I recently posted the pic above, showing my back lot diorama. And to fill the patio I rounded up almost all of my so called art cars. That gave me an idea, and a few days ago I started using a “🌈” on the car lists to designate an art car. But all right, what’s exactly an art car? Maybe some people don’t know what the term means. So got five minutes? Cool, than grab a cup of (good!) coffee and have a seat.
Historically speaking, the term originated in 1975 with Alexander Calder and Hervé Poulain. Calder was an American sculptor best known for his mobiles, and Poulain was a French racing driver and auctioneer. In 1975 Poulain was a part-time racer and wanted a different car to race at La Sarthe. Being an (art) auctioneer, he had many ties with the art world, and was a personal friend to Calder. So he asked Calder if he could paint his race car. For the 1975 Le Mans race his ride was a BMW 3.0 CSL (“Batmobile”), and Calder used it as his canvas. The result was one of the most striking BMWs to ever race at La Sarthe.
Unfortunately Calder passed away shortly after finishing Poulain’s car. Even though car #93 DNF, BMW liked the idea and all the good press it generated. Consequently, they asked other artists to paint their cars. With works from famous artists like Andy Warhol, Frank Stella and Roy Lichtenstein, these rolling canvasses became known as “art cars”. They didn’t limit the art cars to the tracks, though. In fact, there are more civilian BMW art cars than race cars.
So that’s the official explanation. However, with the years, the term art car became a bit broader. In fact, using this broader sense, the first art car is older then the Calder BMW. And that would be the Hippie 917, of 1970. The paint job on that 917 was totally off for the times. It wasn’t plain national colors and it wasn’t in official team colors. Basically, it was “just for fun”, so that the car stood out. The author was not a famous artist, but Anatole Lapine, a designer at Porsche. Still, his paint scheme made a huge splash in the press.
The following year, another Porsche was in the headlines: the Pink Pig. The 917-20 was so ugly (by 1970’s standards) that Martini, the Porsche team’s sponsor, refused to have their brand anywhere on the car. Anatole Lapine (yep, him again), just for laughs, decided to paint it pink as a pig. AND also label body parts according to butcher-style cuts of a pig. The specialized press was quick to call it the Pink Pig (aka “le Cochon Rose” or “Der Trüffeljäger von Zuffenhausen”). Both of these cars raced years earlier than the Calder BMW but had the same intention. They had a livery that stood out and didn’t look like “just another race car”.
Porsche cars are the most common art cars, but you’ll see art cars from other manufacturers too. For instance, this Corvette Stingray. IMSA Camel was a very small team, with a very low budget and winning chances. Still, they painted their car with panache and a patriotic flair. The paint job was done by the team’s mechanics, but that’s race car art, independent of who painted it. However, some will not consider this Stingray as a real art car because it’s not associated with a famous artist.
Some people will only recognize an art car as such if the livery is done by a renown artist. Like Georges Wolinski’s “Naked Lady” above. I however, disagree. The Corvette Stingray’s livery, though not penned by anyone famous, has the same idea: to make the car unique from an artistic view point. An art car, in my eyes, has a livery that is an exercise in visual pleasure. It has a livery that was specially planned to be pleasing to the eye, not to convey a commercial message (= sponsors). In other words, a cool elaborated livery done just for the coolness factor.
Fortunately, art cars are not a thing of the past. You still see them nowadays, specially from privateer teams like Oak Racing. Moreover, their Morgan LMP2 was a true art car (I hate that term), because the author was French sculptor Fernando Costa. Independent of the author, these cars do not receive “paint jobs” anymore. The artist transfers his art to a computer and the team then prints it as an extra thin vinyl wrap that is applied to the body. Hand-painted cars like the Hippie 917 or the Calder BMW are things of the past because of the added weight.
That said, true art car or not, these cars make any collection look better. I for one will be on the lookout for all of these “artistically unique” cars. I would love to fill the W-143 Garage with them, and I’m trying to get all that I can. Unfortunately though, as a rule of thumb, they’re usually more expensive. For instance, Jeff Koons’ BMW M3 GT2. Spark makes it, but it’s not only hard to find but always VERY expensive. Almost always, the cool version is more expensive than the plain version of the same car.