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Name: Mike Chious

Home: Downtown

Vehicle: Custom Dune Buggy

Surfing: Ocean Beach

From the desert to the beaches, wherever Mike Chious drives his custom dune buggy, a crowd of guys gathers. "My friends are trying to get me to chase them on their motorcycles through Mexico," he says. "I throw the boards on top for surfing. For camping, I hitch it to my pickup and haul it." Mike completed an overhaul of the buggy in the past few months. "When I got it, it was a mess. There were all kinds of things shot on it. I had to replace every bolt in it, and I got a guy to rebuild and install a VW bus drivetrain. I'm trying to get it up to 500 miles so I can take it in for its first tune-up."

In the parking lot at the end of Santa Monica Avenue, Mike fields questions. A common query from the crowd of surfers is, "What is this thing?"

"Originally, it's a Chenoweth that did duty as a Coronado lifeguard buggy," Mike says. "After that, a guy who worked for PSA airlines owned it and after that a cop owned it. Each owner has added to it. One guy got the aluminum-and-fiberglass paneling built for it. One of them worked with the police to get it legalized for the street. He got the windshield installed, all the turn signals..."

The buggy is an artifact that gearhead archaeologists can examine. "Here's an old sticker," one man says and points to the windshield. "I think that's from the '60s."

Strapped to a ledge in the engine compartment is a milk crate that carries all the emergency gear: electric rewiring components, a fire extinguisher, a ratchet set, and tie-down straps. The buggy is pure function, as efficient as travel gets; two seats, an engine and racks for lashing small loads, all on a high-performance suspension.

Mike doesn't carry any surf gear to preserve the vehicle; he doesn't need a bucket to change in or to carry his wetsuit or towels. The whole thing is aluminum or fiberglass and the steel-tubed frame has "been around forever. It hasn't rusted yet."

As Mike pulls out of the parking lot, more beachgoers swivel their heads and point to the buggy and Mike waves.

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rockpiles Oct. 18, 2011 @ 11:58 a.m.

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