We like to tinker, tune, and fix, but these art cars witness to something else we love about the automobile. They're lightning rods for fashion statements, celebrity history, racing heritage or just plain old aesthetic mastery. Well, the same goes for trucks if you consider the colorful monstrosity of a Volvo doctored up by graffiti artist Banksy in 2000, now up for auction on Bonham’s block this September.
Banksy’s truck got us thinking. Art cars come clad in many schemes—Sharpie, airbrush, and spray paint—but we grabbed six that, besides being cool to look at, boast connections to celebrities, to racing history, and diverse artistic talent.
The beauty of these art cars lies in their honesty: they sit at the intersection of artistic and automotive ley lines. Beyond the pricetags, these art cars capture both the artists’ creativity and the pure cool factor of done-up rolling metal.
That said, this list in no way claims to be exhaustive—it’s only a small collection of our favorites in the vast color scheme of wild art cars. Drop us a comment below and let us know your favorites.
Jellyfish and pine trees and The Eye of God, oh my. David Richards wasn’t only the road manager for Big Brother and the Holding Company—he was a carpenter and a sculpter, and taught himself the tattoo trade before taking pen and brush to lead singer Janis Joplin’s Porsche 356. In 1968, this 1964 356 C transformed “The History of the Universe,” as Richards titled his piece. Richards didn’t stay with the band for long, but Janis remained, fabulous and feather-clad, behind the wheel of her custom-painted Porsche after the disbanding of Big Brother and until her death in 1970.
RM Sotheby’s oversaw the first sale of the car on behalf of Joplin’s siblings in December of 2015, for a hammer price of $1.76M—a touch above the pre-sale estimate of $400,000–$600,000. After all, it is the entire history of the universe… on a Porsche. That doesn’t happen often.
Laugh now, if you wish, at a graffiti-splattered Volvo truck projected to sell for over $1M. Self-described “quality vandal,” graffiti artist Banksy has been on an antiauthoritarian crusade, spiked with dark humor and subversive satire, since 1974. He’s adorned walls of major museums (fully disguised), loosed live rats in a display of his oil paintings (including “Show Me the Monet” in imitation of the same), and painted live elephants.
So the irony of this chaos-embracing artist flinging flying monkeys and TV-smashing policeman on a Volvo, the steady, safe Swedish stereotype, is rich—and entirely intentional. The piece is titled “Turbo Zone Truck (Laugh Now But One Day We’ll Be In Charge),” which pretty much gets the message across.
In case this Volvo’s provenance weren’t colorful enough, Banksy’s creation toured with a circus famed for its pyrotechnics. Lit. Banksy completed the project in 2000, but it’s just now coming up for auction courtesy of Bonhams, which is calling this Banksy’s largest artistic project to date.
BMW Art Cars
How much do we love the BMW Art Cars? Let us count the ways… or at least, scratch the surface. Andy Warhol’s rough-edged, paint-brush-style streaks of red, yellow, green, and blue on an M1. Alexander Calder’s original 1975 design on a 3.0 CSL, glorious and broad-shouldered in swaths of primary colors. The 1979 M1 gridded by Frank Stella in an art marker, sketch-style web of M branding: blue, purple, and red. Jeff Koons’ kaleidoscopic streams of color on the M3 GT2 race car. We could go all the way through the BMW Art Car lineage, so instead we’ll count the whole decades-long project as one.
We’d hate to label a car purely as fashion, but this psychedelic 1956 Bentley S1was originally owned by a fashion label. Then the Beatles bought Dandie Fashions and took this fabulized Bentley clubbing around London, wafting around the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Brian Jones. The colors are electric and the car is undeniably cool—and if it looks like an acid trip, well, yeah.
Nearly 60 years later, it’s hard to appreciate just how mind-blowing this Bentley’s flamboyant curlicues were on a canvas of dignified British tradition. In an age where Internet memes may well appear on a baby-blue-wrapped 458 Ferrari Spider in downtown Miami, the Beatles’ Bentley seems almost tame. In its own day, though—talk about bucking Buckingham tradition.
VW Polo Harlekin / Golf Harlequin
We’re back to planet Earth with these eccentric and charming special edition Golfs. When VW rolled out a multicolored Polo show car in 1995, the audience fell in love with it and VW started a small production run. That run ended up at around 3100 cars because of positive feedback, and VW generously thought that North America would enjoy having a quilt piece of the fun. Golf Harlequins followed suit.
You can identify the “original” color of a Harlequin by either the roof, C-pillar, or rocker panel; the rest of the Pistachio Green, Ginster Yellow, Tornado Red, and Chagall Blue panels were hand-swapped for a total of around 264 Golf Harlequins.
In case you worry that the Beatles left a single British feather unruffled, here’s John Lennon’s Phantom V. Even before this Phantom became “Sgt. Pepper,” it arrived in plain Valentine Black loaded with a television, refrigerator, and telephone. And, of course, a record player.
After it went under the paintbrush of coachbuilders JP Fallon, “Sgt. Pepper” arrived on Lennon’s doorstep May 25, 1967, a new coat of yellow paint overlaid with Romany-style floral designs evocative of gypsy caravans. For good measure, the roof got a zodiac sign. The whole paint job cost £1000—about £19,000 today.