How Art Cars Work

How to Make an Art Car

There are a few practicalities to deal with when building an art car -- things you need to consider before ever laying a bead of glue. First, those practiced in the art recommend not starting with a clunker. After you've put in hours and hours of work and as much money as your bank account can stand, you're not going to want to ditch the car when you find you need an engine rebuild. Just ask Cheri Brugman, who had to crush her car "Pestilencia," flame throwers and all, when it became too expensive to fix its mechanical failures. A good, driving foundation makes all the difference.

Whatever reliable car, truck, or motorcycle is used, the surface has to be properly prepped. Years of wax and buildup have to be removed in order for the adhesives to work properly. Older cars have an advantage here, as their surfaces are usually scuffed up a bit or even dull, in some cases. Newer cars have to have their shiny topcoats taken down a notch in order to get a good stick from the glue. Lyles said the Prius commission was harder to work on because of its high-sparkle finish.

After the initial prep work is complete, the car is ready to become an artistic monument. But don't just slap any old paint on the sheet metal. "Newbies don't research enough when they start," said Lyles. "They use superglue, house paint, materials that won't last a season." Paint intended for use on road signs works great and lasts through the weather, especially if a clear coat is applied on top of a paint car. Silicone glue holds the best for most of the things people want to attach to their cars, though pop rivets can attach heavier items. Some materials are tougher, if not impossible, to use, like enamel paint, which fades in the sun, and paper, which will turn to tatters in the rain.

Cars like these can take as little as a few weeks to complete; and as "organic" cars change and grow continuously, they may never actually be finished. But the average art car takes about a year to fabricate to the creator's satisfaction. With some cars, like glue cars, it can be a challenge to know when the car is complete. But with something more sculptural, like a dolphin on wheels, it's pretty obvious when you've reached the finish line.

These cars are often daily drivers, remember, so attention must be paid to practical matters. Sight lines must be maintained forward and rear (at least with the help of rearview mirrors), and the engine still has to be accessible for oil changes and occasional check-ups. And if it's going to be driven on public roads, it has to meet all vehicle safety codes, too.

Art car owners have to deal with issues owners of "mundane cars," as they call them, would never think of. People touch, steal and break glue-on items, or bits and pieces might fly off on the road if they're not attached with the right glue. Of course, gas mileage goes down, thanks to the additional weight and the changed aerodynamics of the vehicle, but this is less of an issue for paint cars. If fuel costs continue to rise, said Blank, "There will be a time when we can't drive these cars, at least not miles and miles. Camera Van weighs 7,000 pounds."

Put all of these things together -- the car, the artist, the costume, the craft -- and you've got yourself a parade. Or maybe even a festival. Or a museum exhibit. Read on to find out where art cars gather for a good time.

More to Explore