I’m of the opinion that a true auto enthusiast is never content with the status of their fleet. A wandering eye is constantly looking for the next toy, the next project, the next opportunity to flip for a profit. I’m no different — I’m figuratively digging in the couch cushions every time a funky car pops up on eBay or Craigslist.
But those cushions are bare. Two kids tend to consume every spare penny. I’m trying to put away cash for a potential cheap toy, but the classics I really want have ballooned in value well beyond a reasonable figure. I’m thinking I can scrape together about five thousand dollars to buy a new toy for the garage.
This well-traveled Houstonian thinks his town is Pistonhead Nirvana, proven every month via fanboi scale and diversity at Cars and Coffee gatherings. Or with every 1000+hp racer on at Texas2k, every shoestring budget’d LeMons racer and Art Car fanatic: it’s all here. Except there’s nothing like Houston SLAB culture.
A confession: I know automotive subcultures, no matter which socioeconomic population nurtures it, always raise the ire of outsiders. My response? Every generalization about SLABs applies to anyone building a custom, race or show car. We are all the same, deal with it.
My worst moment at the College for Creative Studies was during Portfolio Review: a presentation of one’s body of work since the beginning of the semester. So it comes as no surprise that my favorite parts of a LeMons race is judging the artistic(?) themes of the cheaty $500 race cars in attendance. Let’s combine the two for this quick vignette into an alternate world of automotive design: come up with a moderately creative theme, say or do something idiotic, make me laugh and perhaps I’ll forget about that fancy header…or those super cheaty shocks that supposedly “came with the car.”
Did you really think that car design ends in the studio?
Since I’ve built (and daily-driven) what I consider to be an art car, I’m not against the concept of an art car. The problem is that you get 100 random-beater-with-army-men-hot-glued-all-over art cars for every brilliant Sashimi Tabernacle Choir. Because affixing random crap all over a cheap car is an accepted route to a certain segment of San Francisco Bay Area artistic circles, I’ve found a fair number of these things in Northern California wrecking yards. Here’s the first turbocharged art car I’ve seen in my travels.
If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area and you need something to drive to Burning Man, you’ll find that the glue-a-bunch-of-stuff-all-over-a-random-vehicle art-car approach will let your ride fit in just as effortlessly on the playa as the soccer mom’s Voyager blends in at the mall parking lot. I’m not against art cars (I consider my 1965 Impala Hell Project to be an art car at heart), but I prefer the approach of the artists who built such fine machines as the Sashimi Tabernacle Choir or the street-driven Denver Pirate Ship to the type who feels contempt for the canvas disappearing beneath their hot-glue gun. Anyway, the upshot of the large number of Bay Area art-car types who glue 10,000 plastic army men or Lucky Lager caps all over their cars is that many of them wind up in self-service wrecking yards. Here’s a Toyota Master Ace aka Toyota Space Cruiser aka Toyota Van that I spotted last weekend at an East Bay self-serve yard.
After judging at the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza 24 Hours of LeMons near Bakersfield, I headed north to visit my family in the San Francisco Bay Area before heading back to Denver. Naturally, I had to stop by at least one junkyard, and— small world!— I ran into a car that looked very familiar.
After dropping the hopped-up 406 small-block I’d built from scratch in place of the worn-out 350 I’d swapped in 1990, I was geared up to take the car to the dragstrip and see if I could better the high-16-second ETs I’d managed in Atlanta; an important part of this process involved stripping a lot of unnecessary weight out of the car. At the same time (early 1999) I was reevaluating the Impala Hell Project’s role in my life, and thinking about how I might best realize my original vision for the car which had gone from art project to daily driver.
In Part 1 of this series, I described the purchase of a 1965 Chevrolet Impala in early 1990, for use as the raw material in a complex performance/installation art piece. Within a single day of taking ownership of the car, I began the process of modifying it to suit my artistic vision.
As I explained in the introduction to this series last week, I’m finally tackling the story of the most significant car I’ve ever owned. This ’65 Impala went through ten years, 100,000 miles, and many conceptual shifts during its time with me, but it all started out as my attempt to make an art car that wasn’t A) lame and B) contemptuous of the idea of the car itself.
I put in four years and thousands of posts at Jalopnik, writing about most of my formative cars… but never once did I write the story of the car that served me longest, gave me the most miles, endured the most engine swaps, and generally laid claim to a bigger piece of my heart than all the rest of my motley lifetime fleet combined: a 1965 Chevrolet Impala sedan, built at the long-defunct South Gate Assembly Plant in Los Angeles, equipped with a 283/Powerglide drivetrain, and painted Artesian Turquoise. Today, at last, the story begins.
The Saab 99 wasn’t the only vehicle in its owner’s back-yard imaginarium, although it took me a bit before I realized what it was, and what it started its life out as. This cut-down vehicle with the park bench for a seat was a summer project who knows how many years ago, and was used to scoot around the neighborhood and the alleys. The blackberries have now claimed it as theirs. In any case, can you tell what it started out as? If you need a big hint, make the jump: