You may have seen pictures of sweet-looking bumper cars being driven around like real cars. Well, DVICE scored an exclusive interview with the reclusive artist who created them. We granted him anonymity for the purposes of this story to get the full scoop on these beautiful vehicles (though there are plenty of search engines that can help you if you're curious).
There's this guy, let's call him Joe, with no formal mechanical or engineering training, just a gut feeling about tools and motors. He builds works of art out of materials that most people consider junk.
This guy toils in his warm, dry hometown, turning bumper cars from the '30s, '40s and '50s into actual (and for a time, street-legal) cars. Joe has built eight of them so far, complete with trolley poles and ceiling wiper blades. The cars come from around the U.S. — including Coney Island — and Europe.
Twelve years ago, he saw a weather-beaten, metal-hulled bumper car headed for the scrapheap, and thought, "I could fix that up, and people would appreciate it for its uniqueness and its style."
He stripped it, gave it a cherry hot-rod paint job, and put it in the showroom of his business, which has something to do with finished-metal processing. A bumper car or two later, a voice in his head told him that it'd be even cooler if he mounted each car on a chassis that he custom-built, with a suspension and a motorcycle engine.
Today, two of his creations are powered by Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200 engines. Another has a $1,500 leather interior. There's a Woodie with mahogany-and-maple paneling. The paint jobs alone cost $3,000. He tried installing CD players, but the vibrations were too much on the electronics.
At one point, Joe convinced a Department of Motor Vehicles clerk to register the fleet and issue custom license plates. Supervisors ultimately overrode that decision, which is probably a good thing. The cars lack seat belts, windshields, headlights and, ironically, bumpers.
Joe says, "It's all about the cars. I just want to fix them up and make them beautiful again."
And when he says he "just" wants to do that, he means it: "I'm not selling them. I'm not building them for anyone else but me. I'm not selling blueprints. I don't want anyone to call me or visit me." He says he's turned down an offer by the Discovery Channel just to tape a special about his hobby.
But surely there's a price at which he'd bend to commerce, isn't there?
"I had this antique dealer offer me $75,000 for one of my cars. I said 'no.' I mean no."
Well, at least we have these photos.