A big event every April in Houston, Texas is the Art Car Parade. Well, every April except this one, of course. I suppose it would be safe to have the parade if nobody watched, but it’s primarily a social event, and thus was a casualty of our current distanced society. If you miss parades and other fun public gatherings, scroll through my pictures from last year (2019) to enjoy a virtual parade of automotive silliness.
Houston is a city that revolves around the car as much as any, with our endless sprawl, multitudinous freeways, huge parking lots in the suburbs and massive parking garages downtown. We do actually have a pretty extensive light rail system and lots of buses, but I only personally know one person who rides the bus. A large chunk of our economy is oil and gas based (definitely feeling the pain right now). Altogether, it is fitting that the art car has become something of an institution here. It’s not just the parade either. You see them driving around town pretty commonly, and naturally there is an Art Car Museum.
This Space Shuttle Mini Cooper solved a mystery for me. We were visiting the Johnson Space Center a while ago and from a distance I spotted this car driving down the road in front of the center. I asked if anybody else had seen it and they hadn’t. Did I actually see that? Was it really just a car with a storage topper and my space-stimulated imagination made it a Shuttle?!? No, I can now confirm that I saw what I saw because I talked to the driver and he said he lives in that part of town. He even has a companion minivan painted like a Space Shuttle.
The parade is much more about the art than about the cars. I think the artistic-minded folks who are into this prefer something unique as a starting point, but the typical art car is made from the least expensive car available, for obvious economic reasons. However, some interesting cars still can be seen. I don’t know how many cars were there, but I estimate at least 169 based on the entry labels. I’ll show a sampling of the ones I liked best, either stylistically or automotively. A Mercedes W123 Estate is certainly a car most of us Curbsiders would be excited to see even without any wackiness attached.
I have no idea what car is underneath here, but I found it funny since the cockroach is the unofficial mascot of Houston. The roaches swarm from all over to bask in our warm, humid climate, so it’s fitting that they have their own car now.
Occasionally you see actual vintage cars. It would be hard to imagine someone doing this to a two door 72 Chevelle, but a four door sedan is still cheap enough to festoon with low budget paraphernalia.
This is about the only legitimate classic car I saw. It belongs to Saint Arnold Brewery, a popular local craft beer maker. I should hope you all can instantly identify what make and year it is!
Not a legitimate classic, but this looks to be a pretty nice 1995 or 96 Roadmaster wagon with woodgrain delete. It sort of pains me because I can imagine somebody being interested in this as a car. Ok, that somebody is me since it’s almost exactly like my white one. I suppose I’m biased that I don’t like seeing cars like this made into art. Maybe if it was the cockroach it would be worth it.
Another wagon, and another Mercedes, this W211 generation E350 makes a functional base for what I assume is a Bat Car. The wings flap up and down. Look closely, you’ll see the gas generator that powers the mechanism.
This pair of lunchbox Scions is for Paul. There’s not a lot of square footage, but the flat surfaces make a great canvas for whatever one cares to paint.
The most elaborate art cars resemble parade floats more than cars. As seen in the lead photo, you can still make out the Volvo under the smoke-belching dragon (or whatever it is!).
An established art car genre is the How-Much-Crap-Can-You-Fit-On-A-Car car. This one probably wins that competition for the year.
The colorful paint job on this early Porsche Boxster looks tasteful and professionally applied.
The vibe at this event is very relaxed, fun and live-and-let-live. The fellow in the background with the Confederate flag has a sign promoting the value of free speech, which seemed to be his issue more than promoting the historic Lost Cause or any other political statement. In keeping with the spirit of the gathering, I never saw anyone show offense or challenge him.
This colorful Toyota has a lot to look at. Enough said.
What would a car gathering in Houston be without our native creature, the S.L.A.B.? You may remember the article I wrote here last year on these curious critters. If not, check it out for a primer on the cars with the absurd wire wheels. The W-body Cutlass Supreme convertible looks otherwise unmodified, but a set of mega-poke Swangers is all it takes.
Certainly not unmodified, it surprised no one to see our honorable Mayor Turner propped up in the back of a Cadillac Brougham like this.
You could think of a S.L.A.B. as a parody of brougham-era luxury cars. If so, this 93-94 Fleetwood is a parody of the parody.
VW buses were well represented. I recently wrote up a 1978 Westfalia, which was a more used close cousin to a 994 mile example that sold at auction for over $110k. Well, this here ain’t a $100k camper van. For starters, it has a good amount of body rot. It’s also a base model without a pop-top.
Taking what I learned writing the Westfalia article, I can positively identify this as a 1972. This is also probably not a high-value camper judging by the missing canvas from the pop-top. Makes a nice rolling tribute to Van Gogh.
I’m guessing this started life as a van and lost some bodywork in the name of art. Or maybe the art came later. VW did make a pickup version of the bus, but I would be really surprised if this were one of them.
This is what a painted bus is supposed to look like. An authentic-looking sixties-style Hippie truckster should always be a T1.
The first generation VW buses had the ultimate freon-less air conditioning system!
You don’t have to have a classic van to get in the act. Just because you have a giant, late model van doesn’t mean you can’t let your freak flag fly!
If you don’t have a VW bus, but rather an actual bus, the artistic possibilities are endless.
I really liked the human paintings.
It was a bit surprising to see a vintage Jeep Wagoneer arted up, even more so that it was an early 63-65 model.
I don’t know what the theme here is specifically, but it has to be the most morose PT Cruiser ever.
The Sea Life Volvo may have been the funnest car in the parade, in my opinion. The still picture doesn’t do it justice. The tails of the fish and lobsters all moved, in sync. I don’t know how they pulled it off technically, but it was really impressive.
Edit: I belatedly looked online for videos and found several. I understated the coolness of this car. Check it out:
Bonus picture for late readers: I forgot to put this photo in the original posting even though it was one of my favorite vehicles. Where else will you see a pickup truck honoring the U.S. Supreme Court, and not just the current court on the tailgate, but every justice who has ever sat on the court?
I had been thinking since last April when I attended of doing an article on the parade but hadn’t gotten to it. I’m glad I waited, since this year was cancelled, I can commemorate it and look forward to next.