We recently found ourselves in Houston, TX with a few hours up our sleeve. We’d already stuffed our entire bodies to the top with Texan BBQ, so what else was there to do? Hit up the Art Car Museum, of course.
Yeah, Mad Max is way cool, and we suppose rat rods can be cool from time to time, but these guys take crazy cars to the next level. And they’ve been at it since the early 70s. The Art Car movement is another branch of modified car culture with its origins in the golden ages of the American auto industry – the same golden ages that brought us A/FX, the Shelby Cobra, and Richard Petty.
Picture the 60s – wars, revolutions, drugs, free-love – it’s all a little crazy, right? Art and artists, as a reaction to that, went a little cuckoo too. Look at the paint jobs on early funny cars, customs and lowriders and you’ll see signs of it; candy, flake, airbrushed panels, crazy lines, geometric shapes and sometimes colors that should never be seen together. Yeah, we love it now, but back then it was absolutely wild.
It was right around that time that an even wilder bunch split off and started creating Art Cars by adding or removing car bits, house bits, bits from the trash, whatever they felt like, to their cars in order to distance themselves from the pack of straight-panel, single-color vehicles rolling down the highway.
This grew into myriad wooden cars, cars with wings, cars covered completely in cameras, or nails, or beads, or spoons, and a majority of them called Houston home. Thus, the Art Car Museum – a.k.a Garage Mahal – also built out of car parts and strange metal objects was established to show off these whacky and wonderful modified cars to a greater audience. It’s on Heights Boulevard just west of downtown – you can’t miss it.
Inside is space for three or four cars at a time, and it’s always changing. They throw in some more traditional forms of art like paintings and sculptures, but it’s worth coming in to check out the cars on display. When we were there, they had some pretty wild Mad Max vibes around the room with the Jet Car, Batwing and the Spoonozoid.
Is it a Transformer? Does it fly? No, it’s just an ’83 Honda Accord. But Jim Robertson has gone buck-wild with the welder and grinder and turned it into this Steampunk-meets-The-Jetsons winged spectacle dubbed the Jet Car. Its a fully functioning car with stick-shift and no roof – perfect for cruising the Pacific Coast Highway, you’d think…
Speaking of winged terrors, this ’87 VW Rabbit Cabriolet was Johnny Rojas only mode of transportation for about a year. Yep, daily driven, exactly as you see it here. The Batwing is raw metal, with giant wings, metal spider webs everywhere, and two erm, torches? in the back seat. Maybe they helped with HOV lanes on daily commutes.
Last but not least on display was Mark Bradford’s Spoonozoid. It barely resembles a vehicle, underneath it’s made out of motorcycle bits and we’re not sure whether we can drive it down the street, or eat cereal with it. We began counting the number of spoons, but were warned we’d be there a while and they were closing soon.
We get that not everyone ‘gets it’ (in fact, one gentleman at the Museum was demanding his money back from the exhibition – it’s free) but think of it this way – wheel swaps, paint (or lack of paint), turbos sticking out of hoods, wheelstanding 2-ton F6 Ford pickups with engines in the rear – aren’t we all sorta making art cars?