NPR logo Tales of the Nerd, Stink-Bug, Ho and Other Vehicles


Tales of the Nerd, Stink-Bug, Ho and Other Vehicles

Last week, we asked listeners to tell us what their cars meant to them. Whether it's the ride Mr. Jalopy calls "Sister Golden Hair Surprise," or what one listener has dubbed "Leopard Bernstein," Americans don't just love their cars, they love personalizing them. Take a look:

Judging from the admittedly unscientific survey above, the right to customize is one of the privileges of ownership. As Celeste Headlee's segment about "makers" points out, though, Americans are increasingly "buying" products that they can't customize or modify. What if Detroit sold cars that came with fine print saying the owner (so-called) couldn't change the color, or build a giant, terrifying waterfall on the trunk the way Extermo the Clown did? A basic piece of Americana would disappear.

Fortunately, that's not the case — yet — so enjoy the gallery. Many thanks to everyone who sent us photos and stories! We got quite a few submissions, more than we could feature today, and we'll be sharing additional images and stories on the blog in upcoming weeks. In the meantime, tell us what you think about this first batch.



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Our Prius earns 53 mpg. I model what I teach. I look forward to PHEVs and robust investment in walking & bicycle routes, electric & high speed rail - all based on sustainable, renewable energy (solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, conservation & efficiency). My favorite vehicle is a 1998 Trek 5200 bicycle.

Sent by Scott Kruse | 3:48 PM | 7-14-2008

When I replace the transmission on my car it costs two thousand dollars. When I replace the transmission on my bike it costs less then one hundred dollars. The fact that it keeps me in shape and makes my commute a blast in an added bonus. Pedal on!

Sent by Ron Barak | 4:45 PM | 7-14-2008

I love seeing the art cars, it makes me smile every time.

Sent by Marci Macfarlane | 12:43 PM | 7-15-2008

I saw this segment on the NPR main page. I thought I might play the gadfly by saying something positive about bikes in the space, but two people had already beaten me to it. No posts about cars at all. Amazing. I customized my car by getting rid of it. The only think I've done to my bike is put a sticker on the side that says, "This bike means one less car on the road." Yeah. I'm not very artistic.

This being said I guess the one I like the best is Paul Cooley's stretch tandem.

Sent by Dave Wiley | 2:17 PM | 7-15-2008

My favorite art car? My high school teacher's car that she invited her students to, um, decorate. She proudly drove it every day!

Although I am so encouraged by the fact that people are using bikes more and more for commuting, there is a definite air of preachiness from too many. My husband is a physician in an underserved area of the snowy north. He has a 20-minute commute on a busy 2-lane highway. (We don't live where he works because of the questionable quality of the school system there.) For now, our method of being green is by not buying a new vehicle until we need to, as well as by consolidating errands into fewer trips. Both of our vehicles (sadly, undecorated) have in excess of 100,000 miles on them and are still chugging along.

Sent by Mag | 3:25 PM | 7-15-2008

I moved from Des Moines, IA to Portland, OR earlier this year on a whim after visiting and falling in love with the climate, the scenery, and the transportation system.
A few months later gas is $1 more per gallon and my consumption of it is down 75% from 15gal a week to 15gal a month.
Before I moved I would hold off errands that required driving until I had several going to the same area, or would find alternatives such as buying groceries at the store on my route home from work.
Now I have the public transportation website as my most referenced bookmark as I plot how to minimize my automobile use when I cannot go by bicycle or foot.

Sent by Joel Taylor | 5:25 PM | 7-15-2008

I just replaced Binkie, my 1988 Subaru (bought new) with a nearly as old Volvo with fewer miles on it. This is "car recycling", saving material and energy costs (and my budget). I am still in love with Binkie. She and I traveled more than 250,000 miles together, and even now she starts right up at 20 below, and gets 35 mpg (pay attention, Congress). The only reason I retired her is because after I moved to the east, salt ate up her undersides. I cry to think of it. If I'd stayed in the west, Binkie and I could have shared another 150,000 miles. BTW, I am with the bike and bus riders. I used public transportation when it was available to me, and wish it were where I live now. I am disabled, but maybe I'll get a 3 wheel bike! As for Binkie, I'll sell her to someone who able to the body work, and encourage them to consider car art while they are at it. The long, sleek, black Volvo station wagon is not immune from becoming car art, either. I am not the long sleek black car type.

Sent by Dayle Ann Stratton | 7:45 AM | 7-16-2008

A wondrous slide show- some of the best photos of artcars I have ever seen and I have seen a lot of them. One very big problem. I am an artcar artist (B.W.=cartist) I have created many artcars in Baltimore, Md. I do not "decorate" cars. I transform them into Art- I make Art Cars. I "art" them, perhaps but never "Decorate" -this term is a put down. Would you say that Leonardo's Mona Lisa is a "decorated" piece of canvas....
To find out what I am doing in Baltimore-see us at Artscape downtown this weekend....check out our blog.
Indeed....make an artcar and the world smiles. Conrad Bladey

Sent by Conrad Bladey | 7:53 AM | 7-16-2008

Everyday is a parade when you drive an artcar! Imagine the smiles Kelly, Extremo, Carol and other artcar artists bring to the roads of America?!?!

Sent by Greg Phelps | 8:56 AM | 7-16-2008

The art cars are great, but I LOVE to see the family bicycle! We have a tandem + trail-a-bike + bike trailer = fun for us and smiles for all who see us. More bike bell!

Sent by sem | 10:37 AM | 7-16-2008

I am an art car creator and I enjoy every mile of it. I use my art car for charity and work.

Sent by Sonny | 4:49 PM | 7-16-2008

I wonder if anyone studies people based on their cars? A Honda minivan is about as mundane as it gets, but one could read into the dents, scratches and spills a complicated divorce, children learning to be independent, and a busy lifestyle.

Sent by Laura | 1:43 AM | 7-17-2008

my current auto is an '04 tiburon, I call it 22, because it's my little bullet. Gets 33 mpg in town and 35 to 40 highway

Sent by rsb | 8:22 AM | 7-17-2008

It was refreshing to see so many of my Cartist friends on the NPR website. These are some of the most fun, most creative people around, most of them artists in multiple media and modalities. It was a mark of our acceptance when the Petersen Automotive Museum in L.A. held a curated show of Art Cars a few years ago; being featured by NPR puts the seal on it.

I put a few smiles on folks' faces with my own Art Car, BUDDHA BUGGY, from 1996-2006. In all its travels, this '87 Honda CRX consumed way less petroleum than than the average sled: it got ~37mpg around town, ~52mpg highway, and up to 500 smiles per gallon! When a numbskull uninsured driver totaled the car it was 19-1/2 years old. After a careful search, I bought a low-mileage vehicle of the same model, though I'm doing much more biking and busing these days.

My next Art Car will be the Phoenix Car, using the phoenix as a symbol of the rebirth of freedom. Freedom from corporate control and the cynical manipulations of too-powerful speculators, and a return to more balanced priorities in our polity and society.

Sent by Dr. Schlock | 5:17 PM | 7-17-2008