce Meyers developed and sold the Meyers Manx, a dune buggy made by mounting an open, one-piece fiberglass body on a shortened Volkswagen Type I (Beetle) chassis. The idea caught on and soon there were a number of small companies making “kit cars” based on the Bug platform, ranging from knockoffs of the Manx to sleek grand touring coupes.
The Manx and other dune buggies were great for driving on the beach. Curtis Brubaker, who studied car styling at Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design and worked for Lear Jet and General Motors before setting up his own studio in Los Angeles, had another idea. He came up with something surfers could use to bring their surfboards and other gear to the beach. Working with Todd Gerstenberger and Harry Wykes, Brubaker drafted a slick looking one box van with sloping front and back glass, a removable roof, and a single sliding door on the passenger side. Fiberglass panels were mounted on a stiff, box tubing frame that attached to the VW floorpan.
As with the kit car makers, Brubaker used glass, taillights and other components from major automakers’ products, but the Brubaker Box was not a kit—at least not at first. In 1972, Brubaker raised $160,000 from investors, leased a 17,000 square foot factory, and announced that his company would be selling completed Boxes for just under four thousand dollars. Unfortunately for these plans, VW refused to sell Brubaker Type I rolling chassis, citing liability issues. This meant Brubaker would have to go through the expense of buying brand new Beetles and removing their bodies.
It wasn’t a viable plan and after building just three of his Boxes, Brubaker filed for bankruptcy. One of his backers, Mike Hansen, though, decided that the design was still viable even if the business plan was not. Hansen set up another firm, Automecca, and renamed the Box as the Roamer Sports Van, selling it in kits ranging from basic body panels to full componentry.
According to The Beaulieu Encyclopedia of the Automobile, Automecca built about 1,500 Roamers. Bullum and Davis, the pair with plans to relaunch the vehicle, say that figure is off by at least a bit, estimating that no more than two dozen were built by Hansen’s firm before it ceased production in 1979.
Bullum and Davis now own two of them. Bullum, a longtime fan of the Brubaker Box, became an owner when he was alerted of one for sale, still in unbuilt kit form, in Anaheim. He rushed to buy it. He and Davis later found another, which they believe to be one of the three original Boxes that Brubaker himself built, in a Florida swamp.
Davis and Bullum’s plans were modest at first, planning to make some reproduction parts to sell to other Roamer/Box owners. The response from those owners and other fans of the little van, however, was so great that it convinced them there was a market for the complete eleven-piece kit. Curtis Brubaker has passed away, but the current project has his family’s blessing.
The original molds for the fiberglass parts still exist but they’re in poor shape. Instead of using them, the entrepreneurs will disassemble the Florida vehicle and pull molds from its parts and those of the uncompleted kit.
Plans are to still use Volkswagen Type I chassis and running gear but Davis told Hemmings that the body could be mounted on other platforms, mentioning the ID Buggy and VW’s plans to make its platform available to outside coachbuilders. Davis and Bullum are working with students at the Art Center to make the Box adaptable to other platforms.
To measure the revived Brubaker Box’s market potential, the pair will be launching a crowdfunding campaign later this month, with price and availability information announced at that time.