In late August, a community of more than 50,000 like-minded folks gathers for a week in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada for the annual Burning Man festival. Cars are not allowed as transport in this temporary small city, yet art cars called Mutant Vehicles are encouraged and even funded by a Burning Man foundation. These cars carry people and put on shows at less than 15 mph, and like the festival itself, they’re about radical self-expression.
Among this car, here are the most spectacular.
In nature, deep-ocean anglerfish are less than 6 inches long yet have ferociously sharp teeth and a unique luminescent lure hanging in front of their mouths. The fish is a popular design inspiration at Burning Man, but what distinguishes this anglerfish vehicle from the half-dozen others is the ability to shoot flames from its eyes.
Owner Joel Brown of the Looking Glass House Restaurant in Eureka, Calif., credits the “mad genius” of metal artist Mark Whitman for much of the design and operation of the vehicle.
Furniture designer Clayton Cartier visited the Burning Man festival in 2006 and “got a thirst” to build a vehicle that could carry an enormous sound system out onto the desert floor. To make it happen, Cartier formed a group of volunteers called the Conscious Monkey Clan, and these Jackson Hole, Wyo., residents cut the body off a 1974 Chevrolet four-wheel-drive pickup and built a boat-shaped frame inspired by a mix of Kung Fu, Middle Eastern, and Gilligan’s Island imagery. On its trailer, the Madame reaches just short of 13 feet in height, the legal highway limit—which was an entirely accidental result, Cartier says.
The hull of the boat shape incorporates large speakers, which Cartier says attracts riders. Boat throttles control the engine and the automatic transmission of the Madame, which has carried as many as 48 people on its deck. The Madame has appeared at four Burning Man festivals, and Cartier plans to return.
C.S. Tere: The Lost Machine
Inspired by a pirate ship, Andy Tibbets of Portland, Ore., built this front-drive 27-hp three-cylinder hydraulic-powered machine to carry “fire sails” out into the desert. The 10-foot-tall hubless front wheel propels the C.S. Tere, and the rear wheels are steered from the Captain’s Deck in the back.
Eight specially designed nozzles located in the large mast spray propane to create the sheets of flame. Tibbets, who began designing the machine in 2004 and building it in 2008, recruited more than 100 people to help construct it. At The Lost Machine’s debut in 2010, the hydraulic drive system acted up, so the whole thing had to be towed around the festival. But, Tibbets says, the fire displays made the effort worthwhile.
The 9000-pound Nautilus is inspired by Jules Verne’s submarine from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. Its base is a 2005 Eagle TT8 diesel airport tug with four-wheel drive.
Californians Christopher and Amber Marie Bently conceived the idea; Five Ton Crane, creators of art sculptures in the San Francisco Bay area, built it. The Nautilus is 25 feet long and 12 feet tall and made of laser-welded steel with decorative rivets lining the hull. The engine and steering controls are on the “bridge” of the machine. The Nautilus features surround sound, a library, a map room, and a full bar.
Tom Bates and Gretchen Roosevelt of Tacoma, Wash., took a GEM electric car and dismantled it to its frame, then built a stagecoach on top. They moved the steering column up to the driver’s bench and attached horses from amusement park rides. About seven or eight people can sit in the coach, and one of the Wonder Horses can hold a rider.
The GEM’s batteries are charged by a combination of solar cells and a Honda 3000-watt generator, which also powers a 110-volt lighting system. There is also a propane-powered flame system that shoots balls of fire, and the horses have crowns of fire that light up the night. Bates says that the idea came from a promotional toy stagecoach from Wells Fargo Bank, and the Wonder Wagon has appeared at the Burning Man festival every year since 2008.
Walter the Bus
Inspired by a Volkswagen bus jamboree, an article about the Burning Man festival, and the availability of a 1963 Walter Crash Truck that began life as a fire truck at Arizona’s Luke Air Force Base, Kirk Strawn of Phoenix and some volunteers built the double-scale VW beginning in 2003. By 2009, Walter the bus was finished and attended Burning Man.
Strawn and company designed and built the bus with a steel frame and panels, keeping the giant fire-truck tires that were the basis of the proportions of the bus.
For the 2006 Burning Man festival Scott Cocking of San Diego studied spoke-wheel construction and set out to create 4-foot-diameter wheels out of 15-inch car wheels and 4-foot-diameter plastic drainpipe to carry the machine. Each aluminum car wheel is used as a hub, drilled with 96 holes for spokes. The three wheels have 26-inch tires stretched over them, and the machine is powered by bicycle-style gears, chains, and pedals. Cocking reports that about 1200 screws are used to hold the tires to the plastic drainpipe, and his custom-made spokes are held to each wheel with more than 1700 eyebolts, nuts, and washers. The steering system is by cable, with 12 pulleys, and large tanks of propane behind the seats of the Berserker are used for the fire cannons Cocking designed.
The Golden Mean
Metal artist Jon Sarriugarte built a 12-foot snail on top of a 1966 VW Beetle floor pan. The galvanized scrap metal is cut into “scales” and welded together.
Because the vehicle is intended to carry up to 19 people, Sarriugarte replaced the stock VW suspension with airbags and a compressor that can vary the load-carrying capacity. The engine is hot-rodded and has a large snorkel system to keep sand out during Black Rock Desert sandstorms. The steering linkage and brake systems are a custom design, he says, but the rearview mirror and a split rear window are homages to the original Beetle. Small balls of flames shoot from the vehicle’s antennae, and the vehicle is licensed for street use.
The Golden Mean won’t be at this year’s Burning Man, though, since Sarriugarte and his wife, Kyrsten Mate, are bringing two new 50-foot-tall wheeled serpent vehicles instead.
By Phil Berg