Car Art: Cadillac Ranch on Route 66


As many of you know, The Cadillac Ranch resides along Route 66 several miles west of Amarillo, Texas. An art collective called the Ant Farm constructed the ranch as a project in 1974. The ranch consists of 10 Cadillacs from the fifties and sixties, arranged to show the growth and subsequent fall of the Cadillac Tailfin. A work both absurd and playful, it forever links the automobile to art culture. The site has been described in many car magazines, and is something of a touchstone for automotive enthusiasts,. so of course I had to stop and visit as part of our Route 66 tour.

My vision

Near the Ranch site, I found a visitor’s center with three lovely Cadillacs lined up on slanted pedestals. The cars shined in the summer sun, highlights glinting off their chrome. As a kid, I pictured the ranch looking just like this. Of course, the actual Ranch looks quite different, but this version reflects a mind’s eye picture from my youth.

Driving to the ranch from the visitor’ center, I had to laugh. Many articles have described the Cadillac Ranch as desolate and remote, but it appeared that description reflected an overall impression of the region, rather than reality. The Ranch is located a couple miles out of Amarillo, and is easily viewed from I-40. Having visited Carhenge up in Nebraska, I can tell you the Cadillac Ranch is far closer to civilization.

Me at the Ranch

On site, my Dad and I parked among five or six other cars along the service road, and walked across the open ground to the display. The first thing I noticed was spray cans everywhere. Moving closer to the cars, I could see the ground at the base of the cars covered with expended spray cans and brightly colored caps. Five or six people were using cans to mark the cars, some climbing on the vehicles to find a promising spot for their art.

Crushed roof

The cars at Cadillac Ranch are subject to both vandalism and graffiti. Both the creators and the patron who supported the project are comfortable with the graffiti, viewing the ever changing image a natural evolution of artistic expression. However, they have taken a number of steps to prevent vandalism, such as welding the wheels to the axles. Despite this, some of the cars at the ranch are missing doors or have split open roofs.

Cadillac Ranch

Walking around the cars, I heard folks speaking several languages. Many foreign visitors tour Route 66, and some of them chose to participate in this on going art project. It’s clear the Ranch draws at least as many artists as car lovers (and probably more). Thanks to these efforts, the shape and form of the Cadillacs have changed over time. The spray can artists view theses cars as a canvas for their work, not automobiles.

Covered diff

Canvasses with layer after layer of paint. Take a close look at this differential. I’d estimate the paint is one and a half to two inches thick on the the pumpkin. That’s built up one layer at a time, over 40 years- Amazing!

Trash 1

Personally, I’d never treat an old car as a graffiti canvas, but to each their own. But I am not so easy going regarding the litter spread around the site. Anyone familar with the open prarie understands the litter moves with the wind- It’s an unavoidable force of nature. To my mind, paint these cars as much as you want, BUT PICK YOUR TRASH.

Trash 2

Pardon me for sounding curmudgeonly, but I think this picture along the perimeter of the Ranch speaks for itself. In my world, artist is not synonymous with slob.


Related reading (Carhenge in Nebraska):

Cohort Sighting: Carhenge – High Plains Junkers