Curb-Hopping Classic: The Lannom Buggy – An Original From West Texas

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.

Rifle racks and side bolsters-standard equipment.

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.

Carburetors regularly appear to be made of chocolate cake.


All CV boots are cracked and broken, that’s a given.


When the engine cooling tin is removed, the overheating issue is obvious.

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.