How Fast are Dune Buggies? (and Sand Rails)

sand rail on the dunes

There are some really fast Dune Buggies! At the dunes you will find buggies racing through the sand to see who can go the fastest. It is actually pretty impressive how fast some of these sand rails can go. How fast are dune buggies? 

The average max speed for dune buggies is 60-70mph. The top speed for sand rails and dune buggies with high performance modifications is 100+ mph. Factors such as horsepower, suspension, weight, tire size and engine modifications will determine the maximum speed.

There is a lot that goes into the max speed of a dune buggy. How fast it will go really comes down to the type of engine and performance modifications that it has. In this article we are going to dive into some real numbers and learn how fast some of these sand rails are. 

How fast can dune buggies go? 

Sand buggies and Rails come in many different makes, models, styles, and engine options. Since sand rails are all custom built, each buggy is unique, and there are a few important factors that will determine the max speed of that specific sand rail. 

Since the term “sand buggy” is normally used to refer to sand buggies and sand rails we are going to go over all the different speeds of buggies and sand rails. Feel free to check out what is a sand rail to learn more about the differences between buggies and rails. 

In general, there are three main types of sand buggies and rails. The old school buggies, mid travel, and long travel. Each of these different styles are determined by the type of suspension it has. 

Type of Suspension

The fastest type of dune buggy or sand rail are the long travels. Long travel rails are the most modern and they are built with A-arms and a coilover suspension. A dune buggy with better suspension is able to travel across the sand faster. 

Mid Travel buggies also have A-arms but have shock suspension instead of coilovers. These will normally be the next fastest dune buggies (depending on engine sizes and modifications). The other type of buggy is called the old school buggies (the first style of sand rails) which have I-beams and the original VW front end and suspension. 

The better the suspension, the more easily the rail can glide across the sand, but the suspension is not the only thing that determines how fast a dune buggy can go. The weight of a dune buggy will also determine how fast it can travel at max speeds. 

Weight of The Dune Buggy

The original dune buggies that were made in the 50’s were made from modified volkswagen bugs. This is where the term “buggy” comes from. These first dune buggies are much heavier. Drivers realized that heavier buggies had a harder time driving in the sand, so builders began to make them lighter and faster. This is how the first old school buggy was made. Through the years, the weights of buggies and sand rails have changed. There are now more modern and lighter parts that can help to keep buggies lightweight. 

While a sand rail weight will be different depending on the size and style of each vehicle, the weight is an important factor in how fast a sand rail goes. 

Normally if a buggy is heavier, then the engine will have to be more powerful for that buggy to go faster than a lighter one. The most important factor to determine max speed of a sand rail is how powerful the engine is. 

Total Horsepower and Engine Size

Sand Rails that have the highest horsepower engines will normally be the fastest in the dunes. There are many different types of engine and sizes including V-4, V-6, and V8s. Some buggies like the old school VW’s might have less than 100-hp engines while others such as high performance long travel sand rails can sometimes have over 1000-hp engines. 

In general, the lower horsepower engines will be on the older buggies, and that is why the average max speed for old school buggies is about 60-70 mph. The mid travel horsepower range has a mix from the lower horsepower engines like the VW all the way up to the higher powered engines which means they normally have a max speed of about 70 – 80 mph. 

Here is a video of a VW engine sand rail tracking it’s MPH while driving in the dunes. As you can see in the video the fastest speed this rail reaches is 75 mph. 

The very fastest sand rails are normally the long travel rails that have the highest horsepower engines. These are the rails that you will see doing up over 100+ mph on the sand dunes. 

While the horsepower ranges and mph are just estimates, because each sand rail is unique, this gives you a better idea of how fast dune buggies and rails actually travel.

Performance Modifications 

To make sand rails and buggies faster, owners add certain performance modifications to the engine and vehicle. Some common modifications include nitrous, turbochargers, racing carburetors, larger pistons, and high performance cylinder heads.

Other things that are commonly modified to increase the max speed are gearing, and different sized transmissions. Having the correct type and size of paddle tires in the sand will also helps to increase speed.

Cost and Maintenance

Another thing that should be included that is very important in how fast a dune buggy will go is how much money someone is willing to invest into the vehicle. The fastest dune buggies and sand rails are going to be the most expensive, and the slower horsepower ones are going to be much more affordable. 

Also, the higher performance sand rails are going to take specialized mechanics to fix and maintain. While the lower horsepower engines are typically easier to maintain and more affordable to fix if something goes wrong. 

Driver Skill and Sand Dune Location 

Skilled sand rail drivers will be able to drive faster than a beginner. The experience of a driver will also have a direct effect on the top speed of a sand buggy. A sand rail can also only reach top speeds out in wide open sand areas. The condition of the sand also directly relates to how fast the vehicle can travel. 

Typically, in really dry and soft sand conditions, even faster cars will tend to go a bit slower as they will not get as much traction. The ideal sand conditions and location to get up to max speed would be a harder packed sand in a wide open area. 

Final Thoughts

I hope that this overview of how fast dune buggies and sand rails can go helps you to understand more about the maximum speeds that these vehicles can get to. Just remember that you don’t have to have to have the fastest sand rail to have the most fun. 

While the fast high performance rails can be great for racing and driving in wide open dunes, most of the time you won’t need to drive nearly this fast when out in the dunes. When driving on trails and going up and down dunes you are actually going to be at much lower speeds.