On Road or Off: 1971 Empi Sportster

Dune buggy kits are not hard to find, but genuine Empi builds are generally more desired by purveyors of these VW-powered on- and off-roaders. This 1971 example is a Southern California survivor, with a dry chassis and only some minor cosmetic blemishes as its major faults. Some modern retrofits also make it a bit easier to live with day to day. Find it here on eBay with a $4K Buy-It-Now. 

The body of the Sportster features a rear bed area, offering modest storage. A new bikini top will keep you (relatively) dry in inclement weather, and the seller notes the pan has the correct raised rear portion per original Empi plans. The faded stripes kit looks perfect on the weathered body, as does the period CB radio antenna. The seller notes that the buggy is also fitted with a skid plate, enabling safe cruising on road or off.

The interior has been mildly updated with seats from a Mazda Miata, which are indeed quite comfortable, per the seller’s endorsement and my personal experience. The floors are solid, and with so many VW-based kits requiring pan replacement, it’s refreshing to find one of these that doesn’t need the body lifted off for rust repair. The aforementioned CB radio still hangs on the dash, and I can’t imagine a better rig for hitting the dunes with while yelling out to your buddies on a citizens’ band two-way.

The seller notes that the dual-port 1600 VW motor works well in the low desert or high in the mountains. It also features some cool Empi dual exhausts, perfect for a period dune buggy like this. A genuine Meyers Manx will set you back quite a bit more, but a Sportster like this with proven Empi heritage is just as cool, in our book. The Sportster is now in Nevada, with just one bid and the reserve unmet.

Fast Finds


  1. LAB3

    Kinda looks like a golf cart trying to be a Jeep to me, for $2k it would be worth it for the drive train.

  2. Wayne

    My son has one that was given to him when he was about 12. By a friend that acquired it from a relative that never completed it. The Sportster was available in two different ways.
    By the kit. (which had options for wide rear wheels from the factory, roll bar and lights)
    And you could by the plans. If you had a metal brake. You could build your own.
    I ran across one in Klamath Falls Oregon once. And talked to the owner. I was surprised to see it different than my sons (original from the factory) configuration. He told me that someone in that town has the plans and would let anyone use them. He indicated that there were more than 20 Sportsters running around Klamath Falls. And that every one was a little bit different.
    Even though my sons was a “factory” kit. He also has the plans to build more.
    They are a nice compromise between a Myers and a Jeep. As far as style goes. I am surprised that I have never seen this Empi before as it lives just about 35 minutes from me.
    As the story goes. The state of California wanted dune buggies to patrol the beaches with. But did not want a one piece fiberglass tub. That way bent fenders and such could be replaced easily by non-body shop personnel. They also required a top to keep the sun off the officers. Because they patrolled the beaches. most have rotted away into dust. (I did have the chance to purchase one once. But the rust was just incredible. I did not know what they were at that time.) Once people saw the vehicle Empi started to get requests for them without the top.
    I believe that Motor Trend Magazine even did a road test on one back about 1962 or 3.

    • Nico Fourie

      Good day, …. Interesting reading, and the first time that I see this vehicle. If at all possible, could I have a copy of your son’s plans for this “bug”.
      I am in South Africa and there is nothing of that nature here … and even the Myers bug is as scarse as chicken teeth ..

  3. DonC

    We live near a retirement community here in Florida that’s a golf cart place. Think it would be okay to come thru with this? LOL…..maybe borrow the flames off that 62 Caddy?

  4. Wayne

    Sorry, I sold the plans and all related paperwork and magazine articles.

  5. Paul

    I have a Empi Sportster or a facsimile of one. I’m rebuilding it bow. Would show photos but don’t know how.

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