If you live in the Big Bend of West Texas, the Trans-Pecos- Pecos, Presidio, Brewster and Jeff Davis counties- and especially if you live/work on one of the vast ranches down here, chances are you are familiar with, grew up driving and possibly own one of these: The Lannom Buggy.
These were built in Ft. Stockton, TX, by an outfit called Lannom Industries. John Lannom’s a longtime VW mechanic and local innovator, sort of the Green Acres version of Bruce Meyers. At some point in the past he decided he’d design and build his own sturdy kind of VW-powered buggy for ranch use.
Affable guy, very knowledgeable, he could assemble a VW in the pitch dark by morning. Knows his stuff. Believe he’s been making these ugly bastards since the 70s. Probably there are a few with early Split Bus RGB boxes but all I’ve seen are Bay Window Bus setups. I’ve never seen one of these licensed for the street. They are quite crude but damned tough.
Built on steel plate with a tube superstructure, they are smooth underneath, with only one hole directly beneath the engine drain plug. Despite the extremely rough conditions out here it’s hard to hang one up on a boulder. Note the ‘fenders’- they are made of industrial conveyor-belt rubber. Multiple seats are common, the upper deck is popular for hunting or scaring the crap out of passengers.
The transaxle/rear suspension is Bay Window Bus, out front a Beetle beam. Engines are typically Type 1 1600 with a 30/31 and a 009. They are wisely kept at a mild state of tune. All are single-port heads for durability and ‘torque’. There are still quite a few with earlier H engine cases, some have AS41 cases, newest ones have aftermarket aluminum cases. The engines from my shop are built on new VW magnesium cases, still available.
They have only rear brakes- not too thrilled about that but Lannom insists it’s easy to stand one on its nose and endo with 4-wheel brakes, which seems a dubious claim but whatta I know. They do stop eventually. Sometimes having something to run into is helpful. Handy to have a good-sized rock stowed behind the seat to stuff under a tire when stopped for a spell on an incline or idling while opening gates because there’s no parking brake.
Behind the seats, a portion of the National Strategic Expanded Metal Reserve.
Lannom and his crew have put together countless buggies ever since clapped-out VW Beetles and Buses were available to plunder for next to nothing. Not a few of them were found DOA on I-10 and towed in to be torn apart and exploited for assemblies. Of course, raw material has vaporized over the past 40 years. What was once a field of blown-apart Buses and Beetles out back of Lannom’s shop has been picked clean by VW folks all over the country. I recall plucking old Bus wheels out of the weeds while goats ambled underfoot.
Occasionally a field repair will involve removing an engine from a ranch-bound buggy and bringing it back to the shop for attention.
John’s slowing down some and evidently no longer building new units though he still repairs them. I see a fair amount of the machines at my shop since the distances out here are vast, VW mechanics are rare and a trip to Ft. Stockton’s an all-day sucker from a remote ranch in Marfa or Sierra Blanca. Working on ’em keeps the lights on.
As you’d imagine, the things are beaten like rented red-headed step-mules [and amateur attempts are made to fix them, with amusing and horrifying results] but Lannom machines typically outlast side-by-sides since the average RZR shatters eventually and a trip to the dealership is a long drive with an expensive bill. Eventually some motors get stove in to the point a new engine is necessary. Enough of these buggies come along I get confused as to which is which and have to name or number them. They all have their own personalities.
These are working vehicles and have zero amenities. They are tools, like a shovel or a skid-steer. Radio? Top or windshield? Comfort? Speed? Gauges? A parking brake? Forget it, traded away for bomb-proofness and the ability to drive up and onto ornery cattle or suffer the occasional collision without picking up pieces of Deere or Can Am afterward. That’s more important. Generations of 4-by trucks have come, broken and gone while Lannom buggies are still on the ranches, like an old Aermotor windmill or an International Harvester Farmall that is too useful to put out to pasture. They’ll never die, their parts are too common.
I feel confident predicting Type 1 VW engine cases, heads, cranks, rods, cams and such will be available for some time. Engines will eventually have minimal OEM VW content- rocker sets, generator stands, fan shrouds, the occasional valve cover or flywheel- while the rest will hail from China. Which is fine, at long as it comes from somewhere.
With a simple, cheap set of dune buggy headers they are pretty obnoxiously loud but animals get used to it quick, and at one ranch a herd of camel notes the noise and follows closely until they get some snacks and attention.
