How America’s art-car movement was sparked by the Volkswagen Beetle
The Volkswagen Beetle was created in Germany by Adolf Hitler. It has been exported to many countries, where it has become part of their culture.
It was popularized in Mexico by cabbies who painted it green and white. It was also known as the “Coccinelle” or “ladybug” in France.
In America, it became known as “the Bug” and was associated with the characteristic.
The first automobile students see in my undergraduate course, “The Automobile and American Life,” is not a Ford Model T. It’s a Beetle featured in Harrod Blank’s documentary “wild Wheels.”
Blank’s Beetle is my choice because cars represent ingenuity to me. They also symbolize individuality and freedom. Blank and other art car enthusiasts transformed their cars into vehicles of self-expression.
Would Americans buy Hitler’s car?
The Beetle is a car that was introduced in the U.S. for the first time in 1949. Most Americans had never seen anything similar. It was a vaguely known fact that the Beetle had ties to Adolf Hitler. This wasn’t a very good selling point.
It was everything that the cars of the “Detroit Three,” General Motors Chrysler and Ford, were not, both in terms of aesthetics and mechanics.
Volkswagen’s 1962 ad emphasizes its compact size. Alden Jewell/Flickr, CC BY
It was round, not angular. It was reliable, well-made, and economical instead of bulky, and it did not overheat. The parts of the car were so tightly welded that one had to crack a glass to close a closed door. It was also said that it would float if driven into a body of water. While most buyers of cars wanted something that signified power, speed, and status, the Beetle was considered “cute.”
The Beetle caused a lot of controversy. In the January 1969 issue, Road & Track magazine published a survey that highlighted the division: The majority of owners said they were satisfied with their Beetle and would consider buying another. A number of drivers, especially those who bought cars before 1965, complained that they were slow and underpowered.
The model was always perceived as catering to a niche, but it has a cult following among its devotees.
Owners have made their modifications to the car, including adding horsepower and handling. Some owners, inspired by its sublime appearance, made artistic statements using the vehicle. One of the first to do so was Harrod Blank.
The words’ Oh My God!’ turn heads.
Blank, the son of a ceramicist and filmmaker, was born in 1963. He graduated in 1986 from the University of California Santa Cruz with a degree specializing in film and theater studies.
Blank purchased a battered VW Beetle in the late 1980s and used it as a canvas for a piece of art.
He painted a rooster first on the driver-side door. He then added a globe as a front ornament. A television was mounted on the roof. Plastic chickens and fruits were glued to the bumper. He put a sticker that said “Question Authority!” on the back of the car and christened it “Oh My God.”
The name refers to Blank’s eventual realization that his vehicle was not the only art automobile in America.
Blank’s car was the catalyst for a whole movement. Its popularity brought enthusiasts together who had modified Beetles and other car models in inventive ways.
Blank’s next creation, “Pico De Gallo, “was a Beetle-based Beetle outfitted with electric guitars, percussion, keyboards, and an accordion. The car is a fully interactive work of art.
The art car movement aims to inspire joy and wonder in the public by engaging them through their vehicles. Blank and other art car enthusiasts wanted their cars to encourage others not to succumb to homogeneity or conformity.
A photo book followed, as did several films, including “Wild Wheels” and “Automorphosis” from 2009 and “Wild Wheels,” released in 1992. Blank has promoted many art car events since then, the majority of which took place in Houston and the San Francisco Bay Area.
One famous example of Beetle art car features an iron body, and another has been equipped with thousands of tiny lights.
There are other makes and models than the Beetle, which have been converted into art cars. Blank and other artists found the Volkswagen Beetle to be a perfect canvas.