Every morning, setting off from a village outside of the city, Manu Campa commutes to his downtown studio in Madrid. He appreciates the three-mile cushion between home and the hustle-bustle of Spain’s largest city, where he spends his days painting cars. By now, the locals recognize his golden 1931 Ford Model A Roadster. “It has to be only the one in the whole city, and they’re in general very rare in this country,” Campa says. “Everyone knows it’s me, so the car is like a rolling advertisement for my art.”
Although he started his career after art school by painting portraits of people, he quickly discovered that he’d rather put to canvas a subject that fascinated him—cars. Campa has found considerable success with his highly realistic automotive scenes, which often zero in on the gorgeous details and visually interesting angles of classic vehicles. With his masterful rendering of curves and glossy, reflective bodywork, Campa’s acrylic paintings have a distinctive, cohesive style. He’s become a particular favorite among the air-cooled Porsche community, and the bulk of his roughly 50-60 commissions per year feature vintage models from Stuttgart.
Campa’s popularity kicked off in 2014, right around the time he began daily-driving a 1953 Volkswagen Beetle. He’ll always love that car, but the idea of something pre-war was always lurking in the back of his mind. When the opportunity arose Campa couldn’t say no.
He first drove about four hours away to see a Model A being advertised, didn’t like it, and instead pursued a lead that came to him from one of his Instagram followers. This second, yellow-colored car wasn’t quite the dark-colored Model A with a rumble seat that he wanted, but eventually the seller lowered the price to the point that Campa had to take it. It was left-hand-drive, after all, which was harder to find than the right-hand-drivers more common in Spain. “These cars are hard enough to drive on our small roads. I wasn’t trying to complicate it even more,” Campa says, laughing.
Campa’s friends already thought he was out of his mind, so when he began tearing apart the Ford’s exterior they just couldn’t understand it. The artist, of course, had a vision in his mind’s eye for a pre-war dream machine. The aesthetic of American hot rods and belly tank racers had always inspired him from afar, and for that look his ’31 Ford was going to need a lot more than a fresh coat of paint. He started by removing the top, windshield, and hood sides. Next was replacing the painted wire wheels and whitewall tires with a set of ’35 Ford wheels he got from Norway. He sandblasted those, fitting them with tires he sourced from the U.S. After paint, the final touch was the “53” on the door—a nod to the departed Volkswagen that gave him his start.
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Before and after. Some people didn’t understand why I bought this Roadster in the first place by I was only thinking of how cool it could look with big tires and undressing some parts of the car. The 53 is a reminder of the previous loved car, the 1953 bug we had. All these are great pics by the one and only @nocarnoart . #forito #foritogasolina #forito53 #1931roadster
“Something of my old car is now in my new car,” he says.
Now that the Bug is gone, however, he does not miss its temperamental approach to reliability. The Ford has been rock solid from the get-go, and he has no plans to perform any significant modifications. Most mechanical changes would require the car be subject to a bevy of more stringent government inspection tests, something he is keen to avoid. The only items on his radar right now are some high-compression heads and perhaps an overdrive unit.
At first, just the starting procedure for the old beast was baffling, but before long it became second nature. Now, he loves driving it and never tires of how it stands out on Spanish roads, especially in the city. At car shows in particular, the Model A’s sheer height compared to most European cars makes it impossible to ignore.
For someone with such a passion for old cars, Campa is thrilled to be able to provide his art clients with something that enhances their love of their machines. Some clients are very specific about exactly the type of work they want, while others trust the artist the creative license to surprise them. “Most people have a story, and they want something that speaks to that memory,” he explains. “It’s super satisfying to provide that happy ending.”
The most amazing part of his artistic journey, however, have been the connections he’s made with fans and admirers of his work. These interactions manifest primarily over Instagram, a platform which has allowed him to showcase his art to a massive audience that no physical gallery could ever replace. “You build these friendships; it’s mind-blowing. I get messages in my inbox all day long, one from a tech billionaire and the next from some 14-year-old kid from Pakistan who is obsessed with cars.”
Normally, Campa would be traveling all over the world for art shows and automotive events where he can network and spend time around vintage cars. With most of those opportunities on hold for the foreseeable future, it’s meant a lot more time driving the Roadster, something his two kids take every opportunity to enjoy with him.
Orders, however, continue to come in, which means many long days painting in the studio. And what does he like to tune into in the background while he works? “I am constantly watching Barn Find Hunter and Redline Rebuilds,” he confesses. When we point out that our new series, Kyle’s Garage, dives deep into Kyle’s own Ford Model A, Campa is ecstatic. He can’t wait to wrench on his own soon, even just for regular lubrication service. After all, the hot rod Roadster of his dreams isn’t hanging on his wall—it’s parked in the garage.
Explore and shop Campa’s art here.