Anyway, thought y’all might get a kick out of an odd VW/local industry permutation. Lannom’s buggies remind me of purpose-built oddities seen out on cattle stations in Australia- post-apocalyptic before post-apocalyptic was a thing. I can confirm ripping around a few thousand acres of the Big Bend in one of these crusty, semi-dangerous contraptions is a hoot and a holler.
WOW!, WOW!, WOW! This is cool, creative purposed transportation. Thanks for bringing this to the fore for us, the uninitiated. I gather that no one waxes them.
Poor old Buses. Hate to see one discarded for their engine. I get it though.
With the engine gone, you get to pick through for all the other parts… such as windows…
Wonderful! The form is a perfect reinvention of the original 1895-1905 runabouts.
That’s a great connection.
My first thought upon seeing the one with the raised rear seats was of the Beverly Hillbillies truck.
A great writeup. I want one now, that’s how great. What to use it for, I don’t know!
steel plate and tube superstructure? rugged and aerodynamic (! ?? !) at the same time! Planned un-obsolescence. (that phrase stolen from an old Bell System ad)
Does anyone use foam filled tires? If seems to me that flats would be a big issue with regular tires.
Shoot, I forgot to describe the state of tires- yes, they come in half-filled with leak-stop spoo, sidewalls have a half-dozen goo-rope repairs- they are really chewed up. I keep telling folks to run tubes. At least with bias plies there is a stiff enough sidewall a flat won’t instantly walk off the wheel and you’ll get back home, probably.
Thanks for reading this. CC is a great site, and the quality and knowledge of the articles and commentary here made writing the article seem worthwhile.
Thanks for sharing this. I love all things VW, and this was a new one for me.
Great post, I’ve met Mr. Lannom and he’s a bona-fide old-school VW man. Reading through the post I understand you do some work on air-cooled VWs. I have an ex-military ’72 Thing. I’m in Alpine, where out here are you? Might save me a day’s drive to Ft. Stockton & back.
What a wonderful peek at a world I’ll never know and hardly took time to imagine. Hooray to Mr. Lannom for really thinking through how to best take care of a market need.
Very interesting to hear that the 4×4 trucks come and go, while these soldier on.
Fascinating writeup today!
Very, very cool. Love to hear about these neat little niches of auto-dom. These things look awesome. Maximum function over form, which in turn gives them really high “form” factor as well.
First picture I thought he used house trailer axle hubs, but then remembered VWs used to come with that giant bolt pattern. See small bolt pattern in next picture. I was thinking of using an Olds Toronado V8 FWD moved to rear to build a tubing frame dune buggy… maybe after I get some of my current 10 projects caught up…
If they resume the local British Return to Ft. Meigs Car Show here this year I need to get the V8 MG Midget out and over to it.
Wow indeed! You have to give him credit for taking the simpler = more reliable rule to its logical conclusion. Just awesome…
What an outstanding post — the uniqueness and durability of Mr. Lannom’s creation here seems hard to beat.
The Big Bend area is high on my list of places to visit someday; when I eventually get there, I’ll keep my eye out for these buggies!
Very interesting. I’m really surprised about the lack of front brakes and even more surprised about the lack of a parking brake.
Just going by memory here but I think that NASA left one of these things on the moon.
Thanks for this fascinating glimpse of something I had no idea existed – wonderful in its simplicity = durability ethos. The ultimate post apocalypse ride!
This is what I love CC for – where else would one find out about something like this?
Quite the off road weapon various rebodies of crashed VWs took place over here but all were able to be put on the road so they were nowhere near as rugged as this thing is.
I wish to pay my compliments Mr. Lannom and his buggy, to the author of this story and to whomever is the owner of that most stylish 1964 Galaxie 500 with the Astro Supremes.
The Galaxie, named ‘Paco’ is a Dallas-built, Big Bend-delivered vehicle, and I will convey your good wishes to him. Thanks!
A great piece of home brew utility work. When I saw the tan paint and raised seat my first though was either a tactical vehicle or a hunting rig.
Regarding torn up tires, has anyone tried foam filled tires like a skid steer loader or dirt bike?
Amazing and I’m not surprised to see it’s from Texas .
FWIW, NASA left America’s two greatest symbols on the moon : our flag and an abandoned car .
A genius in practicality. These buggies are tough, reliable, smooth-riding, and built for the environment in which they operate. Kudus to Mr Lannom for turning a hobby into a full-time business. Esprobert
Still going strong and no end in sight
Whoop! There it is!